Digging a Little Deeper in Spodden Valley…

 

On the weekend of 2 – 4 December an exciting new phase of the Spodden Valley Revealed project started, with field survey work by Archaeology team Dig Ventures  and volunteer Explorers.

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Starting out from Whitworth Library and Whitworth Museum the team recorded heritage sites such as Facit Incline and Peel Chimney, Healey Dell, Cowm Reservoir and a ruined farm and exciting standing stones at Brown Wardle.

Interesting finds included a fully intact cellar at the ruined farm site, with vaulted ceilings, and intriguing standing stones that are exactly nine metres apart with curious indents and uniformed points, are these stone tenter posts as part of tenter frames to dry cloth as part of the cottage industries?  More to come as we investigate further – it has certainly caught the interest of our archaeology team…

It was such a great weekend, especially with our younger Explorers who really enjoyed being a part of the team, learning new skills and getting out into the wonderful landscape of Whitworth.

Keep an eye out in the New Year for more family based archaeology activities and for more ways you can get involved.

For more information email Diana Hamilton, visit the webpage and follow us on Facebook.

 

Thoughts from the Singing Ringing Tree – Ben McCabe

Music Leader from the Songs from the Singing Ringing Tree, Ben McCabe, recalls his experience…

Looking Back

I have, of course, moved on or at least over to, various other projects now whilst the Songs from Singing Ringing Tree quickly becomes a fuzzy but friendly memory.

We’ve just had an evaluation meeting at Mid Pennine Arts which included viewing videos we’d made and thinking about ways forward. It seemed pretty obvious to build on what we’ve done – playing, chatting, composing, exploring with children, staff and parents in nurseries in Burnley and Brierfield.

I’ve had a mixture of feeling confident and like the right person in the right place, and then feeling like a fraud with nothing to offer. Often within a space of a few minutes.

Now we’ve finished, my main sensation is that the project was a bit too long for me to maintain focus and energy, and to stick to what I felt the brief was – improving life chances for nursery children through developing speech and language skills and confidence through music making, all through the method of being inspired by a visit to a work of public art and then responding to that.

It was great to get comfy in each setting and to get to know the children and staff so well and we certainly were able to pursue some pleasingly playful and creative avenues of song writing, storytelling, performing and arranging. Becoming part of the rhythm of the week meant that some of the specialness and engagement from all directions wore off – although not in one to one interactions. I feel I should have more willingly to let go of referring back to visits to Halo or Singing Ringing Tree and just made new music every week – following our noses. Gladly there were many occasions when a group or a particular person steered sessions out of my control and into more interesting in-the-moment play.

Going on a Trip

My first outing with Stoneyholme Nursery was wisely delayed for quite a while as the children had only recently arrived at nursery and were still finding their feet. The staff felt that they wouldn’t be able to offer much of a response to a visit to Halo if they were too stressed out dealing with getting through the day.

So we waited a while and I therefore adjusted things a little. Looking at pictures of where were going to go and trying to work out what on earth it could be.

Loads of ideas sprung up and we were always drawing pictures in our discussions and then turning them into songs. Sometimes songs would emerge in the moment with tunes supplied in response to the question “can anyone sing how this one goes”. Sometimes we couldn’t get the thing moving so with smoke and mirrors we’d move on and I might write a little music myself to match our words in the staff room just before lunch. I think this mixture of shared compositions, and stuff I know I can make work, is fine. Working quickly seems important. Keeping going back to the beginning works well too – feels like a game.

We prepared messages – actually pictures – to tie to the legs of the Halo which we decided was a spaceship and then we’d send them off into space when we eventually got there.

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fullsizerenderWe also prepared a disco tune – I can’t remember why but we certainly danced in the breeze once we made it to Halo.

The journey is just as important as arriving for many of us.  It’s nice to get excited about things we know about. So we wrote songs about getting the bus, going on a trip, playing I-Spy on the way there

As we’d learnt on the Wonderful Things in Song project, that this team had delivered previously, it was valuable to have reminders up around the nursery for children and staff to refer back to in groups or during a more open session. We developed this a little more at Stoneyholme, recording songs as a group as well as versions which I recorded in the staff room. These were available for children to play back in nursery as well as becoming backing tracks in our sessions as well as being the soundtrack for our coach journey to Halo.

 Fliers and Weepers

The groups were a nice size 5 – 8 children with a staff member and me as well as one to one sessions with me plonked in a bit of the nursery as the children went about their day.

Each day I seemed to challenge myself to try and get the balance right on allowing children to lead us through a session but still cover enough music making that would seem meaningful to the staff that were with me. Hoping that they’d see the value in what we were doing as well as any leaps, bounds and increments that individual children might be making.

It was lots of fun to be guided by particular children who were having fun with taking the lead – sometimes completely dominating a session, sometimes talking themselves stuck, sometimes getting carried away and getting a little too cheeky for the group to be able to continue down that road.

And I always feel a really strong urge to make things FAIR for everyone. I suspect this isn’t that fair of me and probably coming from my own experiences at school?  So I’d invite someone who’d not had a turn or not given us a lyric yet to have turn. Sometimes this was too much to have asked and there’d be tears or just frozen silence but often we’d get a quiet word, picture or a tap on a drum. Tiny moments of progression that could open the door for a lot more interaction and involvement as the weeks went by that build on the resulting trust formed.

Ben McCabe

You can read more about the project and view the documentary film on our website.

Thoughts from the Singing Ringing Tree – Beth Allen

Music Leader from the Songs from the Singing Ringing Tree, Beth Allen, recalls her experience…

Two years of nursery experiences makes for quite intense experiences and deep learning. I see nurseries as a community to enthuse with the love of voice.  If I can enthuse the kids  and show them that songs can make them laugh when they are low, help them remember things they are struggling with, control words they wouldn’t have ever controlled, played out stories they had never really heard before… then they will always remember those feelings.  I am one of those children, having been enthused by a visiting music specialist at my school when I was five years old!  If I can enthuse the staff and build their confidence to mess and play with songs to make them their own, to make them relevant and make them fit for purpose… or if I can find songs that work for them, using backing tracks, or instruments, or nonsense, or with props or pictures, microphones or folk songs… I will find any way in to help staff find their own, sustainable way, to use songs when I’m not there any more.

Some prefer putting on a show for celebrations, while others like to keep it simple and just mix up the occasional words?  We have played with our voices to bring life to the characters in a song, with soundscaping to set a whole scene to a song, with nonsense language to express more than second language children can express with words, with instrumentation to grow the meaning/emotion of a song… add to that lighting and dance moves, then an audience… and the more confident staff enabled their kids to experience something bigger. For me I have found that it is the relationships that allow me to work creatively and that when there is a relationship of trust… a whole group or a pairing can work together to write really lovely little nuggets that stick and are remembered weeks later, because they caught a moment and remain relevant. Some members of staff obviously thought about words and language between sessions and came back having written new songs… or improved on mine.  Some children thought about the games we were playing with language and offered really interesting and fun alternatives, remembering additions from week to week.

The one big failing I felt was after reading a dissertation from an Assistant Teacher at Woodfield Nursery.  She talked about the aural tradition in Pakistan, and about the different regions placing different emphasis on writing… and how this effects ability to learn writing skills once in Britain.  I became very aware that I was trying to make links and encourage development of the English language but that I couldn’t make culturally relevant links if I knew nothing about the prevailing culture of a nursery, ie Pakistan or Bangladesh.  I felt, and still feel, very short on stores and rhymes and songs from those cultures.  I am aware that we show respect for each other by learning each others aural traditions, and by learning them we give them a value.

Beth Allen

You can read more about the project and view the documentary film on our website.

Thoughts from the Singing Ringing Tree – Zoe Greenhalgh

Music Leader from the Songs from the Singing Ringing Tree, Zoe Greenhalgh, recalls her experience…

Relationships

For me, the joy of working on projects such as this, is the wonderful human connections with the very young that are born out of musical play and exploration, without any need for speech.  Singing is such a wonderful medium; no right or wrong, just variations which have infinite potential for development in a whole new direction.

In the settings the day comprised of working with all children in the nursery in small groups of 6-10 each supported by a member of the nursery staff which allowed the children and myself to become well acquainted and build a good relationship. It also enabled me to learn something of the children as individuals; how confident they were, their readiness to sing and make music, their ideas and interests, quirks and foibles.  In these small groups I became familiar to them and they to me, meaning that I could structure my teaching to support their individual needs whether musical or otherwise.  Progress and participation was good and much enjoyment was evident.

The Singing Tent

In one setting I came to know the children over a number of weeks working with small group and their key worker before creating and opening the “singing tent” for business. The groups were predominantly adult led so the tent was intended to redress the balance by offering the children the opportunity to initiate and lead the musical activities, for me to join in with their play.

The “singing tent” was constructed from a clotheshorse and some music printed fabric held together with clothes pegs.  This was intentionally only large enough for me and two children to occupy at any one time thus maintaining a sense of intimacy that might elicit the engagement of even the most timid of children.  Sometimes it was situated inside in the nursery, sometimes outside in the garden.  I stayed in the tent with my ukulele and the children came and joined me as and when they liked.  The ukulele turned out to be a good provocation for the children to respond to: they were attracted to the sound and wanted to play it, but were inclined to play with some delicacy, either listening intently to the sounds they produced or strum it as an accompaniment to their singing. It was often not played at all.

I had tried different instruments for variety – a small number of quality percussion instruments and chime bars – but whilst the children enjoyed exploring these, as a joint interactive activity it was not very fruitful.  Likewise, me sitting in the tent just singing with no instruments was not as attractive, possibly because the sound of a singing voice is a familiar one in the setting.

Within the intimate, private space of the tent, these children recognised me as a play partner and offered me the crown jewels – magical musical connections with voice, sound and rhythm, spontaneous original song improvisations, musical play of all shapes and sizes.  What an honour and infinite pleasure to be so accepted and trusted with their precious offerings.

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Inspiration visit to the Singing Ringing Tree

Ways of working…

During this project I have worked in a more formal, adult-led manner with small groups of children as well as in a more informal, “free flow” way. Both are valuable in their own right but I believe that the impact is greater than the sum of its parts when the two approaches are combined.  How important then that educators within the setting have the musical confidence and skill to scaffold and support children’s musical creativity and development, and that staff development is built into the project in a workable manner.

From my experience; Thoughts on project planning and delivery

All projects of this sort give a cohort of children access to musical experiences beyond those normally available in the setting; musical exposure and engagement that without the project they would not have had.  Fantastic!  What is more difficult is to build in longer term legacy for the settings in subsequent years.

I believe the most crucial and detailed part of all projects is the planning stage.  There is this great idea to run a project doing “X” which would work really well with these leaders in this location and we could build in “Y” and “Z” – wow, how exciting!  This is perhaps the easy bit.  What follows is the contacting of settings and individuals involved to gain interest in being involved which is relatively straightforward, particularly where relationships already exist.

Then comes the nitty gritty of how it will work on the ground, what it will look like in reality, firm commitment to dates, time, staff availability, trips out, available physical space, parental/photo permissions, etc. etc.  This is the really tricky bit.  It is so important that all parties “buy in” to the concept and that the finer detail is worked out collaboratively with all partners at the earliest stage of planning, especially those involved in the day to day delivery.  Settings are very busy with many demands upon their time and energies making this level of detail sometimes hard to sort out, but it is precisely this, along with the ongoing communication between the visiting music practitioner and the setting staff, that turns an ordinary project into an extraordinary one that leaves behind it something truly worth having.  This collaborative, committed relationship means that the project activity is more than just a “bolt on” extra, that it is integrated into the setting beyond the allotted project time, extending reach to more children and developing staff confidence, knowledge and skill and impacting positively on practise within the setting and the experiences of its children.

Songs from the Singing Ringing Tree from Mid Pennine Arts on Vimeo.

Three days in Paris

Another blog in the series from our roving arts & culture reporter David Smith

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Day 1

Ten  years ago I was in Paris with Nick (MPA Creative Director) for the opening of the new Mac Val Gallery of contemporary French art in Vitry-sur-Seine.  Nick had been invited to make a presentation on the Panopticons project with a special focus on the Singing Ringing Tree.  I had volunteered to carry his bags.

With a couple of hours to spare, whilst Nick was honing his presentation, I visited the Picasso Museum in the Marais Quarter of Paris.  What a disappointment it was.  Many pieces were on loan, the museum was dull and the organisation of the collection left me uninspired.

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Last month I returned.  What a transformation.  Having been closed for a considerable time for refurbishment the Museum reopened 18 months ago with a new curator.  Picasso’s works are displayed in chronological order with sketches, paintings and sculptural works side by side.  It allows you to make a journey through the museum which follows Picasso’s creative process: carvings, engravings, sketches, photographs, ceramics, paintings and sculptures. The collection is huge; in fact, most of the works were given to France to settle his unpaid tax bills!

The Museum includes a roof top garden used to display some larger sculptures in a quiet, peaceful setting; perfect to sit, muse, rest your feet and take it all in…and I love this quotation from Picasso:

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Day 2 morning

A visit to the Opera Garnier began my second day.  From the outside the building is stunning.  If you have never been you will know it as the setting for the Phantom of the Opera.paris - 2

Much of the lighting depended on candlelight which, of course led to blackened walls and ceilings.  In the 1960’s when the time came to restore the ceiling of the auditorium above the great chandelier – and yes it did actually fall down on one occasion in 1896 and killed a member of the audience! – they couldn’t afford the cost of restoration.  A French artist who was working on set and costume design for opera offered his services for which, I believe he was never paid…his name, Marc Chagall.  The ceiling is magnificent:

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 Day 2 afternoon

Have you ever shopped in Leeds and visited those lovely Victorian glass covered arcades?

Well; from the Opèra Garnier, I was led around ‘Les Passages Couverts‘ – 19th. century, glass roofed shopping galleries. They provide hidden corners of superb architecture full of cafes, antiquarian bookshops, shops for stamps, coins and art – a fascinating experience.

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Day 3

My final day took me back in the direction of the airport to Auvers-sur-Oise , the village where Van Gogh spent his last 70 days before his premature death.  During this  period he painted 70 pieces yet during his whole short life he sold only one painting – to his brother!  He died as he lived, in poverty.  In the village you can follow a trail: ‘In the steps  of Van Gogh’ which take you from the café where he rented a room, through the village to the church and finally to his grave where he and his brother lie side by side beside a field of sunflowers.  It is a very moving story and a moving journey.

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Hi there!

Alex Heaton - Intern - June 2016 - 2My name is Alex and I am in my second month as Assistant Producer Intern at Mid Pennine Arts, where I feel incredibly lucky and excited to be undertaking my placement year. I have just finished my second year of University, studying Illustration and Contemporary Art at Huddersfield, but come from the local area. This meant I already knew about Mid Pennine Arts and some of their amazing work. I wanted to join MPA because I am passionate about bringing arts to the community and I feel there is sometimes an absence of this, and MPA do a wonderful job of engaging a wide community for their work.

I am going to be helping Nick, Melanie and the other project managers with some of the projects as they advance towards their completion, which I find brilliant as I have never been involved with projects on such a large scale before. A few I have been helping out with are: Burnley Canal Festival (27 & 28 August 2016), Spodden Valley Revealed and 50 Years of Mid Pennine Arts.

I have only been at MPA for four weeks and already feel as though I am growing, both in learned skills and confidence. So far I have attended a lot of meetings, these help me gain more in-depth knowledge about the projects, how they are brought together, and how good communication is an important part of the process. This has, slowly but surely, been helping me with my confidence. I have also been minute taking, which is really useful, as it is helping me learn to write down key points when making notes, rather than writing down every part (no matter how irrelevant)!

We recently had a Spodden Valley Explorers event at Whitworth family fun day, where a few of us went down in our exploring gear and welcomed new explorers, helping them make badges and inviting them to share their stories of the area. This was to raise awareness of the Spodden Valley Revealed Project. It was great seeing both kids and adults alike join in on the fun, and wonderful how excited everyone was when the final badges came out. I have to say I got a bit too enthusiastic about the badge making myself. I feel as though badge making brings out the inner child in everyone, though some people won’t readily admit it!

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I have also been helping with the 50 Years of Mid Pennine Arts project, and have found reading through the old programmes and press cuttings really interesting, as I am scanning them in preparation for the digital archive. This sometimes proves to be quite hilarious, when any member of the team finds a particularly funny story or headline. Though we do sometimes have to drag ourselves out of the time warp, as you could get lost in them for days!

Along with the many lovely and wonderful people I have been given the opportunity to meet, I am very excited to say that this week I will be meeting the artist Lucy Birbeck, who is creating the flags for Burnley Canal Festival. I can’t wait to know a bit more about her working process, and I feel I have lots to learn from her.

Four weeks has flown by, and I can’t quite believe how much I have already learned at MPA. I always start each day with excitement when thinking about all the projects that are in progress, and I am so excited about the parts I am going to be here to see all the way through – like Burnley Canal Festival! I can’t wait to learn more from the kind and helpful team at MPA and all those I encounter while working here, and I would like to thank everyone I have met so far for being so friendly and great.

Penzance to Burnley – Day 51

Long-time supporter and Friend of MPA, Barbara Sanders, is undertaking the most extraordinary feat this spring. Barbara is walking from Penzance to Burnley and is asking people to support her efforts by donations to MPA.

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Yesterday Barbara reached 1,000 kilometres which is 625 miles and 35,605 metres of ascent!  Getting to this point certainly hasn’t been easy.  Since we last updated on her progress she’s endured more dreadful weather.  But more worryingly she also slipped on a tree root on the 15th April and has a possible fracture in her arm. She had to go to Shrewsbury hospital to get it checked out, but the results of whether it was fractured or not were inconclusive.  So back to the hospital for more tests the day after and the consultant thought that her arm did have a small fracture.  Fitted with a removable splint and the consultant’s advice that she should carry on if she wanted to, she headed back to the trail.

Barbara had some concerns about whether she would be able to put up her tent etc, so she devised a new plan.  She jettisoned the heavy camping gear, at least temporarily, and added a few more B&B’s and hostels to the schedule.

There is no doubt that Barbara is one tenacious lady, she isn’t going to let anything stop her!

Yesterday she arrived in Uttoxeter after three days of green ways, Sustrans bike routes and canals. Her arm is getting easier but she’s still using the splint full time. Today, with a fair wind behind her she should reach the peak district.

So far Barbara has raised the wonderful total of £592, but this magnificent effort deserves more.  If you can help, contributions to Barbara’s fundraising can be made via Just Giving.

Look out for updates on Barbara’s progress on this blog and on our Facebook page.