Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Friday lessons

On Friday Sig's son Rhys was sick, so she didn't show up in the morning. Instead she sent instructions via email for us to divide ourselves in to two groups, create the necessary material for a workshop, and then present the mini-shop for the other group. It was a really helpful exercise.

We all decided to try and work with people that we hadn't before, but since that is nearly impossible for all of us to do, we ended up in our groups from Aldeburgh but with one person swapped.

My group started with composing a bass line riff to base everything else off of. I don't remember what the order of the rest of the tasks were, but we also spent a lot of time figuring out how to teach the mode and do voice warm ups at the same time, how to introduce the rhythm of the bass groove, and setting the bass groove to a body rhythm.

I led the physical warm up which was when we all learned that "jumping jack" in American English is "star jump" in British English.

The voice warm up was the most interesting part, I think. We ended up structuring it so that Nick, who was leading that portion, would half the group and have one half sing a drone on the tonic while Nick led the other half up and down the mode and then swapping. The droning people were meant to change the vowel they were droning on so as to keep from being totally bored. Then once everyone had the mode in their ears, Nick started pairs of us on a two note groove that harmonized with the other pairs. Then he started improvising in the mode before handing it off to someone else.

It was a big change from how we have usually done vocal warm ups which so far has been exhaling on a random pitch and then trying to do so in a way that relates to the pitches that everyone else is exhaling on. It ends up sounding like a massive tone cluster- which it is actually. From there we have been used to starting to improvise vocally thereby introducing the element of improvisation. Either that or we have used the vocal warm up section to introduce the melody of the written material.

In this instance though, because we had so little material and didn't want to give it away too early, we used the time to introduce improvisation as an element, but really to solidify working in the mode. (I think it was a blues scale, but I don't remember which is why I keep referring to it as 'the mode' as opposed to something more specific.)

For those of you who haven't gone to music school for the last six years- a mode is a scale; a specific set of pitches that a song or a portion of a song is written in. If you played/sang a note outside of the mode it would sound off- which is sometimes the sound you are going for, but in this case wasn't. is my current favorite thing, so here we've got for 'Mode'-
Music: Any of various arrangements of the diatonic tones of an octave, differing from one another in the order of the whole steps and half steps; scale.

And also for Petrography:the actual mineral composition of a rock, expressed in percentages by weight. Which has absolutely nothing to do with what I was talking about earlier, but amuses me anyway.

Getting back to the original point- having to create a workshop and give it as well as participate in someone else's workshop all within the space of 3 hours was pretty intense and really useful.

This may seem like a tangent, but really isn't: When I was here in April I got really in to the British version of 'The Apprentice' which in the UK is headed by Sir Alan Sugar as opposed to Donald Trump. I found it fascinatingly watchable. What is pertinent here is when the contestants in this reality show were divided into two groups and given 200GBP and a day in which to make as much money as they could.

One group spent the day walking around a neighborhood with rented gardening equipment trying to find yard work to do. They ended up getting very sweaty with a wall of ivy. The other group bought face paints and tried to find children to face paint. Neither idea worked terribly well- the neighborhood was a well to do one and if they needed gardeners they probably already had one and it was a dreary weathered school day so there were very few children out and about.

They were allowed to change what their business did in the evening and both groups went for some type of "gram." The gardening group did sing-a-grams in a restaurant and they got all giggly and had a good time and the other group did kiss-a-grams which didn't go over very well with Sir Alan.

Eventually they all came home and one of them got fired because that is what happens on that show. But what was key was the woman who got fired that day was pleased to have been reminded that you could make money anywhere, under practically any circumstances. That you don't have to have some genius, earth shattering, brand new idea to start a business. See: lemonade stands.

So here is where it all comes back to our mini-shops- we didn't have enough time to be brilliant with what we did- we had 60 minutes to create and plan and 40 minutes to present. So we were reminded that we could actually do a fantastic workshop even if we had only one night to prepare for it. Even if we are only in our second month of the programme.

We were all so enthused by the process and the result that we didn't take any breaks and ended up going 15 minutes in to our lunch break talking about how we're going to try to find another time during the week to have a lab sort of session and each week one or two of us can use the group to try out ideas or practice leading something that we aren't yet feeling comfortable with or maybe having Jorge teach us some of his arsenal of rhythm/percussion games or have someone else teach something that they know a lot about that could be really helpful.

We haven't actually gotten around to scheduling any of this- but it was a pretty great high of energy for a wholly unexpected morning of work. Also, it means that I have finally led something- which is great.

Actually I led two things that day because Kate and I finally got the chance to present our body rhythm that we were supposed to have taught two weeks ago. It was actually really nice to have that time though, because it meant that we had learned so much in the mean time that it flowed really well. I taught the rhythm and did so completely non-verbally. Kate then led it in an exercise/game thing that she invented on the spot. The rhythm was in 4/4 and had four separate kinds of noises (stomp, thigh slap, clap, and snap/click depending on what country you're from). Kate went around the circle and had each pair of us drop one part of the body rhythm (the stomp or the clap etc.) and replace it with some noise. Once each of us had dropped some part of the body rhythm and each part had a vocal noise she had us all drop the body rhythm so that the new vocal rhythm traveled around the circle. It was pretty cool.

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