Category Archives: music

Are you a bit ‘sniffy’ about musicals?

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

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Well I am… or at least I was…  Over a family meal when the subject of musicals came up I dismissed them all with:  “I don’t like musicals!”  And then, of course, I had to start trying to justify my arrogant posture.  “Come on Dad, explain yourself; that’s a bit of a scattergun approach…”

“Well, most of the audience are ‘of a certain age’.”

“Like you?”

“Well  yes; you don’t see the theatre full of young people.  The narrative is always weak, characterisation thin and often you are lucky to find one memorable song.”

Have you ever felt like you are walking on ice and you can feel the ice cracking underneath you with each step you take?  That is exactly how I felt and waited for the broadsides to come.

“Wait a minute; you took us to see Joseph, Blood Brothers, West Side Story, Cats… I suppose Billy Elliot doesn’t appeal to young people either!”,  and the list went on.  “They may not have the characterisation of King Lear but those theatres were full of young people.”

Basics in Burnley produces a musical each year with a cast wholly of young people, and you encouraged me to audition for Burnley Youth Theatre‘s West Side Story, came another voice across the table.

“Then you won’t want to have one of the tickets I’ve bought for Sweet Charity at the Royal Exchange”, chipped in my wife Kay enjoying my discomfort.

“I give in…”

And so at the  weekend we went to see Sweet Charity.  What a show!

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Charity Hope Valentine is a ‘hostess’ dancer in a New York gents’ club.  She falls in love with clients – always the wrong one – believing everything they say, longing for the marriage proposal which her friend know will never come.

Kaisa Hammalund is terrific as Charity.  She fills the stage with a an energy and vibrancy which left me exhausted.  She engages so perfectly with her audience that we are all wanting her love quest to succeed… the underlying irony in the show is that there is no charity on offer.  It highlights attitudes to women, makes fun of the excesses of 60’s hippies… and more.

The whole cast is excellent I can hardly say that there are no memorable songs when I am still singing them in the car: Rhythm of Life, Hey Big Spender, If My Friends could See Me Now, There’s  Gotta Be Something Better Than This.

The direction from Derek Bond is brilliant.  There is a disco sequence which took me back to my 60’s disco days with all the moves I attempted exaggerated and presented like a Matthew Bourne piece of choreography.  The scene where Charity finds herself in the bedroom of a film star when his partner returns, hiding under the bed and under a covered tea-trolley is hilarious.  The stage craft making use of a minimalist set allows each individual member of the audience to be engaged throughout yet showing smooth transitions between scenes with clever lighting.

…and the music from a band visible on stage throughout is magical.  It is a show that had me laughing out loud, miming the songs and tapping the lady’s foot next to mine.

Go and see it, if you can (on at the Royal Exchange, Manchester until 28 January).

I love musicals;  I can’t understand anyone who says they don’t… I’m off the see Strictly Ballroom at the West Yorkshire Playhouse next week… watch this space.!

 

 

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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.

A Song for Singing Ringing Tree

The East Lancashire Clarion Choir climbed up to Crown Point one weekend to sing under the Singing Ringing Tree.  This song, written by choir member Henry Peacock  records their adventure.  Thank you to Henry and the Choir for sharing it with us.  It’s meant to be sung like a sea shanty…

Singing Ringing Tree (c) Andy Ford

The Singing Ringing Tree

Mortals in a pilgrim band

Underneath the singing ringing tree

Climbing to the Promised Land

Underneath the Singing Ringing Tree

Hear the tunes the breezes bring

Underneath the Singing Ringing Tree

Hear the songs the angels sing

Underneath the Singing Ringing Tree

 Singing tree! Oh ringing tree!

Underneath the Singing Ringing Tree

Look back to the town below

Underneath the Singing Ringing Tree

Leave behind your earthly woe

Underneath the Singing Ringing Tree

 Weekday work lies far away

Underneath the Singing Ringing Tree

See the hares run and deer play

Underneath the Singing Ringing Tree

Singing tree! Oh ringing tree!

Underneath the Singing Ringing Tree

 Now the air is growing clear

Underneath the Singing Ringing Tree

Every step brings heaven near

Underneath the Singing Ringing Tree

This is where free souls belong

Underneath the Singing Ringing Tree

Join the angels in their song

Underneath the Singing Ringing Tree

Singing tree! Oh ringing tree!

Underneath the Singing Ringing Tree

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The Power of Song

Truce Choir Leader, Janet Swan, reflects on her experiences of the project and working with the choir for their performances at The Rhyme of No Man’s Land and Christmas Truce at ASFC:

truce logo bwIn the summer of 2014 my good friend Iain Broadley asked me to be part of a project that I knew he had been working on and which Mid Pennine Arts had raised funds for. I was thrilled to be asked to lead the singing side of the project. I had sung as part of the Roses and Thorns choir in 2005 in a concert called “Kirstbestand” (Flemish for Christmas Truce) with the acapella trio Coope, Boyes and Simpson. That had been a defining moment for me – in being part of a group of singers that had the power to move, and even change people.

Now I had the opportunity to create something with Iain and other artists and to get more local people involved in learning about the Christmas Truces of 1914. It was also to be a chance to use my skills as a natural voice practitioner – to give the possibility of singing in this choir, to those who don’t read music or don’t consider themselves as singers even.

When Iain had to step back from the project because of illness, I was determined to do justice to his vision and to give it my best. Thus began several months of incredibly hard but very rewarding work, putting together the two concerts in Accrington, getting permissions for songs, learning then teaching the songs, communicating with singers and adding audio files to “the box” – the shared space where those with access to the internet could learn their parts without the need to read music.

My reward for being in this project was the privilege which came from working with all the Mid Pennine Arts’ staff, especially Cath Ford. But also working together with heritage performer John Meredith and Gill Brailey of the county’s Heritage Learning Team which lead to the successful weaving of words and songs around each other to create the magic that was The Rhyme of No Man’s Land.

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Truce choir at Accrington Stanley

What has been the most amazing thing for me was discovering how committed people were to this choir and this project, and how much work they were prepared to put into learning the songs. For that I want to say a really big THANK YOU to the 70 + singers involved. Thanks also go to Ian Enticott, the vicar at St James Church, Accrington, who let us use that very beautiful acoustic space and to Rob Houseman, Director at Accrington Stanley Football Club for his support of the Christmas Truce event happening around and during their important match on 20 December.

To all of you: thank you. We did it together and, as the comments from the audience and participants (The Rhyme of No Man’s Land) testify, we created something really special:

“It was really really good. The choir were great: lovely singing and a good balance, and the music chosen was a really good mix, including the Urdu song which sounded super. Dad was particularly taken with the Sgt but enjoyed the whole event, I am never sure what he thinks of some of the things we go to, but this was a real hit!”

“It was one of the best experiences of my life and one I will treasure. There was such an atmosphere of camaraderie amongst all participants and the audience that somehow reflected the spirit of peace, comradeship and shared humanity that the British and German soldiers demonstrated in such a wonderful and humbling way that Christmas of 1914. My paternal grandfather, who was Scottish, fought in the 1914 war, though fortunately he was not injured. So, like many others taking part, I felt a special bond with the Truce Project.”

“Great performances by all concerned: musical, moving, and the ‘trench humour’ came over too…. Thanks, for a memorable night out.”

“I thought it was absolutely fantastic, especially the choir (the harmonies were lovely) and the actor playing the sergeant who was a great anchor throughout.  I also thought the food parcels were a brilliant idea and if the people around me were anything to go by we all swapped and chatted to strangers!”

Truce choir at The Rhyme of No Man's Land

Truce choir at The Rhyme of No Man’s Land

As several of these comments show and as we all observed – the audience loved it and were engaged throughout, probably because of the power of the performers who were giving it their all. There was no shuffling, yawning or other signs of people falling asleep, and even better there were people who were moved and maybe even changed.

Visit the Truce website for more information.

Truce was funded by: Heritage Lottery Fund, Lancashire County Council Arts Development Team, Granada Foundation & Hyndburn Homes.  It was also supported by Accrington Stanley FC and BBC Radio Lancashire (Up for Arts).

Urban Music Leaders challenge PenUltimate!

MPA’s volunteer Dominique visits the Urban Music Leaders project…

Mid Pennine Arts have received an award from National Lottery’s Youth Music fund for an exciting project in Burnley and Nelson developing hip hop music with young people. The project will broadly explore hip hop culture: rhyming, beat boxing, urban art and turntablism. We will be working with young people to develop their skills as music leaders, teaching the techniques they have learned to their peers, with the chance to gain Arts Awards accreditation along the way.

So with this in mind we set off in Lucy’s car for Sir John Thursby Community College for a taster session and picked up some hip hop artists from the bus station on the way. Ben Mellor and Martin Stannage led the session and are part of PenUltimate, Manchester’s premier hip hop and spoken word collective.

We pulled up to the very impressive architecture of the college and were met by Mr Wilson the music teacher who helped Ben and Martin set up the space. We were then joined by a group of enthusiastic young people who had signed up for the session. Ben and Martin began by recording a short example of some beat boxing laying sounds over one another to compose a beat. It was incredible to watch and hear such a variety of beats and pops and booms all created by Ben and Martin’s bodies!

Then it was the turn of the young people to have a go, Ben and Martin taught a few bass sounds as well as experimenting with noises from the lips and throat for the ones brave enough to have a go. There were many questions to follow from the young people including challenging Martin to a free style hip hop poem; Martin accepted this challenge with impressive skill.

With the young people fired up to continue with the project in half terms ‘boot camp’ it was time to drop Ben and Martin back at the bus stop leaving Lucy and I to practice our beat boxing techniques for next time.

Visit MPA’s website for more information.

Urban Music Leaders Taster Session