Making Bridges with Music: Finding Treasure

We are telling a story. In fact, we are mostly playing and singing a story. Accordion, guitar, percussion, shells, bananas, sheet music, baton and a chest full of surprises. Some of the story is familiar. You might recognise a melody or a lyric but because of the unique group of people that are taking part, it’s our very own story. An original tale that weaves its way though the hour or so that we have together every Tuesday morning in Bethesda Care Home in Torquay.

The authors of this story are aged from 18 months to 90 years plus. A mix of elderly
residents and their carers, children with their child minders and 2 musicians with their film maker. We set the scene because that’s what we do; it’s become the expectation of all the participants. Equipment is fetched to help narrate and open the imagination. Instruments become tools for building a boat, walking frames become bridges and lorries and we set sail to be pushed and pulled in what ever direction the wind might be blowing on this particular Tuesday.

It’s exciting and loud. It’s focused and gentle. At moments we can be completely still with
little or no noise but which ever mood we are in, it’s still our story. Today we are looking for treasure. The narrative has moved from the familiar front room, down the steps and into a beautiful (real life) garden. A treasure chest has been buried and the smallest of our collective are on the hunt. They are totally absorbed in the story. In the background, a little boy plays with a toy piano in the middle of the lawn. Two older residents experiment with bird whistles which mingle with the laughter of the children and the actual Bethesda garden bird song.

This is our fourth session out of six and we are already approaching the final chapters. How will it finish? That depends on the direction we decide to go. Maybe we won’t finish it at all. A never-ending story is what some of the elderly residents have suggested. A forever story. An ever story. Who knows, it’s all in the making anyway.

Making Bridges With Music is an innovative project bringing young and old together to
make music. Childminders are bringing pre-school children to three different residential and care homes in Torbay during June and July to see what happens when the generations meet and create new music, song, stories and more. The project is funded primarily by Awards For All and with the support of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Doorstep Arts and Torbay Council.

Making Bridges with Music: Under the Sea

At Pendennis Care Home, our group of children (aged 3 and younger), residents (mainly over 80), artists, staff and child-minders have just spent our third morning together.

Two of the constants in our sessions so far have been the accordion and a large purple sheet of Lycra. The accordion ‘breathes’ and we all breathe with it, it accompanies the new songs we make together, and now we are all starting to play it too. The Lycra is stretched between us – 25 or more pairs of hands – creating a trampoline, a stormy sea, an imaginary space linking us all together. Soft toys take to the waves and are toppled this way and that as we sing, provoking gleeful shrieks and a slight sense of danger.

Last week, as young and old made pictures together, E (aged 3) led a story-song about all the inhabitants under the sea – sharks, dolphins, crabs, butterflies… At the end, under our Lycra waves, he invited … “Do you want to come under the sea with me?” And so, this is where we began this week … singing, painting and playing under the sea.

Pitched instruments, chimes, bells, xylophones, glockenspiels and a water gong – a cacophony of watery sounds as residents and children experiment, exchanging beaters, instruments, glances and few words. Watching and listening. Some are mirroring each other’s playing. As the singing begins, I start to paint the songs … a fish, a mermaid … and P gravitates towards the paint. P is 3 and has been more reticent to engage so far. Others follow her and in no time at all their painting is awash with colours.

One resident, E, has been watching the children closely as they paint, whilst playing on a chime instrument. L (age 2½) comes up with hands covered in paint and picks up a beater to join E on the chime. E and L exchange looks and touch. When L takes herself off to wash her hands, E reflects – “I used to know a little girl just like that. It was me. I loved it – I was always painting.” She remembers playing the piano and talks about the children she didn’t have.

Later, out in the garden, a game starts with a big inflatable ball – sitting in a circle with children and water-play in the middle. At first it’s carefully coordinated, helping residents to catch and throw it – to C, to H, to M, to S, to N, to P. P gets the ball, but she can’t throw it back into the group. The children know what to do and are too excited to wait. Three children go up to P, gently take it from her hands and begin the game again.

It’s a sign of how much everyone has ‘settled in’. The children are less tentative, less cautious. There is more noise, mess and excitement – which all seems manageable in the open air. It’s as if we’ve crossed the bridge and are now starting to roam around the pasture on the other side – meeting friends young and old and muddling along together, sharing toys, time and songs.

Making Bridges With Music is an innovative project bringing young and old together to make music. Childminders are bringing pre-school children to three different residential and care homes in Torbay during June and July to see what happens when the generations meet and create new music, song, stories and more. The project is funded primarily by Awards For All and with the support of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Doorstep Arts and Torbay Council.

Making Bridges with Music: ‘A’ The Conductor and Composer

Making Bridges with Music is a project which sees childminders take early years children into care and residential homes, to make music together with the residents.

In the second week of the project one of the older residents ‘A’ who is 97 years old, told me how he loved Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart and so, the following week, I played it on the accordion as the whole group of ten residents, ten young children, childminders and carers all danced with their hands until I stopped playing. I noticed that ‘A’ really seemed to be conducting. He came alive as the music was playing. So this week I brought in a conductors baton and offered it to ‘A’. I explained that I would play the Mozart, but would follow his tempo and expression. ‘A’  immediately leaned forward in his chair and held the baton up and then conducted beautifully. He looked as if he had been doing this all his life, making sure he had eye contact with all of us in the room, checking each section of his ‘orchestra’ and using his hands and face very expressively. It was a wonderful performance.

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After ‘A’ we then had three other conductors, two young and another resident. As these others conducted (varying speed enormously!) ‘A’ continued to also conduct without the baton. It seemed as if he had discovered his vocation. When talking to him he described how he had never played an instrument, but had sung in choirs for some of his adult life. When watching ‘A’ play the hand percussion, observing him singing and seeing him conducting makes me wonder what his musical career could have been. It is not too late – for even now he is playing in our multi-generational orchestra and having (or so it seems) the time of his life.

Later on various young and old all had a go playing on my accordion as I held it and worked the bellows. I asked ‘A’ if he would like to and he nodded. So I came nearer and he played a very lovely little four bar melody. It was complete in itself. He had played enough and did not want to play any more. Later in the afternoon we transcribed this melody and used it as the basis for a new song from the group which we called ‘Memory Box’.

We discovered today that ‘A’ is both conductor and composer – perhaps new careers for a man in his nineties, inspired and rejuvenated by having young people come into his residential home to play with him.

Making Bridges With Music is an innovative project bringing young and old together to make music. Childminders are bringing pre-school children to three different residential and care homes in Torbay during June and July to see what happens when the generations meet and create new music, song, stories and more.

Making Bridges With Music is an innovative project bringing young and old together to make music. Childminders are bringing pre-school children to three different residential and care homes in Torbay during June and July to see what happens when the generations meet and create new music, song, stories and more.
This is a project funded primarily by Awards For All.

Making Bridges with Music: G’s Birdsong

Making Bridges with Music is a project which sees childminders take early years children into care and residential homes, to make music together with the residents.

G is a 79-year old resident of The Warberries. The first time I met him, my colleague (who’d been helping to co-ordinate a previous gardening project with children and childminders at the home) was surprised by how animated and cheerful he appeared and remained for the session. G seems to me to be very talkative, although his speech is quite disorganised and he often talks about and remembers parts of his professional life. As a porter he looked after young adults, some with disabilities and some with mental health, and he was by accounts, well respected and liked by his charges.

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At the beginning of session 2, he entered the room and clapped and danced with a red ukulele to entertain the children, he has exuded smiles and humour throughout both sessions. Today he was joined and supported throughout by his wife, D. With his regular verbal and musical interventions, G is a really compelling participant to track and capture.


Hugh and Jade were guiding and recreating the Oz-inspired story from Session 1. At the point where mirrors and mirroring came into the narrative, G seemed to take over, as if conducting; producing a birdlike whistling sound and flailing his arms. He then proceeded to sing in a sonorous Scottish folk voice, a series of verses to the room, and everyone quietened in response to him while his wife looked on in apparent incredulity. No one recognised the song, but upon replaying the video later that day and transcribing it together, we think G was inventing a lot of it in the moment. We recognised the melody of ‘We’ll Meet Again’, a song that another resident has played on keyboard at both of our Friday sessions, and we recognised fragments of bird themed imagery, perhaps growing out of the whistling sounds. While he sang, he seemed to be making wings with his arms, as if gliding.


The wings are like this
The birds begin to fly
But Mum returns and seems very unhappy
To see that her babies have gone
So It’s now a year
Before you’ll hear
The only one you’ll hear is a little robin
And he is a very good man
And his love is well shown
And we’ll meet again to us


By the end of session, h
is mood had adjusted and he seemed quietly emotional and contemplative, talking to his wife who may have been unpacking it all with him. I talked to them both and she was still quite shocked by the singing. What really inspired me is that D insists she hasn’t heard him sing before, in over 30 years of marriage. Jo, the manager of Warberries, was also able to affirm the change; he has been singing regularly during lunchtimes since our first session here last week.

 

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G seems to have found some freedom to sing performatively, so I wonder about the changing of permissions in that space and to what extent these precipitated G’s creative outburst. Mostly, I wonder about the song and I look forward to seeing/hearing the life of the invention play out, with ideas in my head but no solid expectations.

Next week we are planning to make paper birds and to have ambient birdsong coming through a Bluetooth speaker at the start of (and throughout?) the session.

A thought whilst cycling

Hugh Nankivell – BSO Participate Associate

I recently finished a BSO Associates project in Torbay. For this project I travelled to all my sessions and planning meetings by bike. I didn’t have to take many instruments or much equipment (at most a melodica, a laptop, a shaky egg, a notebook and some lunch) and the school I was working in was nearby. It felt very good being able to cycle to the sessions. I was energising myself and being a rare role model for musicians on bikes.

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I remember when I was working with Opera North in Yorkshire there was a member of the orchestra who travelled to most concerts and workshops by bike, with his viola on his back. He was unusual, but I have often thought of him in the years since.

I felt a sense of relief at not having to take a whole load of equipment. When I am working in care homes or with early years I usually need to take in a keyboard, an accordion, a guitar, a box of percussion, some ukuleles, a white-board, my laptop, pens, roll of paper etc etc… This means that even if the session is nearby I cannot travel by foot or bike, but must go by private motorised transport. I accept that at times this is (probably) inevitable.

I recently had a meeting with Ben Twist who works for Creative Carbon Scotland, he was telling me about the changes in thinking he is encouraging with arts organisations in Scotland to do with their carbon footprints. Some organisations are better at coping with (and even anticipating change) and others much less good. How does an organisation that has a massive infrastructure (a symphony orchestra, a ballet or opera company) actually think about reducing its carbon use when it is wedded to a model that is massively consumptive of fossil fuels and is based on a repertoire and practise that is based on a model of practise from previous centuries?

With the BSO we are starting to think about new models and the Associate Scheme is one such. The six of us are spread out across the region and not based at a central depot (Bournemouth/Poole) and so the BSO can now access the communities of the SW more effectively even though we still may need to travel distances, usually by private transport. The recent ABO conference hosted by the BSO entitled ‘Disruption’ was a real provocation towards exploring what the Symphony orchestra can be in the future (where there are women conductors, more BME and disabled performers) and another part of this should could be, how do we plan for a constantly changing world.

The BSO is also starting to look at these issues with the SW virtual orchestra, and the recent appointment of James Rose as new ‘Change Maker’. So this is the start of a journey to a truly inclusive orchestra to which we travel as participants and audience by bike or public transport or visit virtually, where the music we play is affected by the world we live in and is able to change and reflect this.

Trinity Laban students Side by Side with Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Earlier in January this year, the BSO was delighted to announce the Orchestra’s new long-term partnership with Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. This collaboration sees the two organisations work closely together to identify talented and committed young musicians and composers from communities currently under-represented in the profession.

The BSO and Trinity Laban have also paired up for the unique Side by Side series, in which Trinity Laban students work alongside professional musicians. Principal BSO players have recently performed alongside and are offering mentorship to Trinity Laban students. Percussionist and Trinity Laban student Craig Lutton, who was a part of this year’s series, shares his experience of the project so far.

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Photo Credit: Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra

“I gained so much from the experience working Side by Side with the professionals. Sacha Johnson was leading the sectional – he was on bass drum and I was on cymbals – and when we were playing together it was really great, it sent shivers down my spine. The two day event ended with a sold out concert at Blackheath Halls which was really successful. I’m coming to the end of my studies and orchestral music is primarily what I want to do, so to learn from Sacha and play side by side with him in a concert was really special.

The experience was intense because you’ve only got around 8 hours of rehearsal and then it’s the concert – it’s just like being in a professional working environment. You’ve got limited rehearsal time and you’ve got to nail it straight away. It was a nervous excitement I was having, with Sacha beside me, literally side by side, it was a step closer to reaching my dream of being an orchestral musician.”

During a rehearsal’s lunch break, Craig was lucky enough to receive an impromptu cymbal lesson from Sacha Johnson.

“Sacha said that when you go into the profession this is what most of you would play in the main orchestras, so he said over the lunch break he’d spend half an hour teaching me and I thought ‘this is fantastic’. I was learning from a true professional, because he’s played with all of the London orchestras and toured the world. He taught me so many different techniques and sounds, it was really beneficial. I could then put that into the afternoon rehearsal and the evening concert. He was really digging deep into how I could make my playing better. He gave me a bit of a career talk as well which was really inspiring to hear. It was a really poignant moment.”

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Photo Credit: Brian Furner

Craig spoke about his time studying at Trinity Laban:

“It’s been very special. I’ve had lots of amazing performance opportunities and I’m so glad I moved to London from Northern Ireland. There’s so many opportunities, London’s the centre of the universe for music! It’s been incredible and I’ve met so many people, I’ve made friends for life and made some great contacts. The Side by Side concert at Blackheath Halls with the BSO was a really special moment and I’ve had so many others.

My current teacher Michael Doran coached me in the Ulster Youth Orchestra in 2009 – 2013 which is where I first met him. He encouraged me to audition for Trinity Laban and I knew straight away in 2009 that I wanted to study under him. Here I am now having nearly finished four years of his beneficial tuition!

In my second year, Michael got me in for two performances of La Boheme playing with the ENO and once again in third year – that was special and probably a highlight from my time at Trinity Laban. It was at the London Coliseum, and being in the pit playing the cymbals was really special. I remember the moment just as the curtain came down for the interval and I was standing on stage playing the side drum. It was amazing – I was absolutely buzzing marching out on stage. There were about 2,000 people watching, it was insane! I had my dad in the audience for the first night so that was great, because I’d never really thought I’d make my professional debut in an orchestra. When I was younger it was always the dream, so for it to actually come true made it one of the best nights of my life.

The principal percussionist in the BSO is Matt King, who also studied at Trinity Laban. Sacha was telling me about him and it was really inspirational to hear about people with professional jobs in orchestras – principal jobs – who have studied at Trinity Laban. There’s a lot of them in the professional world and that’s another one of the reasons why I chose to study here.

I did another Side by Side series with the BBC Concert Orchestra. We had Alistair Malloy, their principle percussionist, who was playing beside me again. I could use things that I’d learnt from Sacha in January and bring it into that performance. I’d never really worked on cymbals until the lesson with Sacha, he said ‘if you want to be a professional percussionist you’ve got to nail this’, so I thought right, this is my moment. I then stuck at it for 2 months and it’s really paid off.”

Craig Lutton interviewed by Alice White; originally posted on the Trinity Laban website https://trinitylaban.wordpress.com/2017/05/05/craig-lutton-side-by-side-with-bournemouth-symphony-orchestra/

To find out more about Craig visit his website: www.craigluttonpercussion.co.uk

Concert highs and post-concert lows or, the “auditory cheesecake” of Inspiration

 

Inspiration Choir SouthamptonIt’s now a week, or three for Newcastle, since we felt the music and rhythm, “wrap around, take a hold of (our) heart(s).” And “What a feelin’!” that was. Comments from singers on the choir website forum all agree on the ‘buzz’ we got from performing and being part of such a grand scale production.

The euphoria was tempered, perhaps more than usual, with relief that we managed to pull off what Gary admitted was “a very big sing” (I think there were actually 33 separate items!) and, “a huge feat of note and word learning.” For Southampton the learning curve had added steepness in that we had sung fewer of the pieces before.

Pete’s notes after our last rehearsal had final-week-tweaks for nearly all the numbers and ‘words’ featured in at least half. The effort put in by so many to get from there to the applause and plaudits of concert day was rightly acknowledged by both Gary, “I will never take for granted the amount of work that you all put in between rehearsals; it is what lifts us above the rest,” and Pete, “It’s the choir who put so much work in and so reap these fabulous rewards!” Gary, Pete and Teresa’s hugely significant parts in training and urging us on to reach the heights of concert day were also noted in after-show comments; the magic does not just happen.

So how does it happen? We know many listen to the learning tracks in the car or in the bath/shower. But Southampton singers told me earphones are in while walking the dog, turning the compost heap or watching Match of the Day (on mute)! One Southampton soprano even tuned in during an acupuncture treatment!

And when the “thrills and laughter” of the concert are over, what then? Some say, “I wish we could do it again,” others ask for earworm cures or wonder when the MP3s for the next concert will be available. So, could it be we’re addicted to the music? Numerous studies would suggest that this is so.

Researchers have found that there are biochemical mechanisms that underlie music addiction. When most individuals really like a song, they experience chills and a ‘high’ of sorts, which may give them a lot of energy and a pleasurable feeling. This sensation is enhanced further when the music-making is shared, as in a large-scale choir.

But, in addition to the chills, listening to music you like also triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in underlying positive reactions caused by food, drugs and other pleasurable activities.

Professor Henkjan Honing, from the University of Amsterdam, has written about the euphoric effect an experience of music we all share can have: “The pleasure we derive from it, not only from the acrobatics of making it but also from the act of listening to it.”
I certainly had dopamine highs while singing last Saturday night but also, equally strongly, while listening to some of the stunning BSO interludes. For example, the solo flute and cor anglais in Sayuri’s Theme were shiveringly beautiful and then Teresa’s oriental style keyboard accompaniment simply added to the delight.

Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker was probably right when he wrote: “I suspect music is auditory cheesecake, an exquisite confection crafted to tickle the sensitive spots of…our mental faculties.” Now the ecstasy of the concert is over, are we craving more of the choral cheesecake or wondering how we can, or if we even want to, resist the urge to indulge once more!

It’s true we only have so much time to pander to our passions and I know of Southampton singers who are taking the summer off singing to play cricket or bowls or even, like retiring politicians, to “spend more time with their families”! But for those who are already easing their withdrawal symptoms (and persistent earworms) by downloading and plugging into the next batch of MP3s you’re probably subscribing to the “Don’t stop me now, ’cause I’m having a good time” approach to singing with Inspiration and no doubt there will be plenty more signing up to “Let the sunshine in” next term.

Alan Matlock, April 2017