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Applied imagination: Are the walls real?

Last week I had the privilege of teaching on the Applied Imagination module at the University of Warwick. Imagine, a two-hour session in a studio that was a copy of where performers stand in a play, with lighting rig all around, a catwalk above, black brick walls and everything that makes a stage – except the audience. What a setting. This was our stage.

The class consisted of 18 from across the different disciplines offered at the university, and our session began with a recap from them (for me) of their understanding of working within a discipline and branching out to cross-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary and even trans-disciplinary. They used the analogy of boxes. (I thought of shoe boxes) One discipline stays within the box, cross jumps from one box to another, inter uses the boxes to make a linked fort-type structure, and trans- that’s when I piped up and joined the discussion with the analogy that you just tip all the boxes out and make a pile in the middle.

This class was like that – we were a mix and were all together. I didn’t even introduce myself beyond: Hi, I’m Laura. They had all read the chapter ‘Whole Students’ from my book, and so they did know something of me. I didn’t need to be put into any other boxes. I began with telling them that when thinking of all these boxes – oh there are so many boxes, in life, in education, in people’s expectations of us, the list could go on – when thinking of these boxes, the walls aren’t real. Are they?

(gosh that was heavy. Did I really say that?!?)

(I did)

Of course the walls are real, but very often they are built by people and sometimes even built by us. That was something to keep in mind, in the background as we went through various activities and discussions. The overall themes were:  Read more

Standing up and showing up

This post is about hope and standing up for one another. The unfolding events of the past six months or so have troubled me. Nobody likes to see a bully or a hater normalised. Nobody likes to see bad news. Nobody likes to be told and shown how destructive … the negativity is all over the place, like a cancer. Well it’s not really all over. You can choose not to watch the tv, choose to block the ads, choose not to sign up to the tolerances and looking the other way, but that is not easy. It takes choice and action – some might say agency.

(featured image CC BY-ND by Mike Keating)

Last night, Jan 20th, there was an event at my university, initiated by one of my students, and we organised it together. It was a positive event to change our perspective and combat all the ugliness that can invade and cloud our vision. We wanted to celebrate unity, love, and join together in solidarity with one another and with the extended community. We did this with words, song, poetry, music, and by being physically present. It was more than a conversation and went beyond agreeing or disagreeing with something – we were doing something. Everyone there showed up and stood up -All manner of people were represented in those taking part – multiple nationalities, various mother tongues, students, teachers, administrators, senior management, alumni, people from other universities, able, disabled – in a wheelchair, blind- old, young, men, women, and we came together. Voices were heard to speak for and represent those who were not there, but wanted to contribute. We sang together. We sang the March of the Women by suffragette Ethel Smythe, a song she conducted with a toothbrush, through the jail cell bars while imprisoned. Original songs and poems were shared about loss, healing, distant friends, and about expression, hope, and unity.

One brave gal stood up, and before performing said, I don’t play on my own (I don’t think colleagues knew she played at all) and she sang about sending hope to friends on distant shores, with the wonderful lyrics, ‘give me a smile and I’ll send you a rainbow.’ Someone else sang a Woody Guthrie song acapella – about a plane that crashed as it was flying ‘unwanted’ workers to Mexico – ‘deportees’. We were invited to join in with the refrain – ‘adios mes amigos… you won’t have names on the airplane, they’ll just call you… deportees.’ Quiet voices could be heard singing softly in the cold chapel, darkness all around outside.

It was enormously moving. There was hope – with Maya Angelou’s ‘A brave and startling truth’ and some very moving words about the motto from Trump’s maternal family clan motto, from Scotland (his grandmother was an immigrant): ‘Burn without being consumed.’ The speaker reminded us that this is something for us, now, to stand with one another, to stand for one another, -and I thought of the candle that passes it’s light to another without diminishing- we must not allow ourselves to be consumed, certainly not by ill.

We took our turns and everyone played a part, and after having arrived feeling the weight of- well feeling melted and consumed by events across the globe, we left with smiles and laughter, and even hugs. We left with hope and strength.

It wasn’t quite planned to have that outcome, but it happened, and it wasn’t a nation-wide, county-wide, or even city-wide event, but a small gathering. What I most hope to convey in telling a little about it is the amazing feeling that unity and solidarity that standing with one another brings. And what gifts of talents, words, research, and personal inspiration come forward to support peace, togetherness, and hope when an offer is opened and people are invited were truly unexpected.

I encourage you to consider doing something similar, or coming up with your own idea, and even if there are 5 people present – never underestimate what good can be achieved.

Here are some of the things that were read out:

Image CC BY by Rhett Maxwell

 

Making time to create together

I have time; it is a priority.

 

This is a short reflection on Chapter 5 of the book We make the road by walking by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire as part of the book club created by Bryan Alexander. (3 min read)

Paulo: “But we can also create space inside of the subsystem or the schooling system in order to occupy the space.” (p.203)

Zoom in on that sentence:

We can create space.

We can create.

We can.

We.

It is so powerful, affirming, and inspiring. To me it says there is possibility. Stravinsky put it well (I included this quote in my book. Needless to say, it’s a quote I love.):

“Well, in art as in everything else, one can build only upon a resisting foundation: whatever constantly gives way to pressure, constantly renders movement impossible. My freedom consists in moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each one of my undertakings.” (Stravinsky, 1970, p.65)

Back to Paulo’s sentence: yes we can. Yes we can create. –and it isn’t impossible, we CAN and it isn’t something to be done alone. We is plural. You and me, and others: we.

Read more

Cello Weekend 2017 – Join Us!

It’s time to think ahead and book for this year’s Cello Weekend! This is a chance to come together and study at the University of Chichester campus for a weekend with teachers and students from the university as well as cellists from across the wider professional musical community. Cellists of all ages are welcome, and there is something in the programme for everyone – from the orchestral experience of playing the classics of Mozart and Bach in an all-cello orchestra, to exploring aspects of performance, practice, and technique, to having a go at experimenting with modern techniques used by folk and jazz players as they go beyond just playing the notes. You can even have a play on a 5-string electric cello… or you might stick to the classics and watch others perform.

This year we welcome two outstanding professionals: Angela East and Kay Tucker. Angela will lead a musical surgery entitled “Any Questions? Your opportunity to find the answers to issues that have puzzled you for years!” Angela is inviting every participant to submit a question in advance of the weekend. Kay will be speaking, of course, about String Babies! and how our approach to reading and understanding music impacts all of us.

We also welcome two fantastic student-professionals who are both currently studying for their MA in Performance at Chichester: Nikolai Krinitsky and Joe Chilcott. Each of these people brings insight and understanding that will give you a fresh look at your own playing and at how you understand music. Full biographies and information about our guests is listed below the poster (scroll down!).

There are opportunities at the Cello Weekend to learn, explore, play, and meet other musicians. For more information, please contact me. My email is on the poster below. Local accommodation is also available for those travelling to get to the weekend.

AngelaEast:

Angela has combined playing and teaching throughout her career. At first, she taught in a number of schools including Haileybury, Leighton Park, Epsom College and Eton, where she taught the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. She also taught adult beginners at the City Literary Institute, where she had the largest classes in the music department. At this time she was freelancing as a modern cellist, mainly with the London Mozart Players.

In 1979 Angela acquired a baroque cello and became co-principal cello with the English Baroque Soloists under Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Known for the ‘elemental’ style of performance (The Times), Angela East is highly regarded as one of the leading continuo players of the Early Music Movement., having played with many of the foremost baroque orchestras in London including Principal Cello in the first performance on original instruments at Glyndebourne under Sir Simon Rattle.

Angela trained to become a Suzuki cello teacher in the 1980s and is a level 5 teacher and a teacher trainer. As her playing career developed, she began to develop her home teaching practice and has taught numerous children, some of whom chose musical careers and many of whom still play.

In 1997 she became a member of Red Priest. As well as having performed all over the world in some very interesting and unusual countries, this group has provided her with the opportunity to perform as a soloist, to make arrangements of unlikely repertoire such as Handel’s Messiah and she has been a partner in Red Priest Recordings, with whom she made two solo recordings, one of the Bach Cello Suites and one called ‘Baroque Cello Illuminations’ that includes pedagogical material. This CD was chosen as CD of the Fortnight by Classical Music Magazine.

In 2005 she enrolled with the Brighton School of Alexander Technique and graduated in 2009, providing an extra string to her bow. As well as teaching young children, she now teaches beginner adults by combining cello with the Alexander Technique and, on the other hand, gives Alexander lessons to a number of professional cellists. She has now devised a course and is writing a book for parents of children who wish to learn an instrument (any instrument, any teacher) and her self-run teacher training courses are now in their fourth year.

Angela gives regular recitals; one of her programmes is entitled ‘A Tale of Five Cellos’ in which she plays the viola da gamba, the bass violin, the baroque cello, the five-stringed cello and a Ventapane cello of 1828. Her repertoire extends into the 20th century with the Kodaly Solo Sonata and a number of jazz pieces by Aaron Minsky and Mark Summer. She has performed many times on radio and television, including Open University programmes and has been awarded an ARAM for her distinguished services to the music profession.

She has contributed articles to journals such as Arco and Early Music Today, has published editions of the Donizetti String Quartets and her book ‘Play Baroque’ has been published by Stainer and Bell, with several pieces having been chosen for the ABRSM syllabus. She has contributed articles to Early Music Today magazine and to ESTA and Suzuki newsletters. She has taken part in over 200 recordings including some by the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Led Zeppelin and Eminem, and has founded two groups of her own – the London Baroque Soloists and the Revolutionary Drawing Room, with whom she recorded eight CDs of Boccherini and Donizetti, one of which was chosen by Stanley Sadie in his ‘Critics’ Choice’.

She has been a member of ESTA since the 1970s.

Kay Tucker:

An alumni of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Kay has been playing the cello since the age of 12. She gives recitals both as soloist and ensemble player and is a professional cello teacher. In 2002, Kay was invited by Trinity GuildhallExamination Board to select cello repertoire for the 2004 strings syllabus. She has recently completed setting the cello repertoire for the new Trinity Guildhall syllabus, running from 2007. As a member of the British and International Federation of Festivals, she has adjudicated at well over 100 national & local festivals throughout the UK. She is a Music Mentor for the National Festival of Music for Youth

Kay is passionate about the cello, and in teaching others to play well, whatever their age. She strongly believes that establishing a sound technique is fundamental to maximum achievement and enjoyment on the instrument.

Kay is widely experienced in teaching cello at all levels and to all ages. Over the years she has organised and given masterclasses & workshops. She is also a deputy teacher at the Royal College of Music. Students have gained music scholarships and exhibitions to independent schools and a number have been awarded places at the leading conservatoires. Most of Kay’s students have continued to enjoy the cello well into adult hood, some professionally

Kay encourages all her students to participate in chamber music and orchestras. Students have gained places in the West Sussex County Youth Orchestra, Surrey County Youth Orchestra, Brighton Youth Orchestra and the National Children’s Orchestra. Kay has had a number of works composed for her and her students; most notably ‘Mellow Cellos’ by Howard Thompson, and ‘Deep Space 5’ by Douglas Coombes.

Joe Chilcott:

 

Joe is a singer/songwriter who plays the guitar. He has just started playing the cello, but his strengths lie in his creativity with the use of his guitar. Joe is able to imagine a world of sounds and to create these on his acoustic guitar, using every part of the instrument. You can listen to some of Joe’s work here. He is studying for his MA in Music Performance at Chichester and notably, he was in the semi-finals of the UK Open Mic competition in November 2016. I promise his session will produce smiles and beautiful music.

 

 

Nikolai Krinitsky:

Is a cellist who comes originally from Moscow. He studied in Moscow, and completed his undergraduate degree at the Royal College of Music. He is now studying for his MA in Music Performance at Chichester. Nikolai possesses an impressive level of technical skill, and surprisingly, also a great humility as a performer. These two do not always go hand-in-hand. He is gentle and approachable, and has a way of encouraging performers to find the joy of the music they are playing. His insight comes from years of performing and also from his own skill as a composer for the instrument. He has composed many cello studies, caprices, and a sonata. His performance class is sure to be inclusive, encouraging, and full of genuine appreciation for music making.

 

Teaching to let go

(3 min read)

“…the delicate relationship between teaching, giving knowledge, and learning knowledge”

This comes from Chapter 4 of We make the road by walking, a book of conversations between the educators Paulo Freire and Myles Horton. Paulo goes on to elaborate this quote, talking about going beyond the knowledge that the people bring to a situation. (p.151) I am struck by this book, how much it resonates with me and I sincerely wish I had been able to meet these people in person. It’s my holiday read, part of a book club, and I suppose this is my post about Chapter 4. It is a short one, not because there is less that inspired me, but because there was one paragraph that leapt out for me. Paulo speaks about this balance between teaching, knowledge, and learning and adds the authority of the teacher.

“The other mistake is to crush freedom and to exacerbate the authority of the teacher. Then you no longer have freedom but now you have authoritarianism, and then the teacher is the one who teaches. The teacher is the one who knows. The teacher is the one who guides. The teacher is the one who does everything. And the students, precisely because the students must be shaped, just expose their bodies and their souls to the hands of the teacher, as if the students were clay for the artist, to be molded.

The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to be­ come themselves. And in doing that, he or she lives the experience of relating democratically as authority with the freedom of the students.” -Paulo, p.181

This is so true, and a difficult one to learn. As a teacher it is a huge apocalyptic epiphany to know, not intellectually, but to really understand that you (or I or anyone) cannot change another. Read more

2016 in Review

A review? I thought – ‘nah… and how could I crystalise a year in a few words?’ but then it began to form, and here is one of the shortest posts I’ve written:

2016 was the year I believed myself – listened to my own thinking/teaching.

Some context: 2015 was the year dreams began to come true. Where I said ‘why don’t we…’ and it happened. I wrote my first book – all about how to make those dreams happen for students – how to embed the self-belief in their learning, to enable them to achieve, so they could do what they dream. I told them yes you can! -In 2015 I wrote it and I taught it.

In 2016 I began to believe it for myself. There is a difference between knowing and believing and believing is nothing without doing. I became more of an active learner than ever. Lots of doing involved (for example I wrote another book), and lots more doing and learning to come, but it is amazing what can even begin to be accomplished when you (I) don’t get in your own way.

How will the seeds you have planted grow this year? 

 Image by me 15 Oct, 2016 CC-SA

Featured image titled “Leaves from the book of life” CC BY-NC-SA by Walter A. Aue