Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tykalicious. Also: shopping.

Today the tykes had tantrums. So I decided to remember my blog from yesterday and when the eldest tyke was flipping out to such an extent that she was gripping the table and screaming--instead of trying to reason with her I picked her up and took her to the next room. She knows how to tell time so instead of engaging with her at all while she tried to reason me out of things (or into things?) I told her at what time I would let her go out and play (I read somewhere once about giving kids time outs equal to their age- one year=one minute. Seems reasonable, doesn't it?), I told her that even though her father would be "very cross" with me that I could take it and she still needed to calm down, and then when her sister was flipping out outside the room I closed the door and wheeled a rolling bookcase to block their view of each other (glass door). And you know what? It worked. It worked really well. Yee haw!

I know I'm still wet behind the ears and very new to all of this- but I'm good at it! Also I'm paying very close attention to the other teachers and doing my best to model what I do on them when their techniques work.

The weather has been changeable so when we took them out to the garden to play it was sunny, then it was rainy and sunny, then it was just rainy and just as we were deciding to take them inside, it was sunny again. Harumph. This did mean that the tykes were finding shelter wherever they could- including the cabinets where the outdoor play equipment is stored. At one point we heard a banging and thought it was the tykes in one of the cabinets that we could see- but no, it was the tykes in the other cabinet who had somehow managed to get themselves stuck....oops.

We watched Happy Feet today. It turns out that that movie is far too tense and scary for three year olds. One of the smaller tykes sat in my lap and kept saying "I like not this movie" which was totally totally cute. And I couldn't really help him except to rub his back and say "it's okay, they'll all be okay."

After school was done today I walked through Hyde Park to Oxford Street where I stopped in at Primark. Primark is this giant super cheap clothing chain that does knock offs of designer stuff. Their clothing is not terribly well made but they are directly on trend so it is fun to go through and figure out what is hip. Plus- their dresses are always fun and did I mention cheap? It's like a giant dress up box for adults. Actually, they have kids stuff there too- but you know what I mean. Anyhow- I wanted to buy Laine a dress or two because I think London is still a couple months ahead of the US (and I think I can say confidently definitely ahead of Seattle.) and Primark doesn't exist in the US.

I ended up buying her two and then video skyping with her when I got back to show them off because I'm not very good at surprises. I like receiving them but when I have things for other people I want to tell/show them straight away. It's the same problem with telling jokes- I'm so excited about the punch line that I jump the gun, tell the pay off, and then belatedly realize that there should probably have been some set up and context... In any case- it was totally fun video chatting with her because a: my sister is a cool cat and always fun to talk to, b: she was at work, c: she put me on mute, and d: I could hear everything that was happening in her office. (Oh, um. Laine? Is it okay that I'm telling the Internet this?) She types *really* fast. It's impressive.

I also bought myself a dress and a long silver necklace with plastic crystals and glittery butterflies. It is so over the top. I've been prancing around in it around my empty apartment since I got home. I love it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Tykes at Holiday Camp

I've been working at the tykes school for their Holiday Camp this week (and will continue to do so next week) and here are some things I've learned:

1. little boys *never* have their flies zipped. It's just not going to happen- dexterity comes later
2. tykes are GROSS. I've washed my hands more in the last three days than in the last two weeks combined. On the plus side: my fingernails are sparkling.
3. When holding hands with a tyke, say for street crossing purposes, your hand will be used to scratch their face, shove up their nose, brush hair out of their eyes, or stick into their ear.
4. There is a specific facial expression- sort of pleading, guilty, and concerned all at the same time- it means they need the toilet. Learn to identify it quickly.
5. If you start paying attention to a tyke they will most likely want your attention, undivided, for the next 20 minutes. Then they will drop you abruptly for a small wheelie truck.
6. This isn't exactly something I learned- but today one of the girls came up to me and exclaimed "all the flowers are gone!" meaning the patch of grass she'd been messing with had been picked clean of dandelions. Naturally my first response to that was to tell her that there was a song about that and to start singing Pete Seeger's "Where have all the flowers gone?" to which she reacted by looking at me like I was crazy and possibly dangerous before scampering off to go be a dragon/good fairy.

So far we have had free play time, gone to the science museum (where I had a lovely time talking to a kindly grandmother in the play space), set up the hall as a gym with hula hoops, a small climbing structure and a collapsible tunnel, and gone to one of the play areas in Hyde Park.

When we go on outside adventures the teachers wear neon yellow "City of Westminster" safety vests. Cute. Then we explain that the tykes need to look for the green man before crossing the street and that they must hold our hands, no really, we mean it. Also- catch up to the people in front of you in line and please stop hitting our butts!

Holiday camp is basically babysitting for 16 three year olds with three other babysitters who don't all totally agree about what is supposed to be happening. So that's kind of frustrating. I like teaching music better- there is a set thing I am supposed to being doing with the tykes and the structure helps. That being said the other three women I'm working with are lovely and we're getting better at working together as the week progresses.

We have a few problem children- one has just moved here from Argentina and doesn't speak a word of English. It is such a huge change for the foreign kids- we had a big break through today in that he spent the entire afternoon with us without his nanny and only cried pathetically for about 10 minutes which is a huge achievement. We also for the first time today ended up with a new nearly six year old girl from Hong Kong. She's also dealing with the abrupt change to everything she knows- but she was good by the end of the day too.

Then there is a family of three siblings and their friend from another school. They are a handful. A demanding, smart enough to know how to play us, and snarky for four/five handful. I secretly like them, but they rile each other up and then the rest of the class up and life would be much easier without them in it currently. That being said, I kind of like watching the schemes the eldest has- she reminds me of Jimmy and his "pajamas are too interesting!" comment. I feel like Laine could totally school this kid. Come visit Laine, help a sister out.

In other news I have borrowed a recorder and a beginners book to teach myself the recorder. I've been sitting at my kitchen table and chortling to myself while attempting to play. I'm on page 27! It's a waltz with 5 pitches, tied notes, slurs, and it is in 3/4 time. Fancy.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I'm still in Love with Kate Fox

Her book Watching the English is unfailingly funny, interesting, and informative. I have recommended it to multiple people a day every day since I started reading it. I'm in the food chapter now and just came across this gem- evidence for why I think she is such a delight:

In talking about upper and lower class systems for getting peas on to forks

"The socially superior spear-and-squash system carries no more than about eight peas at a time, at best, while the prongs-up, scoop-and-shovel technique can hold up to about thirteen , by my calculations- depending on the size of the fork, and the size of the peas, of course. (I really should get a life.)"

In other news I have done absolutely nothing today.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Watching The English- Kate Fox

I love this book. I really, really do. And because I love it so much, (and because she so succinctly phrases something that has been bothering me for two years) I'm going to just flat out reproduce a paragraph of it here:

"A pattern seems to be emerging as we examine different aspects of English life and culture, a recurring theme that I think may be crucial to our understanding of the English character. What I am noticing is that there is rarely anything straightforward or direct or transparent about English social interaction. We seem to be congenitally incapable of being frank, clear or assertive. We are always oblique, always playing some complex, convoluted game. When we are not doing things back-wards (saying the opposite of what we mean, not introducing ourselves till the end of an encounter, saying sorry when someone bumps into us and other Looking-Glass practices), we are doing them sideways (addressing our indignant mutterings about queue-jumpers to other queuers, and our complaints about delayed trains to other passengers, rather than actually tackling the offenders). Every social situation is fraught with ambiguity, knee-deep in complication, hidden meanings, veiled power-struggles, passive-aggression and paranoid confusion. We seem perversely determined to make everything as difficult as possible for ourselves. Why, as one American visitor plaintively asked me, can't the English just be 'a bit more direct, you know, a bit more upfront?' We would, as she pointed out, save ourselves and everybody else a great deal of trouble."

Yes, yes! See? This is why my most understandable and useful feedback sessions were with an Icelandic woman- not any of the Brits. They wondered why I was always convinced that I didn't really know what was going on, convinced that there was something beneath the surface that I just wasn't understanding? THIS IS WHY. Whew. It's a relief, really, to find this in a book. A book written by a Brit. A book written by a funny, erudite Brit. A book written by a funny, erudite Brit who can explain why it is that so many Brits are funny and erudite.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Because I do things like this

On Friday I went with a friend of a friend of a friend to Regents park where giant tree houses are being built for a gallery opening tomorrow. I don't really understand why it is all being built, but they are *beautiful.* I started out with the instrument makers but they didn't really have a good plan of what they were doing and the drills kept running out of batteries so after it stopped bucketing down with rain I went to help the wall weavers. They had a bunch of willow branches donated so those were being kept in the boating pond which was a: a good idea to keep them all supple-like and b: a bad idea because they were covered in goose poop. Gross.

But giant basket weaving! Around a tree house! In the rain! I was super happy. We got a good two and a half feet woven together, it was very satisfying.

Lots of lovely people, but I didn't feel hipster or hippie enough to really feel totally comfortable.

Today was Ella's mom's birthday party in Highbury and that was lovely and fun, good conversations. This evening was Meredith's debut as a horn soloist with a chamber orchestra. She played wonderfully and looked beautiful. After that we went to a little middle eastern restaurant where Meredith's sister borrowed/stole my book: Watching the English by Kate Fox.

I highly recommend this book- she's a social anthropologist who has spent her career documenting what makes up Englishness. It's hilarious. While reading I keep alternating between giggling and going "Oooh." as things suddenly become clear. It's brilliant. We sat with a bunch of Serbian women at the pub and I recommended it to all of them too.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

New Project

So ages ago I put up a sign at LCDS looking for a choreographer for my final project for what turned out to be the bass ballet movement. I didn't get any calls from the sign and assumed that it had been taken down long ago- but a couple of weeks ago I got an email about it. Sweet.

Her name is Anna and she's an Aerialist (ropes hanging from the ceiling, think cirque du soleil) so today we met up at the Circus Space. There is a place in London where you can get a degree in Circus stuff, how amazing is that? It is in an old power station next to Hoxton Square and there is this huge room with tons of rigging. We met, talked for a little bit, and then she showed me one of her routines-which was amazing though I did get a little distracted half way through by the flying trapeze practice going on across the room.

Do you know how cool it is to be in a room full of professional circus performers practicing? It's pretty awesome.

So the project plan is to work with a percussionist friend of mine because I think the visual of a marimba player and aerialist sounds super cool. A tall, thin, vertical sense of space rather than horizontal. (Like my last project but turned 90 degrees...) Basically I want to use this project to try being solely a director/producer instead of a performer. Experiment with being the outside eyes rather than being in the middle of things.

There are so many things I don't know how to do yet, here are some that I have thought of already: Where can we perform? Anna was saying that aerialist work is the easiest to set up because it only needs one anchor point on the ceiling and she has all her own ropes and such so as long as there is a high enough, strong enough beam- we should be fine. But what else is going to be on the programme? Making a 10 minute piece would be awesome- but that isn't a whole evenings worth of performing. Also, how do you put on a show away from a school? I've only ever done this once and I've only ever done it with *tons* of help from GSMD. (Help from Lucy; thanks for all your help Lucy!) So anyhow- huge learning curve. This should be fun!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Other Things

*I don't know my scores yet for the performance and the viva. I assume I've passed since what feedback I've had has been good, and I will of course keep you posted as soon as I know anything.

*I just had my first round of acupuncture today. I've been having some intestinal issues and the doctor at school suggested that I try acupuncture. It was fine but I was extremely startled to open my eyes at one point and see an older, lank haired man smiling down at me. It is a teaching hospital and he was the supervisor. I hadn't heard him came in and, like I said, was startled. This seems to be my biggest impression of the first session.

*RASA, a wonderful restaurant on Stoke Newington Church Street had their 15th anniversary party yesterday and so Ella and I went. Lots of delicious free food, huge coconuts being cut open and straws stuck in, TONS of tourist information on Kerala (anyone want to go on a South Indian cooking vacation? Because I have some suggestions), and really lovely people all around. There were cultural events like a dance performance, some music, cooking demonstrations, and they'd even set up a little village with a tea shop and toddy shop over in the corner. It was held at William Patten school which was also fun to wander around in; it looks like a wonderful and vibrant school. Plus they have a great little side garden.

*We're moving next month and now are in the midst of figuring out how this is all going to work. Cross your fingers for me will you? I want a double room that has a lot of charm, is near fun grocery shopping options (I've been so spoiled with Fresh and Fruity), and has good transport links around the city. Know of anything? You know? On the off chance that you've got a friend in London with a room like that that they're looking for someone to fill?

One week since school has been done

I'm still only starting to come to terms with the fact that I am done, for the foreseeable future, with school. Okay, so I only had my viva on Monday and I had a presentation on Friday and actually I'm writing this from the school computer lab right now so "done with school" might be a bit of a misnomer.

The viva went well. I was nervous the whole way through, but very grateful for the prep help the night before (Thanks parents!) I managed to cut the repetitive bits out of my presentation so it was definitely under 10 minutes. I'm not sure how long it ended up being, but I know they didn't have to cut me off.

There were only two questions that I hadn't foreseen and already figured out how I was going to answer (pretty good, huh?). The two that I hadn't thought about were, in retrospect, really obvious ones: what would you change about the performance? and next time, how would you put more of yourself in musically? Those are rephrasings, I don't remember exactly what the panel said...

Lets answer the second one first- I'm not sure that I would put more of myself in musically. What I said to the panel and what I stand by right now is that in order to put more of myself in to the performance (and by this lets be clear I mean "compose the music") I would need to have that be one of the goals of the piece- one of the things that I set up at the very beginning of the devising process. It wasn't in this case and so because of that definitely did fall by the wayside. The other thing though is that I'm not sure how interested I am right now in looking at things from a particularly musical bent. I've been doing that for eight years, there are other ways of looking at things that I want to explore right now.

Which brings us to the other question: what would I have changed about the performance. At that point it was only a week after the performance and I was still pretty much on a high from it. (I spent most of the first week after the show turning to my parents and saying "you know what else was totally cool that we/I did awesomely?!") And I still think that we did a wonderful job for that point in the process. But could we have taken everything farther? Absolutely. And do I have ideas for how to do that? Well yes, now I do.

On Friday I had a presentation for my Action Research class with Dr. Helena Gaunt. I really enjoy working with her because she is a master at asking questions. Her questions tend to be about aspects of my project that I haven't totally considered and then in answering them whole new vistas open up and I'm constantly in a state of "Ooh...!" Things slot together and suddenly make a lot more sense when I talk them over with Helena. Which is one of the reasons I'm so excited that she is encouraging me to write up my research about the bass ballet movement of my final project piece. Oh, that was what the presentation was about. I didn't say that yet, did I?

Anyhow- the presentation was supposed to be about 10 minutes long and about an hour and a half in to the class we moved on to the next person. Pretty great, huh? So many good questions and new realizations. What I'm thinking I'm going to focus on in the writing up of this process is my relationship with my bass and how that inspired me to make this piece and explore my relationship with the bass in an artist space. Much of what I was focusing on for this first foray in to dancing with the bass was shapes, symmetry, really exploding wide open my conception of how I can physically interact with the bass (upside down with my feet instead of my hands? You betcha!). What I wasn't focusing on was the sound, the music. So here's and interesting question: what does it mean to be a musician, an instrumentalist, if you're working in silence?

I remember a day close to the performance when I had spent a good two or three hours working by myself on the piece, rehearsing the transitions between sections and trying top make sure that I could get the choreography as smooth as possible. As I was packing up my bass I began berating myself for not having practiced that day.... What on earth did I think I had just spent the last few hours doing? The realization that I had of course been practicing is the crux of what I'm going to look at. Sorry if this isn't very clear yet, I'm only just beginning to gather my thoughts on all of this and pull them together.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A week after the fact

The show went really well! We had divided up the room (essentially a giant rectangle) so that there was a backstage area on either side. On the left a space fro Meredith, Jo, and Imogen, and on the right behind the screen a space for the back projector, Becca with the computer, Jon, my bass and I, and most of the back end of the grand piano.

We started with "The Performer" which was Meredith with the inner monologue playing over the speakers. I couldn't see because I was backstage, but I could hear that she did an amazing job- beautiful playing and seemingly no evidence of the stage fright that the piece was all about. The applause went on for ages after her piece which meant that I had quite a bit of time to take deep breaths before walking on stage with my bass.

It was helpful that "The instrument" movement was all about my relationship with my bass because that meant that I couldn't look at the audience (I had to focus all my attention on the bass) and that meant that I could forget they were there to some extent. There was a little hiccup at the beginning when I couldn't find my mark where I was supposed to lay the bass down. Eventually after less wandering around in the desert than it felt like I found it and was able to lie down on the floor across from the bass and begin what I thought of as the bass ballet.

In rehearsals I had been rushing and not taking my time or even really remembering to breathe, but there is something about having an audience that heightens the whole thing so that even though I could tell that I was moving calmly and deliberately I was at the same time wondering if I had forgotten a large chunk of the choreography because the whole thing seemed to be over so quickly. To my great relief I neither dropped the bass, nor did I play the theme out of tune. Playing out of tune was a serious concern as I play that portion lying on my side, wrapped around the bass. It is not the most ergonomic playing position...

"The Score" began soon after my piece ended and I would let you know how it went except that in order to smooth out the transitions between the pieces I ended up staying on the stage, tucked behind my bass for the third and final movement. This means that instead of paying attention to what the trio were playing (I'm sure it was wonderful, and I certainly was happy with how the film turned out), I was mostly trying very hard not to twitch my hands or feet which were still visible.

Then at the end people applauded and applauded and we bowed twice and trailed out the way we had rehearsed only to start jumping up and down behind the screens that made the backstage. People were still applauding so we walked back out and bowed again and oh! I was grinning so much. It was an intense and well done performance. I was so proud of all of my collaborators (9 people by the end of things!) and I didn't stop bouncing around about it for days after.

Between the flowers from Latana's final recital, the flowers from the parents at school, and the flowers from this performance- the house is still filled with brightly colored blossoms. One of the perks of living in a house full of performing artists.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Three Elements: The Preparation

The hall opened at 11 to start setting up. I wasn't totally clear on what was going to be happening then, but I figured if anyone was going to be there- it was only polite to be there as well since it was for my project. I dropped my satchel and extra clothes off first and then tromped back to Guildhall to get my bass. Have you heard how hot it has been here this week? Dragging my bass (in a black case) from the Barbican to Bishopsgate was sweaty work.

The other performer couldn't get to Bishopsgate until 6pm for his sound check so I had the enviable position of having ALL DAY LONG to set up, try things out, do my sound check in chunks, and just generally really acclimate myself to the environment and area.

I had the stage tech guy (who I think was named Clive...but I don't remember exactly) moving things around to my satisfaction- putting up conference barriers and my big screen and moving the speakers, piano, and chairs around. He was incredibly nice and helpful and I gave him a big bag of chocolate covered espresso beans at the end of the night. Lovely man.

None of my performers could get there until one so I went ahead and worked on setting up the lighting for the bass ballet piece first with the lighting/sound guy- Dave. The piece is a very long piece- not durationally but, um, positionally? It takes a big room, but all on one plane if that makes any sense... Anyhow- I'm on the floor for quite a lot of that piece and was wearing shorts and a tank top because of the heat. At one point I slide myself and the bass across the floor- but was struggling quite a lot with that in the sound check because I was sticking to the floor. Ew. Fortunately for the performance I was A: quite a lot cooler and B: wearing quite a lot more clothing. So it went off without a hitch then. We put gaffer tape I on the floor so I had some spots to eye in the performance so that I didn't end up too far away from the spot lights.

Meredith showed up around 1 and we worked on the stage fright piece at that point. I was still not 100% sold on the nudity of that piece. I was about 95% there, but I wanted to run it again with a small audience in the space in order to make my final decision. So we got Lucy, the project manager for the department, and the two women who do the scheduling for the venue to watch the piece. Meredith had been doing such a good job of just owning the piece. She's amazing to watch. And they all agreed- we needed the nudity to fully make the point. (We tried it nude first, and then ran the opening again clothed)

Then at around half 3, the final version of the graphic score, our artist, and two thirds of the improvising team showed up. Okay, so it was cutting it close to have them rehearsing the final version ON THE DAY, but you know what? That was what we had to do. Two days before the show I had spent 5 hours straight in the computer lab with Paddy mixing the final version of the inner monologue and the day before the show I had spent 3 hours with Becca working on the final structure of the film. But it all came together. Oh! And the day before the show was also the first time we managed to get time with our acting director/coach guy Brodie who was so helpful in terms of figuring out entrances and exits and transitions between the movements.

So it all came together. I spent the hour before the show literally bouncing around. (I talked to Clive afterwards saying that it had only been the hour before that I was bouncing and he looked at me like I was crazy and said something along the lines of " I thought bouncy was your natural state" so the "hour before" claim may be wishful thinking on my part) The first half of the show I tried to stay in and listen but the bounciness was taking over. I meditated for a while sitting down, then I left the hall and paced, and finally I found a somewhat secluded area and just turned for a while. Then I washed my feet. Then I went to the bathroom about 15 times, just because I could. Then I washed my feet again. And bounced a little more.

Then it was showtime.

The Tykes have Parents

This is the first in a series of catching up blogs. I know you want to know about the performance, but I'm starting with Parent's open music day at school last week, because it is chronologically the first thing I need to catch up on- and that's just how I roll...

So parents day: I was nervous. Why was I nervous? Because all the stories I hear in the staff room are about parents being awful and meddling, and though I love their kids- I didn't want to be hauled out in to a hallway and forced to explain myself and why I was being such a rubbish music teacher. So I was nervous.

For the nursery children we sang Kalele, My Minibeast Friends, Tiny Caterpillar on a Leaf, Simama Ka and I am the Music Man which is a handy song because it takes quite a while for the kids to all get their instruments and settle down. The first class was bouncing off the walls in anticipation of the parents being there- so instead of being in class we had the performance/open class in the hall/cafeteria. There were a lot of parents so we sang Kalele which is a welcome song to all the parents. We sang for Mommies, Daddies, Nannies, Brothers, Sisters, and by particular demand: babies. We sang My minibeast friends which involves crouching on the floor and it was amusing to see the couple of children who just stood there the whole time- a little bit shell shocked by the audience ranging around them. In tiny caterpillar we had a good range of spinning into butterflies, and with Music Man I had the genius idea of handing out instruments to the little brothers and sisters in the room as well. I think we got them all back...

So that class went splendidly and was a wonderful success and a great way to actually start the day. The time went by much more quickly than I had expected it to. In the later nursery classes we got a big laugh when we got to the verse in My Minibeast Friends where the tykes had named their own insects "Princess the Butterfly" and "Darth Vader the Cricket"

At lunchtime I got a call saying that my own parents had arrived so I went and collected them and got them set up with food before heading back down to teach the reception children. In reception we only had one song to perform so I had another song to teach in order to show what that process was like. In the future I will have multiple songs to perform, but live and learn. The next time I have to do something like this will be for the Christmas Show in the Winter. Should be good times.

Some of the reception kids we charming with the announcement of their parents "My Daddy is in the blue shirt! Back there! Hi Daddy! Miss Casey, did you see my Daddy?" and also stopping the class halfway through to announce very clearly and precisely that they needed the toilet and could they go use the toilet now?

Anyhow- the end of the story is this: I got rave reviews from the parents, had a wonderful time with the tykes, and AND at the end of music club (which was very low key- I was exhausted) one of the parents brought me chocolates and flowers: this big beautiful bouquet that she handed me after she handed me the chocolates. I didn't understand that they were for me and once I finally figured it out, I was shocked! Flattered, but shocked. Beautiful flowers with sage in the arrangement so it smelled lovely.