Monday, March 29, 2010

Late Night at the V&A

This Friday was a late night event at the V&A, which is cool enough in of itself, but what made this one SUPER DUPER special, is that it was run by the Sandpit folks and was full of games! How excellent is that?! Seriously, check out the line up.

Even more excellent was the fact that due to the large number of mailing lists I've put myself on to, I managed to get the opportunity to volunteer during the evening and ended up being one of the judges for a massive scavenger hunt. Oh, it was so. much. fun!

Interestingly a lot of the things they had to do/find involved a camera- which wasn't a problem, because between digital cameras and pretty much every one's phone these days- every team had a number of cameras at their disposal.

My favourite tasks were the ones where the answers involved a performance: namely reciting an original limerick about the V&A, singing a song about balloons for at least 20 seconds (though that one got old because there is only so many times you can listen to "99 red balloons" get butchered before that gets really old), and do a line dance with at least three people.

Each time a team got an answer right they got a stamp on their sheet and a 1 meter long piece of ribbon to tie to their balloon. The first team to get 15 questions/items right (and therefore their balloon 15 meters in to the air= the same height as the museum) won.

The first round we weren't really sure what to do with the winners other than just cheer a lot for them. The second time round we judges decided to see how far they would let us go- namely, would they let us stamp the middle of their foreheads? (About halfway through the first game I had taken to stamping people's wrists when they gave me a particularly good answer or were disappointed that the game was already full and they couldn't play).

The answer: yes! And then the 2nd place winners let us stamp both cheeks! 3rd place was on the wrist and from then on out it was a bit of a free for all- "you got 15 meters! YAY! Where can I stamp you?!"

I had a marvelous time. Though the stamp on my hand took two days to wash off...sorry first place winners.

update: I just found this video of the evening. Gives you a taste of what it was like. Uncomfirmed estimates have the number of attendees that night at 5,500. Woah.

The Kids Sing A Song

Sunday was a busy day. I was doing the project management for the Continuing Professional Development weekends for Guildhall again (read: moving stuff about and making sure everyone had enough tea and biscuits and lunch) but had to leave in the middle in order to get over to Kensington for the the Kid's recital.

This recital was very elaborate- the theme for this term has been "animals" and the children have been learning animal related songs, drawing pictures to be used in the programme, and writing pieces for their instruments about various animals.

In my class we wrote a song- It is called "Legato and Staccato" and I'm way super proud of it. We wrote it in a month and all of the kids were involved. I was avoiding making a structure for what they had written for the longest time, caught up in thinking "Oh, but I'm NOT a composer and it's going to sound bad, and blah blah blah" which is silly because a: it is their song and b: it was really good!

I even played piano for it. This is a big deal, I'm not a confident pianist, and this part that I wrote was very easy, but still- there were chords in the left hand, melody in the right, and I was singing and conducting the kids with my head all at the same time.

Of the five kids who showed up to the recital one was poorly with a sore throat, one had just joined the class when we started to write the song and his brother informed me in no uncertain terms that he was not prepared to perform the song, and a third is being bumped up to a higher class next term and has decided to distance himself from the rest of us. So there were two singers, and though we were a small group- we were mighty. Gap toothed smiles and everything. (C. was very excited to be singing, very excited to have just lost her first tooth that morning, and kept grinning all day long.)

Today in my singing lesson with Jilly she asked me how my teaching had been going. I excitedly told her about the success that the song had been on Sunday and then played/sang it for her. Because it is *such* a charming little tune, she asked me if she could put it up on her song resource website. Isn't that so cool? And such an honor? When it goes up, I'll let you all know.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chaperoning for a Living

Due to a lack of a sufficient number of chaperons for the Nursery tyke's field trip, there were no music classes today. This is because I was drafted in to help a trip of 60 three year olds go to the Wetlands. Man, that was fun/exhausting.

"Miss Casey! We're going on a school trip! ... (pause wherein he realizes that I am sitting across the aisle and one row in front of him) Miss Casey? Are you going too?!"

There is a little Italian boy who only recently started attending nursery at my school. Up until about two weeks ago he was wailing every morning and frequently was taken home by 10am because he was so upset. This little boy? Today? WOULD NOT SHUT UP- he had a massive grin on his face and was chattering away to me and though he was mixing up his Italian and English a bit, most of it was understandable and ENGLISH. How do kids learn this fast?! I'm in awe.

We took nets and hunted for creatures in the pond, we strolled around wetlands and looked at "ducks" (Any ornithologist or even mildly interested bird watcher would be appalled that we referred to everything as "ducks.") had lunch in the "sunshine" and then spent a good hour or so in the playground!

The! Playground! Was! AWESOME! (And that's me saying that, not just the kids.) I was in charge of watching the gate so that none of the tykes could escape. Fortunately, the giant bouncy dragonfly/see saw allowed me to have an unobstructed view of the gate while simultaneously allowing me to bounce constantly for an hour. Except for a short period of time when I was required in the "secret lair" (a bunch of child sized underground tunnels with skylights in the hills above) the tykes were moving swiftly through the "secret lair" (did I mention it was child sized I was all "yeah. Okay guys. Hold on a sec. (crawl, crawl, crawl) I'll catch up in a second!")

There was also one of those zip line things, a bunch of smaller seesaws, a rubberized pit for running around in, and a lot of plants/bamboo for hiding in and then popping out and saying "boo!" from.

Over on the giant dragonfly we did a lot of singing (they *were* missing music class after all.) The whole thing was pretty precious. And exhausting. In the class that I was helping most with all but two of the tykes fell asleep on the bus ride home. I ended up carrying one back into the school and he just kept snuggling his head into mine- which was very sweet except that he seemed to most want to push my head over to the side, knock my glasses off with his forehead, and burrow his skull into my nose. Like that was comfy?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

More Games

I've been hanging out with the Fire-Hazard folks recently. The organization is run by a man named Gwyn and since I've been involved in a number of his games, seen him at other events, and been very vocal about my desire to help out- on Friday he asked if I wanted to be and extra helper for Survivor Sports- a set of glow in the dark games at a sports centre by London Bridge. Heck yes I did, so I threw on some tennis shoes and got myself down there were I proceeded to pop a number of glow sticks (oops) and hang black cloth over the entrance way to get rid of a bit more of the ambient light.

One of the things that Gwyn has been hoping for is some footage of Survivor Sports, because wouldn't a video of a bunch of people in the dark throwing glow sticks at each other look cool? It would. But unfortunately the video camera that we had available really, really didn't pick up any of the light from the glow sticks. I ended up taking about 10 minutes of footage over the course of the event and none of it looks like anything other than a blank, black screen with screaming and hollering on the audio track.

The whole night went very smoothly and afterward we managed to find a quiet pub on a Friday night. It was most impressive and we had a great time chatting and getting pysched up for Saturday which was when Gwyn and his team were running four sessions of Heist a game wherein 15 people try to break into a warehouse and steal six toolboxes without getting caught by the guards- you have to disable pressure sensors and motion sensors, pick locks, keep track of what has been taken and what hasn't, and get people out of the holding area when they get caught. It's way super fun.

In my team on Saturday I was in charge of DECEPTION which meant that I had to deliver a package, prop a door open, and keep the guards talking to me as long as possible so that there were fewer guards wandering around inside to catch the rest of my team. This job involved quite a lot of talking random nonsense which, for some reason, everyone on my team who had met me before (even if briefly at a previous game) thought I would be good at...

Other roles included LOCK PICKING, STRONG MAN (one of the boxes was very heavy), SOCIAL ENGINEERING (a lot of how we knew what to do next was done by text message- how high tech!), HACKING (there was computer that we had to get codes off of, I don't remember why.), and COMBAT (they had a nerf dart "stun gun" that would take out a guard for two minutes assuming it properly fired.)

Does this all sound ridiculous? It was, but oh so very much fun.

Springtime Adventure

Linda came round today and we went trekking. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous spring day and I have the privilege of living nearby this massive set of parks. So we went to the corner shop and got provisioned with trail mix and juice boxes. (side note: corner stores in the UK are brilliant. Specifically for their selection of Rubicon juices in exotic and delicious flavors. I had mango and Linda had lychee. We skipped the guava and passion fruit that was also available. Yum.)

The trek was epic- we went through many of the parks and even wandered into a very cool nature preserve that, we later figured out, only has one entrance which is unfortunately located and the opposite end of where we wanted to get out. So we looked a some water birds through the wooden flaps in the viewing area, and we admired the giant mosaic of a grasshopper, and we read informative plaques about small and cute ponds before deciding that, really, since we could SEE the path we wanted to be on just over that fence- we might as well just hop it.

So we did. But first we had to find a place where there wasn't barbed wire and where it was low enough that we had a chance of being dexterous enough to get over. We ended up jumping down in front of this family of four with two small, blond, impressionable young boys that we were setting a very poor example for.

It was an excellent adventure.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Improvised Soup

Today was a soup day (as some days just are) and without a particular recipe in mind and quite a lot of random ingredients around I came up with some delicious deliciousness.


A kettle of water, boiled
two stock cubes (they don't do canned broth in this country, so things are automatically saltier due to the stock cubes)
two medium carrots finely chopped
hand full of runner beans, sliced
One chicken breast thinly sliced
hand full of baby leaf spinach
two eggs
Glug of chili oil
glug of sesame oil
glug of soy sauce

And tah dah! Put things in to the pot in the order they're listed. When the chicken slices turn white then you're ready to go and the chicken will still be all moist instead of tough and chewy like it will be if you let it cook for much longer.

The Kids Start To Write A Song

I took a different approach with The Kids today. There is a music service concert coming up in a couple of weeks and so instead of trying to bash rhythm into their heads (with bats!) (not really.) I decided to usethat degree I've got and do a workshop style thing with them. So we're writing a song.

I was hoping to get four phrases today. It took us an hour to get one, I definitely should have started this process earlier. But It worked, and the music we produced is great- though I realized as I was leaving that in singing it all together we had shifted the rhythm over an eighth note- so now it is all jazzy and syncopated- which is fabulous and much more fun to sing and play, but it is no longer technically what rhythm they wrote down- and I'm not sure if that is a big deal or not...

Anyhow- we've been working on writing down and playing back four beat rhythms on the white board so we started with that and then took the first two bars and figured out how to tap them together as a group.

Then I took the keyboard and put it on the floor so that we could all see the keys and for each note in the rhythm I asked them if the pitch should stay the same, go up, or go down. I played each version and sometimes we voted on which we thought sounded best. We tried singing it just like that, but it turned out that it was very difficult to sing the tune without words- so we did a big brainstorm about legato and staccato and what animals or things were like that.

We didn't end up with the most inspired lyrics ever, but I like them anyway:
"This one is smooth, this one. Legato, Staccato!" Then we practiced singing that all together- the jazzy way, one eighth note displaced.

(I've spent the last 45 minutes trying to figure out how to make a picture of what I mean, but I haven't figured out a good way. I've got the lick typed into Sibelius so if anyone knows how to do a screen shot or how to turn something into a graphic that I can then insert into the blog as a picture... that would be keen.)

The kids were humming the riff on the way down the stairs to their parents and I sighed with relief- finally. A good lesson.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


So I was just at Jon's pub that he bartends at, and on Sundays they have some live music. Today they had a Kora player and I was all "that's so cool. I love the kora. I should go talk to that guy during a break and say hello and see if I can try out his kora." So I did, and I asked him where he was from: Gambia! Oh, brilliant! And you play Kora so you must be Mandinka- so I said the greeting phrases (the only bit of Mandinkan that I know) and we got to chatting. Hey, I've been to Gambia. It's a small country, I thought, I wonder if he knows my kora teacher-

"Do you know Mamadou Souso?"

"...he's my father."

Woah! You know how people are always like oh, the world, it's so big. They're just wrong.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Best Lesson of the Week

On Wednesday I had an *excellent* lesson with one of the reception classes. It was one of those things where it all just worked and I'm still excited about it, so here you go:

This class has an autistic boy (Q.) in it. He likes music and catches on quickly but frequently will respond in a way that, while showcasing that he is paying attention and enjoying himself, is disruptive to the rest of the class. Like humming the tune of a recording we're using over and over again for the whole lesson or rolling up the carpet in time to the music (the tykes are supposed to be sitting on the carpet...) So he's someone to keep an eye on and I always try, to the best of my ability, to incorporate whatever he's brought to the lesson while still getting the point across to the rest of the class- but he does end up sitting out fairly regularly.

So this Wednesday I had a small djembe with me and Q. started hollering out "That drum is Thai!" I tried to tell him and the rest of the class that it was an African drum but Q. kept insisting that it was Thai. Now, probably I could have just left this because is it important? No. But I didn't just leave it, I looked on the label and it turned out that the drum was actually made in the US, so I told the tykes that.

"Who else is from the US? Raise your hand!" there are two American tykes in the class so that left three of us with our hands raised.

Enter Q. "You're not from America, you're from Spain!" Oh, am I now? Cool. "No! Not Spain, space" Ah. Excellent! We can use that! So we made rocket ships with our arms and shot them up into space while vocalizing up a scale and then the rocket ship was shooting from side to side so we sang along with that as well and then the rocket ship crashed on to...wait, what planet is Miss Casey from? Can we have a vote? Right, the moon won so the rocket ship crashes on to the moon: BOOM!

But N. wasn't happy with that (which was just fine for my vocal warm up because it meant that we got to do it all again! ) and so the second time we blasted off from Earth, flew around space, and then N. caught our ship and placed us gently on the moon where we met some aliens. Cowboy aliens, actually, since Miss Casey is a Lunar American. Then we put on our cowboy boots, made some alien noises, and galloped around on space horses. Physical and vocal warm up? Done!

Then I taught the song about flowers that we're going to be working on for the next couple of weeks. The actions can get quite complicated and the song is very pretty as well so the class naturally broke down into two groups- the dancers and the singers. (They did this on their own, by the way.) They were doing such a good job at that point of offering their own suggestions for things that I decided to leave it up to them what colors the flowers were- which then led to another whole class vote between "very red and bright" and "purple and red." (very red won by a narrow margin.) They sang with such big voices and were so. in. to. it. I had the most fun I've had teaching ever and actually bounced down the stairs to find Linda immediately after the lesson to recount the whole thing to her.

The best part was that Q. was totally engaged and actively participating the whole time.

Go tykes!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Such a cool life

I worked all this weekend project managing one of the continuing education weekends that the Professional Development department does. It was nice: I carried a lot of equipment and got to chase people down about actually paying for said weekend, met lots of interesting people, got to go food shopping with someone else's money (my favorite! So many cheeses!), and sketched. Besides the fact that I was underground without windows for two days it was a good way to pass the weekend and get paid for it.

On Saturday night I went to a dance improvisation performance. It was...interesting. If nothing else it reinforced the fact that I have opinions about improvisation. A couple of pieces were extraordinary- one guy tied himself to a chair with his shoe lace and eventually crushed the chair by falling over it so many times. He clearly had a clowning background and was wonderful. Eventually one of the audience members tried to help him with the shoe lace and he kept trying to tie her long, blond hair to the now decimated chair. Here's why it worked: one single, clear idea that was engaging, developed over the course of the time, and had a bit of mystery- "what's going to happen next? The chair is in pieces, is that the end or no, no, he's trying to put it back together....!" There was a clear reason to be watching.

The final piece was a duet that involved both dance and speaking/acting. That was great because they were clearly listening to what was being said and done, they kept bringing back both topics and movements that had happened before, and both the dance and the text was at a high enough level that it was entertaining to watch/listen to on its own as well as reinforcing the other.

Ones that didn't work- a self indulgent, far too long solo wherein the woman blinked a lot (intentionally) and talked about tea- which was clearly because something needed to be said and what else was there to say? It felt like a send up of beat poets but sincere and just bad. Also, if it is going to be billed as a dance performance? Please move. I'd be willing to watch someone stay perfectly still on a stage if they had a good reason for it, but this? I'm sorry- no.

Today, however, I had a SINGING LESSON. Which was awesome. I just love my singing lessons. Particularly because we keep working on things that I am so scared of. I had my gamba with me because we had consort this afternoon (awesome- with a violone player as well. So much fun, such ridiculous clefs, I love reading off of manuscript notation: "Is that a smudge, a quaver rest, or a note?") and Jilly had me not only sing and play at the same time (Super Scary but also so. awesome. I kept holding on to notes and just rolling around in the interval. Delicious.) but also do chords and sing at the same time, identify where in the key I was, and sing on scale numbers. It's all stuff that I feel like I should be able to do and should already know down pat because of all of my music school training- but I feel like I don't so it is scary and I lose confidence quickly. We did some singing in harmony and then started on a jazz tune- "Day Dream" I think it was called. It's got a bunch of crazy chord progressions but I learned it and sang it in tune within about 5 minutes. Woo! I'm going to keep working on it this month and figure out how to play the bass line on the gamba at the same time.

It was a gorgeous, sunny, spring-like day today. Beautiful. So I took the opportunity to take a nice walk from Highbury and Islington down to Angel in order to get to consort. Such interesting shops along that road too.

After consort I met up with a friend of mine from the acting improvisation class that I took last month. He is starting up a theatre company and is looking for collaborators for the music. We'd talked really briefly about it at the weekend but talked much more fully about it over "coffee" (hot chocolate with marshmallows) today. I'm going to a rehearsal on Friday to meet the rest of the troupe and see what they've come up with so far. Our initial discussions make it seem like we're very much on the same page, so hopefully that will turn out to actually be the case!

I went to a contact jam this evening because my choreographer/dancer friend Ellie has been telling me to come and it was cool to watch and I played a bit, but mostly I didn't really feel like improvising for a whole group of people that weren't listening and communicating with the music at all. There was a guitarist there and I jammed with him for a bit which was great, but ultimately I just felt really out of place. Which is too bad.

Anyhow, all things considered? A brilliant day.