String Fun Day 10th June 2017
Many thanks to those who joined us for a highly successful workshop during which we explored ‘The Musical Jigsaw’.
In the morning we worked primarily by ear, and used one of the simplest forms of multi-voiced music, the round, to look at how melodic and rhythmic patterns fit together. When we are exploring a particular aspect of playing, be it physical technique, music theory or ensemble skills, we deliberately keep the music studied very simple, to enable players to really focus on the particular area we are addressing. This is how the best players work. Professionals might spend hours every day practising open strings and scales, in order to free their brain to work on the smallest details of their playing.
Our rhythm workshop included learning new syllables for counting rhythms, practising instant pattern recognition and developing the skills to read ahead in music, which was equally challenging for staff and students alike! Small groups then took a variety of written rhythmic motifs and fitted them together to compose their own pieces, some spontaneously adding body percussion to fantastic effect (see one group in action here). Later in the morning, we worked on maintaining focus and unity within a group of players. The ‘Dastardly Distractors’ tried all sorts of methods to put players off, but they were just too focused! Needless to say, there was a lot of laughter along the way.
After an active lunch break, we took time to re-focus our minds and re-connect with our bodies during a yoga session, listening to a piece of music called ‘Dismantle’ by Peter Sandberg. The music showed us how a very simple repeated musical idea (the ground bass) can be developed, as additional pieces of the jigsaw are added, to create something which can really stir our emotions. When asked afterwards what the music made them think of, the students shared some incredibly insightful and moving reactions. Some connected to deep emotions, whilst others pictured detailed landscapes and some of our younger players imagined the movement of particular animals.
One of our favourite sections of String Fun Days is the Solo Spot, where anyone who wants to play a solo can do so in front of their peers. Performers are encouraged to consider aspects of good performance: how to walk on stage, to greet applause, and how best to position themselves for maximum impact. There are ground rules for the audience too; as well as sitting quietly and listening attentively, each audience member is asked to think of one positive thing to say about the performance. These wonderfully perceptive comments are then fed back to the performer with great enthusiasm at the end. This time, audience members were fascinated by others’ technique, tone quality and movement to the music as well as noticing interesting bow articulation, such as bouncing bows (spiccato) and using the wood of the bow (col legno). It’s wonderful to see the performers beam when given this positive feedback.
In the later part of the afternoon, we took apart another musical jigsaw, the South African song ‘Throw Catch’. After learning the vocal melody, we worked on an instrumental arrangement, layering complex rhythms together to vibrant effect. Using speech patterns and bowing exercises on our arms, the technical challenges of translating these complex patterns and challenging bowing techniques onto our instruments became easy. Not only could all the players play their part confidently, but most importantly, they could play them together, so that each piece of the jigsaw fitted perfectly in its place.
It was a pleasure to work with such enthusiastic and engaged musicians, and we look forward to welcoming them back to another String Fun Day in the autumn. Watch this space for next year’s dates.
Photo: Michelle Falcon