Tuning the Concert

Gold Arts Award Portfolio

Learning from the master: Ben Haggarty September 10, 2010

After contacting the Crick Crack Club about my project of combining music with storytelling, Kate recommended that I go and see Ben Haggarty perform Gilgamesh at the Soho Theatre on 7th September.

Though I vaguely remember listening to some professional storytellers around a camp fire when I was a child, this was the first time I had been to a performance in a long time. What struck me was the fact that it was one person on stage for the whole show.  You had to be prepared to believe.  It wasn’t acting but then it wasn’t over played. It reminded me of an over-enthusiastic child getting up and telling a big story they had made up to get out of doing a chore.

Interestingly, I noticed a gradual increase in the level of drama throughout the performance. While Ben started by setting the scene using a simple narrative, by the end he was doing silly voices and actions to illustrate the characters. I assume this was planned to allow the audience time to warm up and slowly be able to believe in him. I can imagine that if he had initially started too over the top, the audience could have quickly dismissed him as ‘hamming up’ the story.



A musical retelling of ‘On the way Home’ August 26, 2010

Filed under: 1A: extending my arts practice — concerttuning @ 5:33 pm
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On the way home.MP3 by Alice Hyland.

This recording was taken while performing the story, ‘On the way home’ to my parents. While it is no means perfect, it is a starting point from which to expand.

It quotes a number of famous tunes:

  • Claire’s ‘sad music’ = Early French Song by Tchaikovsky
  • female friends = The Trout by Schubert
  • male friends = Kontretanz by Beethoven
  • wolf = wolf theme from Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev
  • crocodile = ‘never smile at a crocodile’ theme tune from Disney’s Peter Pan
  • Dragon = ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ from Opera by Wagner
  • Happy music = The Trout by Schubert



Experimenting with story books and music August 25, 2010

I visited my parents house for a week and took the opportunity to go through all my old cello music. I found a great book with lots of well know tunes arranged for cello.

Having the idea that I wanted to involved the audience, I enlisted my Dad’s help to see if we could make up a story together. I chose a piece by random and playing through each phrase asking him questions such as who do you think the story is about and what did he then do? However, this did not produce the results I wanted, as as Dad pointed out he did not have a child’s imagination and there wasn’t enough contrast in the piece. Though we made up a piece about Pinocho not going to school, I knew I had to rethink my strategy.

The original plan was to add words to a classical piece, but after hearing an account of how an animateur combined stories and music, I scrapped my original idea and decided to start with the story and work the music around this. Consequently, I delved into our old children’s books to find some good stories for inspiration.

I selected some books that had lots of repetition and a clear structure, so that there were plenty of opportunities to repeat tunes. Some particular favourites were ‘On the way home’ and ‘Peace at Last’ by Jill Murphy, as well as a recent book, ‘Room in a Broom’ by Julia Donaldson. Another story to look at would be the ‘Gruffalo’. These books all have several contrasting characters, as well as a repetitious structure.

I then experimented added tunes to characters as well as creating sound effects with my cello until I had something resembling a story interrupted with short musical interludes.


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.’



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.


New Generation, New ideas June 18, 2010

Filed under: 1D: issues — concerttuning @ 7:11 pm
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The more I research into the issue, the more I discover people and organisations who want to change the face of classical music.

I was recently speaking to a masters graduate of the Royal Academy of Music. The cellist wants to combine her love of opera and chamber music into a new music genre. As well as being a collaborative process between librettist, composer, string quartet and singer, the mini-opera would be less costly making it more feasible to stage in a variety of venues.

The idea is that a story would drive through the whole piece with instrumentalists taking the role of singers. This is an example of adding meaning to the music beyond that of abstract patterns, which would give the audience something to follow while listening to the piece.

If successful, this could be a way to help listeners stay engaged throughout a piece of classical music. While they may not be able to follow the musical narrative, they could latch onto the written narrative which in turn would hopefully enlighten their whole experience of the mini-opera.