Heather and I had our first workshop session on our own today. We are working with a class of year 3 students at Our Ladies primary school in the Canary Wharf area. They have had next to no music education so far (year 3 is 8 year olds), and while they very much enjoy singing- they haven't had any instrumental experience at all.
We started them out with singing "kalele" which is a welcoming song from South Africa (?) and then started working on they rhythmic base for our piece (bananas and mangoes is how it goes). They eventually got it pretty well and we put it on our lovely rag-tag bunch of random hand percussion. Ooo, that was a fun part. We gave them each an instrument (a stick with bells, maracas, tambourines, a chair with a couple of sticks) and had them figure out how to make four different sounds. That part was fun. And loud. "bang it on your head! How about the floor? How quiet a sound can you make? How short? How long? How loud?" So cool to watch them experimenting with the instruments. If you have no preconceptions about how an instrument should be played- there are all sorts of interesting things you can come up with. We played with dynamics and starting and stopping the sounds as well as the rhythm itself. They're good kids, they did really well.
After break we worked on our song. Heather and I wanted to base the workshop at least loosely on our trip to the Gambia. In The Gambia greetings are very important and can take up to five minutes just to say hello, so we decided to brainstorm as many ways of greeting your friends as possible and wrote them up on the board. We ended up with a bunch of different languages and my personal favorite: 'yo!' We then had them choose three that they thought would go well together for a line and made four stanzas if you will of those. Example: hello, hola, bonjour. Heather had written a bass line so she started playing that on the cello while the kids mumbled tunes under their breath. That was what was really amazing- that was exactly what we wanted them to do and they just went ahead without any prompting at all- it was just their natural reaction to being presented with some words and a bit of music. How neat is that?
We're going to need to do a bit of tweaking because with the bass line and their tune it ended up sounding quite minor and lackluster which is not really the emotion of the sound world we were trying to get to, so I think that Heather and I will need to change the pitches a little bit in order to make the song a bit peppier.
The kids are, for the most part, very well behaved. There are of course a couple of squirrely ones and a couple that aren't terribly interested, but all of them were excited at the end of the lesson when they got to have a go on Heather's cello, my djembe, and the school's keyboard. There was a teaching assistant helping the class today too, and I forget what his name is, but Heather and I were impressed with his singing voice during the welcome song. It turns out he is having his West End debut later this week (tomorrow?) as one of the hyenas in The Lion King...he was having a great time with our workshop!
I was very impressed with Heather's manner towards the kids. She is very good at validating them (even when we're looking for greeting words and they keep coming up with various words for food items in Spanish) and guiding their attention without making it seem like she is doing so. She was really not feeling well though, which makes it even more impressive how well she was conducting herself with the kids. I kept forgetting she was sick until the kids had a break and then she basically collapsed. Then the kids came back and she was totally on again.
They have mid-term break next week, so we don't see them for another two weeks. I'll keep you posted!