We're doing a new project with the Cornwall Youth Orchestra that started this weekend. The CYO rehearsal schedule is amazingly ridiculous. Because the students are spread throughout the entire region they meet up as a whole orchestra once a quarter somewhere in Cornwall (it changes every time. I had a couple of students right over the border from Devon who were fussy that the rehearsals had never been near them.) Then they have intense rehearsals for a weekend, like 9 am to 9pm Saturday and Sunday and apparently normally there are also Friday rehearsals but there weren't this time because it was the first of the new school year. During the weeks where not everyone is around to rehearse they have sectionals. So this weekend is string sectionals and then next weekend would be wind or brass I presume.
The kids all sleep in the rehearsal building. In this case because the rehearsals were in a school some of the classrooms were sleeping rooms and others, like the one I was in, said "no sleeping." Which is how I found out about this in the first place- because why would a math classroom have a sign that says no sleeping? Oh and the rehearsal schedule? Planned down to the minute and KEPT TO. Which is the amazing part. I've never seen a schedule like that that people actually followed. It was like the anti MapMaking project. (In that MapMaking can't keep to a schedule at ALL). (Seriously, at all.)
So the project itself is based on the paintings of Ben Nicholson who was a fairly important abstract modernist painter who lived in, and frequently painted Cornwall. So there is a retrospective being put on by the Tate that is currently travelling around and will be in Tate St. Ives in... January? (St. Ives is in Cornwall. See? It all begins to make sense.)
The orchestra has been divided into eight groups so that each of us get about six people to work with. Each of the group leaders chose a painting from the exhibition book. We’re meant to make a piece with the kids that relates to the painting and then in January will perform those pieces at the gallery. So that should be pretty cool.
My group is made up of six people: Sarah- oboist who has a kitten that chases its own tail; Peter- cellist who doesn’t have a funny animal story; Lizzie- oboist with two pet bunnies; Alyssa- violinist who was followed by a bull; Jenni- violinist who had some sort of interesting goat story; Lisa- violinist whose story I totally don’t remember; and Ellen- cellist with a cat that does back flips.
The painting that I chose is called “Six Circles” And it has...six circles. So I spent the prep time for the project trying desperately to figure out ways of representing circularity in music. Harder than you might think because music is such a linear art form. I came up with the idea of rounds, octatonic scales (based on a fully diminished 7th chord- neat because they can go *anywhere* which is think is sort of circular- or maybe more wheel spoke like), ternary beats (6/8 and 9/8 as opposed to 4/4 so the beat is divided “1 and a 2 and a” as opposed to “1 and 2 and”), and the idea of anacrusis or upbeat which to me sounds like the wind up to something continuing on- like a wheel rolling down a hill.
We decided as a group to use the painting itself as a score so that the various elements of it represent different musical ideas when read from top to bottom. We then played with the ternary beats which they had a bit of trouble really feeling so I pulled my dalcroze techniques out and had them running and skipping around the room. (Felt pretty pleased with myself at that one) and eventually made up rhythms that I had them use notes from the scale to make into melodies and then we layered those- at which point the whole group decided that really it sounded like the deep grooves in the painting rather than the circles....poo. So they get to figure out what sounds like circles now. They came up with what basically amounts to an ascending scale which I think is pretty linear- but hey. They like it.