Summertime sum up

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What beautiful weather! A year ago, I met a Swedish lady in London (on the bus I think), who said the main reason she decided to stay in the UK was down to the summer of ’76. She told me she had been longing ever since for another glorious summer like that to return. Maybe her wait is over….

Anyway, I feel it is time to update you with the world of Bobalon.

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100 Hour Challenge: Week Four

Day 1: Practiced and wrote music with fellow workshoppers for half a day, spent the other half playing jazz standards for a few hours, really slowly, still practicing the same two, sounding better!
Day 2: Wrote music again with matees, one hour of practice.
Day 3: Practiced, learning chords and listening to what they sound like
Day 4: 1 hour in the bag.
Day 5: Back In Brum, fail. Was given a chord chart to play from (for a devising session) by a jazzer and panicked. I could identify most chords, but not as quickly as I would have liked, if the chords were notated, would have been fine. Felt crap and wanted to go home.
Day 6: Back in Brum, all day training and drinks after. Fail.
Day 7: Back in Brum, no piano, anxious to practice. Still hours in the day but suspect I shall fail.

ūüôĀ So, rather than feel sorry for myself, going to spend the next hours finding a piano here. Time to make it happen. I saw this TED talk by Mr. Steve “Apple” Jobs, it inspired me to carpe diem, how to live before you die.

Paganel School “Home Week” Final Performance

It’s over and done with! The performances at the school were great, I was impressed with how well the classes did and the headteacher said the performances were fantastic!¬†What really made our job easier was the support from the teachers, who had rehearsed the songs and staging during the week, how lovely!

We were able to add the finishing touches to the pieces, could offer year 4 a good hour and a half to refine their hard work, year 3 (in my opinion) were pretty much ready to go on stage before we arrived, they knew what we were doing and gave us advice!

Many thanks to teachers Mr. Harwood, Mrs. Wilson, Mr. Philp and the head! Also to the musicians for adding an extra dimension to the performances and of course to Chris for being ace and easy to work with.

Banded About – C’est Fini

It’s all over and done with! Today was the final concert date at Town Hall for the Banded About project, we made it! It was emotional, it was sad, it was tiring, fun and creative.

I was soo impressed with the young people at Watville, Wilkes Green and St. James primary schools over the year. This term, we (Steve and I repping Birmingham Jazz) were given such a tall order yet I feel we delivered the goods; I learnt that most of the other primary schools in the music hub (Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Sound It Out, CBSO, THSH) were able to give their schools weekly and some around 8 sessions per term, to develop ensemble and music making skills. In total I had 5 sessions in the spring term, and 3 in the summer, yes 3, which meant we had a¬†mammoth¬†job to do, devise, rehearse and perform at the Town Hall after 4.5 hours, minus ice-breakers, and packing away and you’re left with little time I tell thee, yet we managed to do it. I was proud of the fact the young people devised lyrics before the project, rehearsed outside of lessons, and after a scary sound check on the day after a week’s break, pulled it off!! Go gang!! There were tears, I got told off, necessary hugs were given and received.

In just 8 sessions I found that the young people’s time keeping,¬†ability¬†to¬†improvise¬†and create grooves improved exponentially, I was also impressed with how a teacher got stuck in the project and played recorder on stage with the kids!! How supportive is that!

Areas of improvement: I need to work more on varying my signalling, I wish I had the funds to go on a ensemble leading course, yes, another one, for intermediate workshoppers, I also need to think about using different time signatures, I’ve been using compound time more recently, but haven’t written many pieces in 3/4, I did use 5/4 with some secondary kids last term…. anyho! Onwards and upwards!

Highlights of the project for me were: working with amazing individuals at the aforementioned schools! Thanks young peeps, you rocked my world!

What would have made my life easier on this project: less emailing and more tete a tete (please), meetings with admins and the whole of the team so we could there could be greater consistency across the cluster, more efforts made to incorporate workshop leaders who don’t read music in CPD sessions too, some of my team felt a bit left out.

Here is some media for ya from our rehearsals,courtesy¬†of my iPhone, ¬†you can hear me shouting, teachers getting stuck in lol! I think you can hear an improvement in each school’s pieces.

First piece St. James composed: 

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Second piece by St. James, with some recorder playing by Ms. Hanson: 

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Watville’s first composition:¬†

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Second piece by Watville (second rehearsal): 

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Banded About ‘the first year’ from Mathew Beckett on Vimeo.


Find more photos like this on ‘Banded About’

Paganel Home Week Project Session 4

I am shattered! These all dayers have taken their toll on my ‘approaching end of summer term’ bones.

Today’s session was good, fast paced, pressurised and exceptionally creative. It was our last session and we invited musicians Steve (djembe) and Michael (sax/flute). With year 3 we were able to put the finishes touches on the performance, move it over to the stage (which was something we were hoping to avoid initially but can’t). The year 3s were really good at instructing the musicians to fill out the accompanying music. It was great to see their compositional skills begin to blossom.

Year 4’s session, for me was more stressful, not because the young people weren’t great, they were and always have been, but because I was disappointed I couldn’t recall the piano part for the dog song – should have written it down, and that we still have some finishing touches to add next week, I hoped that like the year 3 session we could make more headways, but alas was not meant to be. Last minute dot.com so it is! I also felt guilty that I wasn’t able to utilise the musicians enough in that session, as we spent most the time devising last bits and bobs.

As Chris and Michael pointed out, the year 4 session itself was¬†successful¬†for a number of reasons, ¬†the interminable enthusiasm from Mr. Harwood, who has volunteered to help us with the last drama part of the performance, the young people’s song writing, lyric writing skills getting stronger and the fact that everyone is committed to being a part of it all!

Michael, noted that the session had a huge emphasis on the young people’s creativity, which is great, because I’d rather more ideas from the young people and a slightly less polished performance, than me writing it all, and it appearing glossy, but less¬†input¬†from the children.

Fingers and toes crossed for our memory banks next week!

A groove we made up with year 4, it’s all about clouds:¬†

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Steve and I singing the year 3 song, so they can have it memorised for next week, there’s a reason why Steve and I aren’t singers, obvious in the recording, but someone has to do it!!

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Here you go year 3!!

Paganel Home Week Project Session 3

Today was the third session at Paganel school, the pressure was on to move the sketches/ short vignettes into something more¬†meaningful¬†and framed. After a quick warmer and explaining to the groups the skills we needed from them to take this forward (concentration, imagination, sharing of ideas and an¬†openness¬†to them), we shared again the sketches and asked young people from both groups how they’d piece them together, fusing the drama and music. We had some fantastic suggestions, year 3 in the morning had bundles of ideas, year 4 shared some amazing ideas too!

I found a lonely looking metallophone in the store room, tuned it to a minor scale so we could create dream like sounds. Has a really sonorous sound, really mellow, perfect for our opening scene.

Both year 3 and 4 teachers said they enjoyed the sessions, Ms. Wilson said she liked seeing how we made headways and I sense more comfortable about what the performance will look like.¬†I tried loads to get Mr. Harwood leading the musicians, but due to time limitations and the¬†complexity¬†of the kids ideas, had to take over leading. I am really keen to play piano as well as getting the young people playing, but the need a strong pulse, maybe with the addition of musicians on Thursday it will allow for this. Highlight was writing a chorus and verse in 15 mins, it went well, Chris has displayed some excellent lyric writing skills. (A published poet didn’t you know?).

In terms of working in partnership with Chris, I feel it’s going really well, both have similar tricks up the sleeve and give one another space to lead, as well as opportunities to jump in with suggestions.

Paganel Home Week Project Session 2

Chris and I returned to Paganel School to facilitate the second round of music and drama sessions. After today we have 2 sessions left to have material devised and rehearsed!¬†The aim was to have local members of the community come in and be interviewed about their relationship with Weoley Castle and home. We got young people to devise questions about ‘home and identity’ and then to interview our guests.We had two dinner ‘people’ ¬†and students who arrived to the school at a later period be our interviewees. The young people asked some very interesting questions, moving from the geographical/’what can you see?’ questions, to more abstract; feelings about home.

The sessions were both successful, we were limited again in time as we had two assemblies that took off half an hour of time, but we got the backbone of devising drama and music performances; we always share at the end. I really enjoyed facilitating the dog song sketch; written in just 10 mins inspired by a tale of being unfortunate with pets (Chris and I became interviewees in the afternoon, I spoke about¬†accidentally¬†killing goldfish as a child, rottweilers etc). Props to Mr Harwood for the conducting and counting in! It’s great to see our year 4 teacher is gaining more confidence in leading, it would be great to work with staff and develop their ensemble leading, I think they are naturals!! ¬†

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Paganel Home Week Project

Today was the first of our “home week” sessions at Paganel school, and it was the first time I worked with Chris Bishop from BXL, who is a drama practitioner. This morning we worked with year 3, a lovely bunch of young people, with great ideas. We started with some icebreakers, bonding exercises, trying to learn names, although both Chris and I have confessed we are awful at this so name badges next week are a must!

As part of a reflection for the project we have to blog about our experiences, I normally reflect during certain milestones of a project,; (beginning, middle, end) so this process is new, but should be fine.

In retrospect, both Chris and I felt the session went well, we were able to create a buzz about the ‘home’ themed project, demonstrating the theme by bringing in realia; my items from home were; a Sainsbury’s shopping bag, photo of my family, and headphones. It was cool to get the young people guessing their significance, especially the shopping bag. We were concerned about the year 3s¬†ability¬†to think in more abstract terms about what ‘home’ signified, but some were able to do this, rather than just getting geographical and literal interpretations, some delved into the emotional side, and some the plain weird; dinosaurs!?! Chris brought in some of his late grandfather’s war medals which was really great for the participants to see, they had lots of curious questions.

We had limited time to get young people making drama and music performances, but in ten mins our 2 groups shared a performance based on their ideas of what home was. My group, explored the sounds of sisters, which included moaning, and chatting, fused with body percussion. I was impressed at how readily my group were to share their work and the feedback both groups gave was good; (initially one word answers), but I reckon once they get used to the process, we’ll get more specifics in their answers.

Chris’ group did freeze frames based on a story one of the young people shared about a dog that nearly got run over.

I think it was a successful start, the theme of the project and aims are known, although we had less time to work on devising performance work/ideas, we were able to produce something.

Year 4s session went really well too! Great answers, energy and was impressed with form tutor Dave leading the musical performance with some excellent conducting skills. He rose to the challenge, although nervous. Feedback was good, looking forward to next week!

Happy Work Pit

The pic above sums it up, I’ve been in a dark room, staring at and playing synths for the last few days, yup, I asked for it and it’s happened, snowed under with work, I’ve even turned down a few projects!! I know!?! The other day I was bemoaning the hustle!

Loads of established freelancers advised me that 3 years is what it takes, and they were right! I do hope I won’t be eating humble pie next term, what with this new government, I saw little on the Tory manifesto about arts and culture funding, gulp!

Anyroad, I’ve been workshopping loads, composing and playing synth for an experimental music project, a fusion of dubstep, asian sounds and percussion. The biggest challenge has been learning the MIDI parts, being in time with machine, you can’t make eye contact with Ableton Live, but you can with the person triggering it I suppose.

I also had loads of fun writing songs and creating pieces for Birmingham Jazz’s Creative Jam sessions, my favourite piece was in a 5/4 time signature, nice and funky. You can check iPhone footage here:

Here is the 5/4 piece.

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I hate 7/8!

During a MAASER music session Sophia mentioned not liking the time signature 7/8 – so we all rallied in to help her discover the joys of playing in such a funky metre. I loved how we just messed around and were really playful, but, at the same time helped a fellow MAASER combat their fear of it. Granted we are out of time, but it was such a laugh!! Great how Sophia becomes more positive about it towards the end! Yay!

Here are the meanderings of our quaver fun time journey:

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Music Exam Blunder!

I used to work for OCR as a creative arts clerical officer. One of the first proper graduate jobs I ever had! I did all the administrative skivvy jobs to ensure exam papers were ready for print; things like copyright permissions, liaising with artists and (ex-) teachers who wrote the paper etc.

Hearing about the recent GCSE music exam paper blunder brought back memories. It was quite fascinating to witness the development of the exam papers, but filling out spreadsheets to update the refinements: really boring!!

There was quite a discussion on the TES forum.

How on earth are OCR going to rectify the problem? They can’t make the students retake the exam!

Meme: Passion Quilt

I have been tagged by mediasnackers’ DK regarding Ewan McIntosh‘s passion quilt meme. Rules: present an image and statement exploring your passion regarding teaching/learning.

“The creative path leading to self-fulfillment and confidence, is an interminable process of trial and error”.

I’ll be tagging:
Antonio Gould– Executive Producer for 4Pioneers
Clare Edwards– Runs Gigbeth- A diverse music festival set in Brum
Synergy- Pioneers of participative media and social networking in education
Yemisi Blake– London based writer and performer
Andrew Dubber– Brum based big thinker on the developments of online music

Music Learning 2008

Music learning live 2008 kicked off yesterday in Gateshead and so far I have not managed to find one weblog or website that gives a brief synopsis of the day’s findings. An interactive section would have done the world of good- where music teachers and community musicians could comment on how the day progressed.

It is meant to be a festival that brings together music practitioners and educators from informal and formal settings as well as a mammoth professional development event and I desperately wanted to go. Unfortunately I had workshops to deliver- sniffle.

It also doesn’t come cheap; at £175 for a day and up to £395 for the whole thing- ouch! The Classroom of the Future session looked exciting- it’s definitely time more traditional music educators cast aside their fears and embrace the wealth of opportunity music tech offers.

So, if anyone has attended please get in touch, I would love to hear about it.