Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Barbican Curve Gallery

There is an oddly shaped corridor in the Barbican Centre that they have turned into a free art gallery called the The Curve. It is meant to be an opportunity for artists to use the uniqueness of the shape as a catalyst for very site specific work. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't. There have been plenty of exhibitions where yeah, sure, it is technically in a curve- but if that exhibition had been hung on a flat wall in a rectangular space it would have been done in exactly the same way. (Though you would be able to see all of it at once. Or, more of it at least.)

Not so for the current exhibition which is easily my favorite of the two years plus that I have been in London for.

The piece is by Robert Kusmirowski and is called "bunker" The photographs on the link above don't do it justice- but do give a bit of an idea of what it is like . It combines real WWII artifacts with some impressively detailed set design and very low lighting with no sound and uses that to create one of the spookiest, most oppressive, and poignant pieces of work I've seen in a long time.

The space is divided up into little rooms and hallways with a train track curving around the outside of the space. You can enter into a bunk room, see the rusty toilets and then wander through a dark passageway and up a short flight of stairs to an office with radio equipment that has fallen to the ground and pinned one old leather shoe to the floor. Everything- down to the dust on the floor and the heaped tools against the wall- was convincing and evocative. Haphazard and yet clearly meticulously placed.

When I entered the gallery I was the only person in the space and my feet scuffing against the floor emphasized how still the space was. Extraordinary.

I had quite a long chat with the docent as I was leaving- having been told as I entered the gallery to please try not to touch anything- I felt honor bound to let him know that, in fact, I had- but only the walls! They looked so convincingly made of cement that I needed to find out what they actually were made from (I figured they hadn't built an entire cinder block structure in the curve only to need to break it down again three months from now). He told me about a family with three children who had come in half an hour before me and had made it only about 15 feet into the exhibition before coming back out again because the children were too frightened. Frightened of war, time, or the stillness I'm not sure- but it seemed like an appropriate response.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Saturday Performance

We had another run and it went fantastically! Fortunately I was close to the performance space and had the flip video with me; so you get another version! This time with more cheering!

Anna is now in Germany for three months for a contract so we're on hold until January at the earliest, but we're all on board with continuing the collaboration- which is great.

I also took a bunch of pictures of Shunt since the venue is so unique and I think that probably my descriptions haven't done it justice. Those will go up on Flickr this evening and I'll post again to let you know that they are there.

It was so exciting to watch the audience during our show- particularly on Friday and Saturday when we were the last circus style event and the place was packed with people. Some were riveted on the marimba, most were riveted on the rope, everyone gasped in a very satisfying way when Anna dropped down the rope. I'm so pleased that we had this opportunity to start our collaboration in this manner- getting to perform so soon after we started (giving a concrete goal to shoot for) and in such a perfect location. ('perfect' except for the fact that we had to keep sweeping the broken glass away every night so that Anna wouldn't cut her feet up. So 'perfect' within an imperfect world. Pretty darn great. How 'bout we just say that?)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shunt Performance

Here's a video of Caz and Anna on our first night at Shunt. We are part of a whole evening of circus inspired acts that are scattered around the venue and happen about once an hour. Each of us only plays once- so it's exciting to be able to do your thing and then have a chat and a drink before wandering down the corridor or around the corner trying to find the next performance.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Busy Busy

This weeks has already been a whirlwind roller coaster and it is only Wednesday. Oi.

1. Julia Stephenson came to visit! She's living in Italy right now and as part of her visa had to leave and come back into the country- so she took the opportunity to come to London. I put her up in our living room/guest room and we had a great time chatting the night away and crafting things.

2. The Salomon Orchestra concert was on Tuesday night! We've had bunches of rehearsals (including a six hour long slog on Sunday) and I've been moaning about carrying the bass on public transport constantly. We played in St. John Smith Square which is this concert hall converted from a Church in Westminster. Very pretty. We played an as yet unperformed suite from a ballet by John McCabe and also an hour long version of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. I was standing as I don't have a stool any longer and about halfway through the Prokofiev realized just how out of shape my shoulders are. Good thing it is such a fun piece to play otherwise I might have toppled over.

I met a woman named Jill during one of the tea breaks during one of the rehearsals and we ended up having a great chat about how sometimes you don't end up playing your instrument. She started out as a violist and was thinking of quiting because she was getting so bored with the viola parts when people started asking her if she played the violin because they desperately needed a violinist. This is totally against the conventional wisdom- usually you would expect people to desperately need she switched and she's having so much more fun now and refuses to play the viola any longer. Usually she won't play the second violin parts either because that is too much like the viola parts... Anyhow- she was a hoot and I enjoyed talking to her very much. After the concert she slipped me her email address and said that if I could bear to play the bass one more time she needed a bassist for another concert. We'll see about that one.

In other news- (in spite of the irony) I'm thinking maybe flute?

3. Aerial/Marimba- We've got our first night of our gig today! Super exciting. We're playing in Shunt- which is an arts fartsy night club in London Bridge. We're part of a whole series of seemingly circus related events. I'm not sure exactly how it is going to work but I gather there are a number of acts placed throughout the venue (which is a series of vaults and tunnels underneath the station. Kind of creepy- really cool) which will have spotlights on them while they do their bit. Like "drink some at the bar...oh hey! look over there! Drink some more at the bar... oh hey! look over there!" etc. I'll let you know more after the show actually starts happening. We are on through Saturday.

The piece has come together very quickly- and I think we're getting to the point where we finally know what the story is. That is something to remember for the next time that I work with these two- know the story! I have been struggling with the intent of the piece and what it is trying to say. We definitely have the potential to do some very good work together and I'm excited about what we're showing already- but it is also still very much a work in progress. A polished first draft.

4. Teaching- The tykes are on mid term break this week, but the kids are still around. I had eight of them yesterday and it was...a challenge. I need to learn how to do classroom management. I'm more than happy to have the kids go a little nuts- but it is getting to the point where I'm losing even the kids that *are* paying attention because the nutso ones are being so disruptive. Anyone have any advice for reigning in crazy six year olds? I don't really have much to threaten them with- and sitting in the corner hasn't really worked because they end up sliding all over the place. Fortunately I *do* have two weeks of their half term break to figure out how to come in strong for the next half term.

5. Game night! Jo found out about this giant social games event down at the Battersea Arts Centre (a mission to get to- it took about an hour and a half, but it was totally worth it.) Julia was here so I dragged her along and Oh! it was so much fun. I love giant games involving lots of people being very silly and giving me the opportunity for much subterfuge. I'm not sure how often the organization does one of these (it might only be once a year!) but I'm on the mailing list now and I will *so* be at the next one.

At Buck Creek when we used to go there for summer camp they would have these MASSIVE games. Like full camp capture the flag where we would play in the woods and the flag was inevitable up at the top of a tree. I don't think they were really paying that much attention to camper safety...We also played some game called Diamond Smugglers that also worked it's way into the camp dance and involved (Again) tromping through the woods and eating frozen pudding. I loved diamond smugglers because I had just shot my finger with an arrow in archery class (I'm beginning to think I've never paid that much attention to safety...) and had a big bandage on my finger that I was able to slip the diamonds into the base of. It was a very clever hiding spot. I'm still proud of myself 15 years later...

Anyhow- fun/busy times. I have to go teach now and at some point write up my bass ballet paper before tomorrow...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mid-Term break for the Tykes

The tykes have two more days left in school before a two week long mid-term break. Though I am not overly pleased about the hit that my finances will take in those two weeks- I am thrilled, thrilled that the tykes will be having a break. Because today? They were monsters.

Classes went alright- the nursery classes are getting quite good at singing along with the emotion cards and one of the three totally has this whole "high" and "low" thing down. One of the other nursery classes totally has the whole "pig pile Miss Casey as she is trying to leave" thing down too.

The reception classes were mostly willing to sit tight and wait for their turn when conducting with the emotion cards and man-oh-man did we rock out with our vocal warm-ups.

Even garden time was nice: I made the mistake of running onto the field with the thought that if I got out their quickly- then everyone else would follow and we wouldn't have any of this straggling business. I misunderestimated (yes, misunderestimated) the effect that this would have. Namely that I then had to spend the whole of garden time running around playing reverse tag with 45 children.

Reverse tag: where the tykes are yelling "catch me! catch me!" while attached, limpet like, to your leg. The goal, really, is then to detach yourself in order to run to the other side of the field where you then wait for the swarm of tykes to catch up again and repeat their taunts. The secondary goal is to avoid as many pot holes in the field as possible so that the swarm doesn't tumble to the ground and start crying.

So actually- the only real issue was music club. Keeping in mind that music club has *20* tykes. The tykes are from all of the different classes so they don't necessarily know each other very well and there are some pretty significant size/attention differences between the youngest of the nursery children and the eldest of the reception children. All in one room. Just before mid-term break. After a long day's slog through school.

My usual tricks for calming them down/focusing them failed miserably. We tried using the Lycra where we bounce some teddy bears up and down- they nearly ripped a leg off of the medium bear. We tried Simama Ka- but half the kids had never heard it before and couldn't be bothered. We tried bounce and bounce and bounce and STOP- but the role play house in the corner was far more interesting, and besides: there were fights to pick!

There was kicking, yelling, tattling, rolling about on the floor, squishing, and poking. There was not much listening.

Fortunately Linda brought out the books again and that finally calmed enough of them down so that we could just sit for a bit and not pull tykes off of other tykes.

So what I'm saying is this: have a wonderful half-term break little ones. In two weeks you'll come back and we'll start learning the Christmas songs...

New School: Flute Introduction

On Tuesday the New School had a Concerned Parent who wanted to observe/participate my class before enrolling her child. Fair enough, though it can be intimidating for both me and the kids when there is an extra adult hanging around so I said that she was welcome to join the class with the stipulation that she, as well as her children, join in. (She didn't really, but it was good to make that stipulation anyway just in case we needed it.)

We had our first instrument demonstration and with all the extra people there for the day we ended up with the room packed to the gills.

One of the things that I haven't quite figured out how to do/teach yet is how to rein in craziness and focus again after having an energetic song or period of free exploration. What this means is that in my New School classes there tends to be at least one child at any given time who is spinning around in circles.

This isn't figurative. I mean, quite literally, spinning around in circles.

The mother seemed happy enough and I didn't have much time to think about her since I was corralling the 10 students and the two student sized flutes (an instrument I don't play) and trying to make sure that at least 70% of the class was paying attention to our guest demonstrator.

I thought that class had been far more rambunctious than normal and at the end of the afternoon after we had matched the kids back up with their parents/nannies I was about to apologize for their wildness when she beat me to the punch and complimented me (to my boss!) about how well I managed the class.


Thanks! And please, do enroll your children!

I'm graduating!

I have received a letter saying that I am, in fact, graduating. Whew. So when that crowd of grandparents show up from America; I will be walking in that ceremony instead of skulking in the back and being bitter.

(It's all about the absence of bitter.)

I haven't yet received the comments on my IPE performance, but I will keep you posted whenever those show up as well.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It's real wet out. The tykes are probably muddy.

It has been pouring down rain this afternoon and evening. I just arrived home and have now changed into yoga pants and fuzzy slippers; so that's quite a bit better than sopping wet trousers and waterlogged shoes.

This morning I finally had a chance to work on the computers a bit and retroactively put my lesson plans on the system. It was good to do and helped me to realize how much I was flailing around at the beginning of this term. Not that I think that was a bad thing necessarily- but, for instance, I have gone through three different "hello" introduction songs in five weeks. I'm pretty sure I've finally hit on one that I can actually stand to sing over and over and over and over again; so that will stay the same. However, with more forethought this half-term could have been better organized/less confusing.

Just as an example- here are three lyrics from three different songs I have taught so far this term. You'd be excused for getting them mixed up:

1. bounce the penguin, fun to do
2. bounce and bounce and bounce and stop!
3. See how we're bouncing, bouncing, bouncing

here are three other songs:

1. hello, how are you?
2. say hello- hello
3. hello, hello- it's good to see you

confused yet?

1. I'm standing in a tall shape
2. we're all making a shape
3. (actually an activity where you listen to the music and when it stops you freeze--in a shape.)

Now, of course each of these songs have different tunes and sound quite different from one another, but it is clear that I have...whatchacallit....themes.

It got embarrassing as I was writing all these lyrics down in order to publish them on the academic server. I'm just going to continue pretending like what I teach has a structured purpose behind it...

It is "book week" this week and so during music club we ended up doing a version of "Going on a Bear Hunt" as well as listening to some dinosaur book with CD that I don't remember the title of. It is a long day for the nursery tykes and listening to as story (with music!) is always a relaxing/sleepy sort of thing to do. So one of them climbed into my lap and rested his warm, soft, little ear on my cheek. It's like having a kitten. A little kitten who sings...

Um. yeah. So, anyhow.

The new school! What brilliant children I have there. My one problematic child in Wednesday's class was poorly today so all I had were little gems who learn so quickly and don't even get bored learning how to draw treble clefs (particularly if I allow them to draw underwater scenes on the whiteboard while I help one of their classmates)

Okay, so cuteness?

I have a little story that I made up about the G- clef and how to draw it. You see- there is this mouse...and it is circling around the bottom of a grandfather clock trying to figure out how to make its way up to the top... and then it does and it climbs up to the top where it holds on to the minute hand but then slips! And plummets to the ground before trying to climb back into the clock.

If you tell the story while drawing the clef it does work. I think. At least, Linda and I both think it has potential.

However, the youngest in the class? (Three of them are 6 and he is only 4.5) Instead of tracing the clef that I had dotted out on the board for him-- he painstakingly drew a grandfather clock right next to it.

I told him Good Job! And then considered that maybe I hadn't succeeded with that particular story.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Don't Drink Tea at 8:30pm

I don't deal well with caffeine. Or maybe I deal very well with it...depends on how you look at the situation I suppose. In any case- there was a tea break during the rehearsal tonight and so I had a big warm mug of tea, and it was delightful. But it means that is is 2am and I am AWAKE! WHEE!

Which is kind of a problem because I need to wake up and go to work tomorrow morning.

Anyhow- since I am AWAKE! WHEE! I figure I might as well use my time well, right? So I've made my lunch for tomorrow.

I've been trying to make my lunch a lot more recently- mostly because I have to make sure that I'm carrying around enough food to take me through a big long day of teaching when I'm out of the house for 12 hours at a time in an expensive part of town.

I find that I do better with some protein-- I stay more awake and engaged and what not-- so as a half-assed vegetarian who has trouble with dairy this means I have been making a lot of egg and tuna salad sandwiches. Um. Apart. Not together. Because, weird.

Anyhow- I just finished tomorrow's tuna salad and thought I would share the "recipe"

1 can of tuna
1 hand full of flat leaf parsley- superfinelychopped
(use a big knife, it's more fun that way: You can rock it back and forth and pulverize it)
1 hand full of green olives- superfinelychopped
(see above)
2 stalks celery-- chunkily chopped
1/8th of a red onion--chopped however you like
1 T Dijon mustard
2 T mayonnaise


Put in a little Tupperware container to put in your lunch bag along with some rye bread and carrot sticks.

Ponder whether to add salt and pepper

Decide that probably the olives and the parsley will be flavorful enough

Stop farting around on the Internet and go to be already! It's a quarter after 2 in the morning!

Hecticness with some Tykosity

The tykes have a play to go to tomorrow in the morning so instead of having a planning day today like I "usually" do, instead I taught nursery classes. And since today was my first rehearsal with the Salomon Orchestra (an amateur group I'm playing with on Oct. 20th) I brought my bass along.

And thus began the trail of ridiculous mishaps.

First of all- it's been pouring down rain for two days. This means roads are flooded and the tykes haven't been outside. Both are important as it means that buses were diverted and the tykes were squirrelly.

I knew I had to take my bass with me so I started out a good 15 minutes before I normally do. I was surprised to see a 254 coming down my road but thought "hey! door to door service!" so I hopped right on, belatedly realizing that the sign on the front said that it was going in the opposite direction of where I needed to be heading. So I hopped off as soon as I could, carried my bass in the rain back to the proper stop, and proceeded to wait for 20 minutes for *my* bus. 20 minutes was an awfully long time and there *were* all those diverted buses, so I actually called TFL to see if my bus was on diversion. Nope! It'll be right there! You just have to be patient because of rush hour! So I waited. Right up until a kindly bus driver poked his head out the door and said "are any of you waiting for the 106? It's diverted!"

Thanks TFL. You're awesome.

So a kindly lady walked me over to where the bus would be heading off from (I don't normally take the 106, so I wasn't sure where we were heading precisely) So there we go- 45 minutes after leaving my house I was finally on my way!

So I get to school and Linda had made muffins! Brilliant. And they were super tasty too- carrot cake like with courgette and sultanas (um, or zucchini and raisins depending on which country you're from). Linda and I had a quick chat, I had multiple quick tune ups of the bass, and off we went! Teaching time!

The tykes, as I previously stated, were squirrelly. But it's all good because we started on High and Low today! Which actually, I'm super excited about because I haven't tried teaching that before and it's a new explorative experience. (Yes, explorative. Totally a word.) We curled up in to balls on the ground when the sound was low and stood up tall on our tippie toes and reached our hands to the sky when the sound was high. Then, because they were squirrelly, I made them do this again and again and again. Because music class should always encompass a bit of calisthenics as well.

Then I brought out the BASS. This was not as exciting for them as one might have hoped. They actually thought it was scary. Totally didn't feel like listening. So instead I made them bounce and bounce and bounce and stop! for the last 15-20 minutes of class. I don't know how that one hasn't gotten old yet...

So the second nursery class we did high and low and we reached and rolled and I brought out the bass and huh. They couldn't tell if the bass was low or high. I think legitimately couldn't tell- like on the xylophone they're used to the sound enough that it's all cool- but the bass? Is a completely alien sound and timbre. Particularly because of the gut strings. No matter- they gave it a go- each of them played a bit on the bass (i.e., dragged their grubby little fingers across the strings) and then, because they were announcing that they wanted to put on a little show- we put on a little show. We practiced being good audience members and listened carefully as people were singing.

Here's what was interesting though- anyone remember "Alf is and Ant" from last term? It was one of the songs from Parent's day last term and man! was it ever a big hit. But some of the kids singing it today? They weren't here last year...So I asked the teachers, "did you teach the rest of them 'Alf is an Ant'?" No, no they said- J. taught them.

Little 4 year old J. Who can sing all of "Mama Mia" with appropriate dance moves. Taught the rest of the class his favorite song. Awesome.

Then we danced around a bit and did tall shapes and wide shapes and small shapes before I panicked a little because it sounded like one of the tykes had managed to get behind me and smack the bass pretty hard. J. was the only tyke behind me so I said "no! don't touch the bass!" and he felt bad and apologised almost immediately (which normally is not the case.) So I said thank you for the apology and thought no more of it until I was packing up to head to the third nursery class.

It turns out that probably J. had touched the bass- but the big sound? That was the G string snapping.

So you know how I had a rehearsal this evening? Now I was one string short. So I called Peter up and he said I should just use a modern steel string for the moment and directed me to the closest music store.

But first I taught the third nursery class where they all decided the bass was a monster! And I showed them that it was bigger than two! of! their! TALLEST! classmates! Which was pretty impressive. All of this while I am taking the G string off of the tuning peg. So much for lesson plans- lets show you kids instrument surgery!

During lunch I went to the first store- but did they sell bass strings? Nope. Fortunately Peter's number is saved in my phone (I should probably put him on speed dial or something like that) so I called him up again and proceeded on a mission to Piccadilly Circus where I found a totally cute music shop and was able to buy a new string AND multiple rubber tips for my end pin- which is great because I keep losing them on public transportation.

So there we go.

Oh! And I taught at the new school too where not only could they hear high and low, but they also heard and were able to differentiate between middle sounds, trolls (crotchets/quarter notes), and goblins (quavers/eighth notes)! I was so proud!

Sunday, October 4, 2009


We need a new name because Aerial/Marimba just doesn't cut it- but on Saturday we had our first rehearsal!

In case I haven't told you/you don't remember- this is a project that started because of a sign I put up looking for choreographers for my final project for my masters degree (visual evidence in my profile picture). I didn't get any response from the sign and so found a choreographer through different means (namely a contact improvisation jam session). I figured the sign had been taken down and thought nothing more of it until I got an email a couple of days before the show for my final. The email was from Anna, a German aerialist and unicyclist who trained at the Circus Space in Shoreditch.

My final was done and dusted but I figured I couldn't pass up an opportunity that cool that dropped in my lap like that so I turned to my friend Caz, a marimba player who happened to be sitting next to me when I got the email and asked her if she would be interested in making a piece with me and an aerialist. You can't turn things like that down- so here we are! We have our first gig at the end of October so this is a pretty short run up to things.

We rehearsed at the Circus Space since they have the equipment needed to hang a 10 meter rope from the ceiling. There is a fairly large circus performing society in London and they do their rehearsals and training at the Circus Space so while we were trying things out and improvising Caz and I kept getting distracted by this extraordinary balancing duo over in the corner and a guy jumping up and down on a tight rope by the back wall.

Overall I think it went really well. Currently we are running into some difficulty because both Anna and I managed to misinterpret our schedules so we need to replace *two* rehearsals. For a performance on the 21st of October...

It is interesting working solely as a director and not as an active collaborator/improviser. It requires maintaining focus the entire time and paying attention not only to the artistic material being presented and trying to mold and shape that, but also paying attention to the working dynamic within the group. I'm glad there are three of us- it seems like a good size for practicing on.

Also, it turns out that 3 hours without a break is maybe a little long for me in my new role as director- about two hours in I was like "well, that's all I've got!" But no! They just kept spewing ideas out- and you can't blithely turn something like that off- if ideas are still coming and the parking meter is all paid up? You stick with it!

Rhythm Play

I'm sitting here doing some mending while sitting on the floor of my room and listening to Internet radio and I just realized that I was dipping the needle into the fabric along with the beat of the song I was listening to. So then, because this is just what you do, I started sewing in triplets against the beat.

Just thought I would share.