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California and the Ukulele!

California here we come! (yes, again!!) Remember that crazy trip where my students fundraised their way to America? and then it became a credit-bearing class? The one that also became a book? Well this is that class, we’re getting ready to hit the sunshine in 2018!

…not just yet, actually the class doesn’t ‘officially’ start until the new year, but the students joining me this year started their work back in May. They spent the summer fundraising and playing together and now they have been devising workshops for groups of students in primary schools and also for staff as well. The sessions for staff aim to give camp councillors the foundations for some fun summer workshops they can use with their campers.

Every year the cohort on this module is different. Last year I was busy preparing formal recital material with one of the students so we could perform as a duo. This year the group have formed a folk band with a violin, drum/bass, ukulele, and singer. They will be teaching the underlying chords and components of some great tunes, as well as presenting elements of their own instruments and interests. The singer will be teaching some traditional Polish songs, and the ukulele player just shared this with me: (can you identify the tune? … my 10 year old can!)

I can’t wait to see what they come up with in the coming months. This is one of those classes where students put into real life use the skills they have learned throughout their degree. We’re even hoping to go to a conference together.

Our trip to California is in February, and in the meantime we’re working on fundraising to buy ukuleles for all the kids we work with. We would love to do workshops and leave instruments with each of the schools. Watch this space for updates on our trip and fundraising.

As they say … pass it on!  🙂

The Delay, The Wheelchair, And The Northern Lights

Booked in to fly from Kamloops to London I was sad to leave beautiful friends, but eager to see my family again. I spent time in the morning soaking up the surroundings one last time, and all was well. The taxi driver and I talked about London, as he grew up there, and all the changes that have happened over the past 20 years with the roads.

Delay number 1.

It was only a 14 minute delay, and heck, they sent an email about it. No worries.

but then, another few minutes, and then a bit more, and then we took off. The land was too beautiful to think of delays, but as we came in to land in Calgary, over the loud speaker came, “We have a passenger making a very tight connection to London…” Everyone was lovely and let me right to the front to get off first, but then… Read more

Pushing the boat out: Creativity in the Open

Kamloops. Creativity in the Open. Out in the open. The Wilderness stretches as far as the eye can see, and there is water in the valley, snow on the distant mountains, etched clouds above, and wonderful smiles to surround us on the TRU (Thompson Rivers University) campus here in Canada. It was an opportunity to push boundaries and explore. My appetite for learning is large and this was a feast.

The convergence of beautiful surroundings, people, thought, has been magic over the past few days during the Creativity in the Open event, organised by Tanya Dorey. It has been a privilege to share so much with these people. It started as a conversation at an online meeting between academics from diverse fields – a curriculum designer, a biologist, a philosopher, and a musician. It was our ‘play-date’ where we could talk and snatch a precious few moments to know one another better than text-base interactions allow. (there’s a story connecting that meeting to the event that just happened, and that will be in the collaborative magazine Kintsugim issue coming out in about a week)

There is an inherent joy for me, in being at a place and an event where creativity is valued, welcomed, and fostered. I knew that I came bringing something that would be new for people – playing instruments and giving them the tools to make some recognisable sounds in a short space of time. Working together in different ways than the everyday desk environment provides, and using a different medium to convey creativity – sound. I would be pushing people, but there were also opportunities for people to push me. Read more

Applied Imagination: I think, therefore I can

Yes you can. That’s a powerful refrain in my life, and it underpins so very very much. I had the privilege of teaching on the ‘Applied Imagination’ module at the University of Warwick yesterday. To contextualise, this class sits within Warwick’s Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning (IATL) and the students come from all different departments and schools across the university- trans, inter, cross disciplinary are all big themes of the class, as well as thought, imagination, belief, and accomplishment.

It was such a special morning. I set off pre-dawn with my little care packed full of instruments, as my session would use music, but music as a metaphor. I know that people are not going to learn to be ‘musicians’ in a couple of hours, but music is so wonderful – it moves, it grooves, it makes you feel, and for so many of us it remains untouchable. I love to bring people to something that is perceived as being outside their reach. <— Hold that thought; I’ll return to it in a minute. Read more

A scene of hope

This is a post about life, and finding hope in what you have, where you are.

The church is ancient. The village is in the Bayeaux tapestry, King Cnut’s daughter is buried there, the place goes way back before anything I could claim to be ‘my time’ or really my understanding of time.

I was in the midst of it, and for a few moments time I was aware of the scene around me. Read more

Shuffle the deck: Scales becoming tunes #MUS654

Listening, and thinking on the way music creeps under your skin to make you move… I spent this week thinking on scales and their relationships as part of #MUS654 – of notes to notes, and yes, the relationships of the notes to people. Context can be everything and it can change so much. The way things are ordered, presented, and the way we look at them is important for how people attribute meaning.

For each type of musician, there are different physical parameters that influence the mechanical logistics of how we paint our sounds. Let me explain… in my last post I talked about how singers don’t use ‘fingerings’ for their notes. They have intense links between the conceptual understanding of what needs to be done to achieve a certain pitch and then they make the sound. There is no looking (down the throat!) to check they have the right positioning. Yes there are physical aspects of singing that can be seen – like mouth shape and torso placement/use, but there are unseen aspects and somehow there is a strong connection between the mind and the outcome.

Likewise for other instruments the mind is very important, but there is this pesky other bit that cannot be ignored… As a cellist, I work with my hands Read more

Scaling it up: More than a ladder?

Talking with a number of different instrumentalist:

An ukulele player, bassist, violinist, clarinettist, and a singer about #MUS654 topic of Scales and the Relationships of Notes.

Discussing how scales are specifically used and understood within and across different instrument specialisms opened some eyes and gave us food for thought.

We started with big quesitons:

What actually are scales for? When do we play them? When do we learn them?

It seems perspectives shift with experience as well as with instrument. There is a basic awareness that scales mean notes and the relationships of notes. This equates to building a geographical knowledge on some instruments. The physicality of the instrument was accessed through scales, in effect adding steps to the ladder. Beyond understanding this geography, some people said the usefulness of scales was simply as an exercise in dexterity – and that students ‘do’ scales because they have to.  (Image CC-BY by Naveen P.M.)

Ouch. That sounds unpleasant, complex, and maybe unnecessary?…

But then the singers piped up. Read more

On melody, meaning, & relationships of notes #MUS654

Melody is something that speaks to people. It sings, it moves, it has meaning. I was musing over this as I sat with my cello, playing different two-note combinations across the strings as I warmed up my fingers and my ear. While playing, I thought – what am I doing?

  • Listening
  • Feeling
  • Tunig
  • Manipulating the sound as I moved the bow left to right
  • Changing dynamics
  • Breathing

Was this exercise a melody? or could this be a melody? I think it didn’t start as a melody, but as I thought about it and changed my perception, it became melodic.

Last week in #MUS654 we heard Duane Padilla explain that a melody was the notes of a scale mixed up. Ah, yes! -I’d like to add an ‘and’, so: the notes of a scale mixed up and played with some intention. Duane didn’t say that bit in words, but he did in sound – through his playing.

That intention comes from different sources including our understanding of the harmonic language-framework (tonality), experiences where we have heard those or similar sounds, and both musical and extra-musical associations. Then we can project that onto the music via a host of instrument-specific techniques.

I invite you to dip into this week’s #MUS654 topic exploring Scales and the Relationships of Notes to question, deepen your awareness, discuss, and further our (collective) understanding of some of the frameworks that enable us as musicians to add that intention to our sounds and create expression.

Let’s start with a question for you all:

When in your music making (from whistling to concertising) do your notes become melody and what gives them meaning?

Leave a comment or share something and tag it #MUS654

Featured image CC BY-ND by kiera.chan

Meeting the Mother of Yes

“When you grow up you can be anything you want.”

I remember a few school teachers saying that to me, and other adults – I’m sure my parents said it, but I remember grandparents instilling that in me. For them it was the chance they, as young people living through the Great Depression, and then war, didn’t have.

Often people think they are supposed to be one thing or another, following in the footsteps of past generations. Sometimes that is amazing; other times it is a forced fit. I recently had a student comment – out of the blue- and put it poignantly. Here is the essence of what he said:

Sometimes people want to be part of a group. They make themselves fit and then as time progresses, some of that group will become exceptional. When that happens, they cease to be part of the group, but become individuals. Become themselves.

I want to be myself. I want to explore and expand my mind.

Read more

Lyre Bird: #MUS654

I was thinking about melodies and the #MUS654 topic of ‘what makes a melody?‘ when I remembered about the lyre bird. No, this is not a veiled political comment, I’m talking purely about a very unique bird that lives in Australia. It is distinct to look at, with its long pluming tail, but the sounds it makes are truly extraordinary.

On the #MUS654 page on melody I suggested imitating a bird, but perhaps not this one! It has evolved a lifestyle that involves singing singing singing through the winter, as this is its mating season. Also there is a need to really woo the lady bird as she only produces a single egg every two years. Thus the song is amazing. Have a listen…. this two minute video is worth watching. See if it challenges your understanding of how birds and other natural sounds fit into music and everyday listening:

Your turn!

If you haven’t had a go imitating some birdsong, have a go. Xeno-Canto is a database that has over 373,800 recordings of birdsong. You can search by species and choose the tweeter of your choice to listen to and imitate. Remember you can share a link on your own blog, tweet it with the tag #MUS654, or share in comments on this post or on the the #MUS654 page on melody.

Featured image CC-BY by Hardy Humphries