8Bit Playtime

I’m working on a school project to facilitate the transformation of a school waiting room into a retro computer gamed inspired space. Today’s challenge was to play with 8 Bit sounds (think Mario Kart/Pacman) and produce a simple loop in 30 minutes. Really enjoyed the process.

The young people chose the theme as they want it to become a fun space but inclusive of adults. They chose games ‘old people’ grew up with, yet play themselves. Students associated the room with being in trouble or where parents went to discuss important matters with school. Here’s my playtime results:

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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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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!

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.

Tech in the afternoon

As a free lance muso cash flow is a incessant hurdle that I am slowly getting used to. In my last post I gushed about looking forward to half-term and having a much needed break. However, I am a slave to the dollar which means this has been postponed. I am now one of three lead musicians delivering a Gigbeth project in Handsworth. I shall be using Garageband to make beats with young people:) Although I have a copy, I use Logic Pro more and have been told by lots of people how easy it is to pick up, I had never really used it to make music until this afternoon that is. I am spending a lovely summer autumn day writing Latin inspired beats. It took 20 mins to get round it!!

According to a trusted friend of mine, Apple now do a deal where you pay £80 a year which lets you go in for an hour’s tuition on anything software related whenever you want, its really useful and the creatives are really good apparently.

I am also getting closer to attaining my dream of working with an organisation that I have admired since 12 to deliver an exciting music project. I won’t say who they are until it is concrete, but, I am becoming slightly more excited!

Melting my heart and playing the game

2 weeks until half term and I can’t wait! I have not had a holiday since I became a free-lancer in spring, a little break away is much needed.

‘Bass Culture’ is going really well, we have had hardly any hiccups, which is reassuringly nice. After weeks of not knowing when Apple were going to deliver 16 Imacs from its new eastern distribution arsenal- they finally arrived- and were installed after 2 weeks. We were able to take participants through the basic of Logic Express- using loops to affiliate participants with the program. It all seems to be making sense- applying the beats and skills learnt in practical activities to virtual music software.

I am really enjoying the sessions- there is one group in particular, a year nine class that bedazzle me with their intellect and great attitudes. They have the maturity to actively take part in all exercises; they are open-minded and know quite a fair bit about black music. There are two quiet, gentle lads, who melt my heart each week- they exude such a warmth and genuine quality. So far, every time they have displayed their work to me, I start gushing like a pregnant woman watching a schmaltzy US film. I am sure they think I am weird.

The music teaching is going okay- having to up my game each week, and my voice projection is getting better, getting deeper and louder- soon I shall be giving the late Barry White a run for his money!!

One thing I am really not nailing hard is the publicity/marketing side. How I loathe it! The sarcastic school secretaries, the self-promotion, being vulnerable to whether people want to buy into your ‘product’- yuck!! Yet it is a total necessity- Music Leader are doing a really good networking/ buyers meet sellers marketplace, yet I cannot setup a stall as it falls on a school day and I simply cannot get to Wolvs on time. Booo!!

The Djing is going okay, but, I would not mind more gigs around the UK or abroad- it has been over a year since we started up at the Bull’s Head- time for MFG! development. Stupid Djing question of the month- asked whilst I am playing a funk 45.

Drunk, quite stylish punter: ‘Do you have anything that’s like really old?’

Me: ‘Like how old?’

Punter: ‘Like 15 years old, nothing modern’.

Me: ‘This is about 40 years old’.

Punter: ‘Yeah, you know what I mean’.

I really didn’t. I retold the story to Sister 45 and we sighed. Drunk people; they say the funniest things!

Dilemmas, shouting and more work in the pipeline

I am in a bit of turmoil as to whether I go for the PGCE/GTP or keep going as a free-lancer. The arguments for both corners are strong. At some point I probably will enter the formal education sector but maybe I will stick this out a while longer I think… Arhhh!!!

At one of the schools I worked at I was told to work on my voice projection. Apparently my voice is not low enough! So time to work on that. Although I was hostile to the idea at first.

Through the hindrances and frustrations at working at a particularly challenging school, I have learned that when I devise more projects I have to make sure that the venue is suitable for participants and that the facilities are available the day I am there!!!

I am really enjoying my sessions at AI School. The students are really starting to understand the joys of being creative, they are lovely people and have lots of good ideas.It makes me happy to be a workshop leader!

The RESPECT programme is finally on my doorstop which is excitingt!!

I have also had a meeting with Kingstanding 610 community centre and will be setting up projects for them over the Easter period. I have also gained work interest from James Brindley School doing Brazilian/world music workshops.

I have loads to do, proposals, budgets, more interviews, just need more hours in the day to get on top of all this!!


Things are continuing to go well; I shall be doing some summer projects with Birmingham City Council’s Youth Services and LACES (Looked after children).

I also had a meeting with the head of music at my old secondary school and we bounced ideas as to how to get more of the Gifted and Talented students in year nine to take GCSE music through music workshops.

I am still finding working at PB school difficult, some of the other classes are starting to understand the value of being creative and are taking the sessions more seriously, but there is one class at the end who are really trying to make it hard for me and the teacher to get past the warm up stage of our lesson plan. It is like they are immune to the teacher’s shouting. It is such a contrast to the other schools I work out where discipline is not an issue; especially when both schools I atteneded had hardly any disciplinary issues at all.

I am perfecting my proposal writing skills and am working out exactly how much I should charge for the planning and preparation of my projects.

The Respect Programme music mentoring scheme should be kicking off rather soon too!

Perry Beeches School First Workshop in April ’07

Originally uploaded by Bobbalinhot.

I am working with the Performing Arts teacher of Perry Beeches School to give some of the year 8 and 9 students an opportunity to experience the joys of music. Some of the groups I am working with seem disengaged with education and for most teachers behavioural issues occur frequently. Quite a few participants were on report or were given detentions.

It is definitely going to be a challenge to make these students become creative and motivated about music. At present it is difficult to move from behaviourist or teacher led activities let alone to more cognitive exercises. I will persevere!!

I will have to have to engage with the ring leaders to a certain degree to get the pace of workshops faster.