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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.

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.

Penzance to Burnley – Day 14

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.

Barbara’s first few days saw some atrocious weather and she had to battle driving rain and gale force winds, but she kept going.  On the 7 March she finally got some of the weather she had been hoping for and completed the longest distance to date at 17 miles and 1,166 metres of ascent.  The improved weather has helped her catch up with the schedule, which had been delayed by the earlier dreadful conditions.  Yesterday, on Day 14, she passed 186 miles and 12,000 metres of ascent.  To give you some context the 10,000 metre, or ascent mark, is equivalent to Everest!   Barbara will have a few more of those to do before the end.

The last few days she’s had the company of two friends who have provided wonderful support.  They have walked with her and cooked fantastic cordon bleu meals from a tiny camper van. To thank them Barbara provided the singing for a dance on the beach to celebrate a birthday.  Not sure where she found the energy for that!

Barbara is regularly keeping us updated on her progress and sending lots of great photographs of her travels.

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.

‘My Brothers and Sisters’

Another in the series from our roving arts reporter, David Smith.

“Is it easier this way? Is it? Blame someone else because you didn’t have a clue what was happening…does it make you feel better to blame someone else?”

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I was in London earlier this month and saw a piece of Theatre in Education written for 16-19 year-olds in Further Education presented by a professional company: Mad ‘Ed Theatre.

The play opens on a bare stage with six chairs as props. You now have no option but to focus on the actors and their words without distraction. The 55 minute production is emotionally charged, moving, and totally engaging. It focuses on a single Muslim family over a period of 48 hours.

Two strong female characters emerge: a teenager, Shamilla and her mother played brilliantly by the same actor, Alexandra D’Sa. Rupinder Nagra as the father, provides a mature strong acting presence deeply troubled by what he learns, by what he should have known. Rishi Nair, Shamilla’s confident boyfriend, slowly learns truths about himself he has failed to recognise. Hayley Powell as a solicitor and the troubled teenager Aisha successfully captures two hugely contrasting characters.

It opens with two police officers visiting the household. The parents think that the visit is in response to their earlier report that their 15 year-old daughter Shamilla is missing. The police have, in fact, come about another matter. Their son, believed by his parents to be on a package holiday, has posted an on-line message from Syria. The parents, hard-working, long-standing members of the community have no understanding about what is happening around them within their own family. Their daughter Shamilla, has spent the last 24 hours with an older boyfriend who, when he realises what has happened to her brother, takes her home.

Mother:           Our children are not our children. Not anymore.

                          We do not know our own children. Nobody does.    

The play is multi-layered. The characters: Shamilla, her parents, her boyfriend, police officers, a solicitor and a troubled teenager, act out a range of views on radicalisation, racism, attitudes to young people, sexism, immigration and the value of our education system. But the large question which dominates is the issue of responsibility. Each character is forced to ask: ‘What has been my contribution to what has transpired?’‘Could I have done more to prevent it?’

The emotionally charged scenes between mother and father show a couple learning not only about what has been happening around them but also about their own relationship. But it is also true that the interaction between all the characters shows each one gradually coming to a deeper, and at times a painful understanding of themselves.

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The final scenes show the daughter Shamilla made a Ward of Court and removed from the family home to ‘a place of safety’ – a hostel – where she shares a room with a deeply troubled girl, Aisha. After a strong exchange between the two girls as they talk about why they are in this place, the play ends with:

Aisha:              Your brother…did you tell someone?

                          A moment of silence..then…

Shamilla:         I do know about this. I do know about this.

                           The girls hold each other’s hand.

Shamilla:         So. Will we? Tell?

 

As an excellent piece of theatre in education the play does not offer any answers but offers enough for an audience to debate the issues involved.

The play, My Brothers and Sisters, was not paid for by the ‘Prevent’ programme. It was  commissioned and paid for by City of Westminster College in London as a part of its response to the ‘Prevent’ Strategy. I congratulate the College on the way that the play has been compulsory viewing for all full-time students and not been limited to drama groups. It has been seen by all 5,000 of their students over two weeks and has included two evening performances for other interested theatre goers.

After each performance, a series of resources has enabled tutors to lead discussions of the issues raised, issues identified by their students, in their tutor groups. This is no “love ’em and leave ’em” approach; it is the way theatre in education should work – best practice.

(The play is available to tour by contacting Mad ‘Ed directly.)

Shamilla:         Bad people get good people to do bad things.     

Assistant Producer Internship (Paid)

In 2016 Mid Pennine Arts will celebrate our 50th anniversary, and we will mark the occasion with an exciting range of new projects. To help deliver this programme we seek a new person to join our team for a period of six months.

MPA is looking for a special individual to make a real contribution to developing and delivering this evolving portfolio.  We are offering a new role, as Assistant Producer, working alongside one or more experienced project managers.  Our Project Managers have a lot of creative freedom in how they develop projects, and this will apply also to our new team member.

We are looking for a young graduate (or someone with equivalent work experience) keen to develop a career in socially engaged arts. This will be a challenging role, but a brilliant development opportunity for the right person. You will be able to demonstrate the capacity or the potential to enrich and refresh our practice, to take responsibility for developing specific elements of extended projects and possibly even to start originating project opportunities of your own. There is some scope therefore for shaping the role and its workload to suit the skills and developmental needs of the individual appointed.

You can find out more about the wide range of our projects by visiting our website and our Vimeo and Flickr pages.

Singing Ringing Tree (c) Andy Ford

All the information and documents you need are listed below.

MPA Assistant Producer Internship – Role Descrip-Pers Spec – Dec 2015

MPA Application Form – Assist Prod Intern – Dec 2015

Only applications on our official form will be accepted, please do not send CVs.   Email your application (preferably as a PDF, although Word docs are acceptable) to:

Rachel Holden,  Business Engagement Manager, Employment Support Team – Skills, Learning and Development Team, Lancashire County Council

Rachel.Holden@lancashire.gov.uk

Deadline for applications is 12noon, Wednesday 27 January 2016.

You can also email Rachel with any queries prior to submitting your application.

This post is funded by the Lancashire Creative Employment Programme through Creative Lancashire and the Creative People & Places funded organization, Super Slow Way.

The funding requires that the post is only open to those who, at the time of applying, are aged between 18 – 24 years old and are registered as unemployed with Jobcentre plus.

There is no formal timetable for recruitment, but we aim to act without delay. If you are shortlisted, we will invite you for interview as soon as can be arranged.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Image by Lucy Green