Tuning the Concert

Gold Arts Award Portfolio

Once upon a time – Storytelling course October 17, 2010

I undertook a storytelling course run through the WEA to gain some basic skills in storytelling. The course compromised of four two-hour long evening sessions in Stonleigh.

Working with the workshop leader, Janet Dowling, as well as receiving feedback from the rest of the group allowed me to develop my own storytelling style as well as build experience and confidence.

One of the most useful tools I learnt was how to break down the structure of a story and put it into 8 boxes. Most stories follow this pattern of: initial situation, problem, (preparation for quest), try, try, try, transformation and conclusion. I found this helpful as it made the story easier to remember as well as being a template for any stories that I choose to invent.



A taster: working with BBC Proms learning Team September 7, 2010

I volunteered over the bank holiday weekend to help with the family orchestra and chorus who performed in Prom 60 on Monday 30 August.

Families from Cornwall and London had been selected to première a BBC commission by Graham Fitzin. The participants ranged from 5 years to 80+ and covered a spectrum of abilities. As well as the performance sounding truly impressive (you can hear it on BBC iplayer), it was very interesting to see how the participants had been taught the music and how it was put together.

There was no music, but instead they learnt numbered themes, which the section leaders indicated using hand signs. For example, theme 1 in the violins was a clenched fist and it was bowed (mimed bowing). Furthermore, there were three conductors as well as the section leaders. This included the conductor for the BBC Concert Orchestra, Keith Lockhart, the workshop leader, Lincoln Abbotts and the composer, Graham Fitkin. The conductors kept time, while the sections leaders told their musicians exactly when to come in, stop and which theme to play. It was a very clever way to build a complex piece with a mixed ability group of musicians.



BBC Proms Inspire Day August 4, 2010

Filed under: 1B: volunteering/training/shadowing — concerttuning @ 11:01 am
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I volunteered at BBC Proms Inspire day on 2 August. The participants were teenagers who had entered the BBC Proms Young Composer Competition who travel from as far as Scotland to come to the young composers’ day.

I helped on the day by directing and instructing the participants at the BBC studio, participating during the workshop and helping the stage moves during the concert at the Royal College of Music.

The day was led by composer, Stephen and four musicians. When entering the Hall the young composers were thrown amidst an improvised composition where they participated by ringing their mobile phones when they saw a sign with the month of their birthday. This was then followed by an exercise where they sang happy birthday as slow as possible out of sync. This produced some beautiful harmonies.

Then followed a number of composition workshops, introducing them to the workshop musicians as well as composition techniques. They evaluated their work as they went along and all got a chance to participate. The day culminated in an experimental composition called ‘Poldergeese’ with the 100+ young musicians. This was made up of various pieces of material which were then combined and ordered by the conductor. I got to play the tam tam!



BBC Proms Family orchestra

I went to observe and help at the BBC Proms family orchestra workshop on Saturday 31 July. The workshop was themed on Sonheim to link in with the evening’s Prom in celebration of Sondheim’s 80th Birthday. The idea was to bring people of all ages and abilities to play together.

I helped by signing the families in when they arrived, handing out the BBC Proms 2010 badges as well as distributing and collecting the evaluation forms. I also joined in with the percussion session during the workshop.

Sat in their instrumental families, each section was lead by a BBC musician and assisted by a music student while Lincoln, the workshop leader conducted. We were taught a number of well know tunes from works that influenced Sondheim as well as creating different sound effects. We slowly built up over the course of 2hrs the sections for our final performance without the aid of any notated music. However, it was easily memorable due to the verbal instructions from the conductor as well as the pictorial or programmatic nature of the music.

I was impressed at how attentive the families were and that they didn’t play their instruments when the musicians were talking.


Shadowing a creative music-making day in a primary school August 1, 2010

On Tuesday 13 July I observed a day in the life of a music teacher at a primary school in Oxford.


I was impressed to see how music was used as a crowd control. As soon as the CD was turned on it gained the pupils’ attention and they listened (fairly) quietly and it kept them occupied as the rest of the school filed in. The assembly was based on a dance that year 3 had created after looking at the The Arnolfini Portrait. Again, I was impressed how respectfully the other pupils watched.

Choir rehearsal

The auditioned choir had a second rehearsal of a pupil’s composition, which will be sung at a performance at the end of term. With the support of another teacher leading the sopranos, the teacher taught the tunes by played the melody on the piano and the pupils singing it back. Certain difficult passages were isolated and an octave interval was demonstrated by singing ‘Somewhere over the rainbow.’



Shadowing a music-making day on a Outreach project July 22, 2010

On Monday 19 July, I shadowed an animateur and two musicians during an orchestral outreach project in a Primary school in Oxford. It was day four of the project and they were using the theme of the solar system to inspire their work.

I came in when they were working on creating compositions using graphic scores. They were using percussion instruments as well as a number of miniature violins to create compositions about black holes, red planets and asteroids. They later performed their works to the rest of the school in key stage 2 as well as performing 3 songs: 2 taught and 1 that they composed themselves.

Some interesting things that I observed:

  • I liked the way as a method of crowd control, the animatuer would sometimes call out a word and the children would automatically respond. For example, code words used included quail and shark!
  • I was impressed how keen all the students were to try the violins. Playing a so-called ‘proper’ instrument was deemed cool.
  • Each of the groups had very different method of approaching the graphic scores. I particularly liked one score in the way that it was circular.
  • It was problematic keeping the graphic scores simple as they were given so much freedom at the beginning.
  • While playing with the musicians may appear to be the highlight for the students, when watching another group’s work they were occupied by watching the professional instrumentalists.



Musical pictures: 12 June 2010, Tate Britain July 14, 2010

Filed under: 1B: volunteering/training/shadowing — concerttuning @ 10:19 pm
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I volunteered to help at a music workshop at Tate Britain on 12 June from 9am-3pm. As well as getting to watch and participate in the three sessions, I helped set up and clear the workshop space by moving the percussion instruments and handing out the evaluative questionnaires.

The workshops were each unique as they involved a different set of families but each incorporated listening, looking, moving and playing. They were skilfully lead by composer/animateur Helen Woods (www.helenwoods.com/) who through her exuberance engaged the children (and parents).

As the families arrived in dribs and drabs, Helen launched straight into the workshop by using warming up games such as shaking different parts of the body to see how the musicians depicted this musically. We then played an unique version of musical statues where we connected different movements, whether walking, tip toeing or running to a different instruments and musical motives.

The group then heard an excerpt of classical music arranged for xylophone, double bass and french horn while trying to imagine the music telling a story. After deciding the group’s interpretation of the music, we re-enacted the story to the live ensemble. My favourite version was of a fox creeping up and eating its prey.

After looking at the paintings, Helen focused on two paintings in the room. With the percussion instruments provided, the children then created a musical landscape to represent each picture. Their concentration was put to the test, as Helen ran between the painting signalling for one or the other group to play.

After the workshop, families could stay to explore the rest of the gallery with the help of the art box.