Tuesday, June 29, 2010


It's too hot to get any proper work done. I finished one job application and should hear whether I have an interview by Friday. I'm working on the cover letter for another job application and have made good (if not exactly excellent) progress on that one. I had viol consort this morning, which was a joy and a wonder; improv class last night which was good because I *finally* got a scene to work, got my hair trimmed, and am heading off to yoga class momentarily.

I've also been breaking things: the gut holding the tail piece of my bass just broke so the bridge is sitting on my table right now, I broke my phone and so lost 2 years worth of numbers, I broke the chair in the living room (admittedly it was broken when I found it, but I repaired it with wood glue and now it is MORE broken) and burned my finger with steam while making lunch today.

All in all it's probably a wash in the productivity v. destruction sweepstakes.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Charity Sunshine

I have a friend named Charity Sunshine. She's pretty extraordinary. Whenever I read about her recently I tear up, so click on the link please.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Orff Workshop

This weekend I was lucky enough to be sent to an Orff workshop down in Richmond. Orff Shulwerk is another school of thought surrounding music education. They had a lovely little browsing library and I found a book called Comparing Dalcroze, Orff, and Kodaly by Gilles Comeau. I thought "oh, perfect!" and proceeded to write this whole paragraph down:
"For Jaques Dalcroze and for Orff, rhythm is unquestionably the most important element, the foundation of all musical composition and all artistic works. It is not surprising, then, that they both use physical movement as a basis for music education. In the Orff approach, however, movement is not the only medium of choice; language is also fundamental in learning rhythm, perhaps even more important than movement. Kodaly, however, tended to emphasise the melodic component by developing a pitch discrimination, a melodic ear, and inner hearing. It is not surprising that he favored singing as the preeminent medium for music education."
Now, I don't know how helpful that description is for you, but it was brilliant for me. The workshop was run by a delightful German man named Rodrigo who spent most of the workshop being both incredibly silly and incredibly tactile. (Do German's have a smaller personal bubble than the Brits? I kind of suspect not and blame his lack of one and willingness to invade others' on his Portuguese background.) We learned a number songs from around the world and he did an excellent job of teaching us the songs in small and fun steps so that we were playing games and enjoying ourselves, but also repeating the songs again and again and again without getting bored.

There was definitely more of an emphasis on words than I've experienced with Dalcroze workshops. That being said, it wasn't always easy to remember the words since the songs we sang were from Taiwan, Tanzania, Japan, and Germany. (And the German one was in nonsense words! But German nonsense words...)

One of the things that I really liked was that three of the five songs we learned were singing/dancing games. So that the movement was definitely tied to the rhythm, but also tied to specific group movements that meant that if you got it *wrong* well, you knew.

In Dalcroze one of the exercises that you do is called a "follow" and you move about the room in a manner dictated by what you hear from the piano. Say, for instance the teacher is trying to get everyone to walk around the room to consistent quarter notes. The only thing that is helping you to know if you are absolutely dead on or not is the sound of every one's feet. If you hear one big CLOMP! then it's all good, if you hear cloclclocclclomp....then you're not together as a group. Eventually you feel it in your body and through this method you develop a very secure sense of pulse and inner rhythm.

In contrast- this weekend what we were doing was playing games that involved rhythm: our Taiwanese song eventually involved two pairs of partners with sticks sitting perpendicular to each other and tapping them on the ground and slamming them together in a specific rhythmic pattern. The sticks made a hash sign that opened and closed as the rhythm went around. There was also a dancer that had to put their foot in and out of the opening and closing square in the middle of the sticks and then make their way gracefully across the square while stepping at specific times dictated by the rhythm. It was a lot of fun and if you got it wrong your foot was caught in a bunch of sticks (fortunately made out of lightweight plastic, not painful) so you knew you got it wrong. I don't know how much that helps if you haven't already got a pretty sound sense of rhythm, but it was a great dance/game; a lot of fun.

One of the other things that I really enjoyed was that any time we were dancing, or doing some sort of complicated body percussion, or playing on the xylophones and other instruments: we had to keep singing the song. This meant that one or the other aspect (singing or rhythm) had to be solid enough to you could put it on autopilot while focusing on the other aspect. At least, that's how I dealt with the complicated multitasking issue....

Lots of fun, lots of good and useful ideas, and if you even mention in passing a Japanese clapping song game about making Mochi I will force you to learn it and play it with me because I *love* it.

Ps. Yes, it's the same Orff as Carmina Burana. I love that man.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

More of Meredith's Pictures

Did I mention that Meredith rented a car? She had to get to a rehearsal in Brighton on Monday so it made sense to get a car that would also help us all to get around and to pick people up as they arrived at the train station. We figured it would be a good idea to get the dent insurance because they upgraded her to a Mercedes Benz (the only automatic they had available) and as a special deal that meant that she could add a second driver for free.


(I love driving.)

(These pictures have nothing to do with the driving. Except that the way I felt at the end of the gruelling six hour hike/ramble? Similar to the way I felt after driving successfully through teeny tiny country roads without hitting anything or anyone. So this is a tangentially related picture.)

Meredith's Birthday

For Meredith's birthday she rented a cottage in a little town just off of the English Channel and we stayed there as a group and made delicious food and chatted and laughed and bumped our heads on the ridiculously low ceiling beams and went on a six hour long hike over many, many, many hills. It was beautiful and we were drenched in sweat and grime by the end of it. Meredith said it would be okay if I posted some of her pictures so that you all can be jealous...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Tykes Run Around Like Crazy

It's been a busy few weeks in tyke-land. Last week was Sports Day! There were a variety of races and then a picnic complete with "ice lollies." The parents have to stay behind a barrier and the kids run around in a somewhat organized fashion while their photographs are taken. It's kind of silly and a bunch of fun.

The tykes were divided up into a groups of yellow, blue, red, and green and then led around to various events by their teachers, classroom assistants, or very responsible year 4s. I was in charge of Circle Ball and Leader Ball, both of which were played with bean bags... Circle ball is essentially a relay race around a giant circle, and leader ball is the same thing but in a line and with the added difficulty of throwing and "catching" the bean bag. (I don't think any of the tykes caught any of the bean bags ever.)

My station was supposed to take 15 minutes with another 15 minutes for a snack and water break. Unfortunately a round of circle and/or leader ball takes about 30 seconds...so we did it four times in a row! With much jumping and hollering of encouragement.

Can I just take a moment here to tell you about P? P is a lovely little nursery girl who bears an uncanny resemblance to a basset hound. Huge, beautiful brown eyes and the largest jowls you've ever seen on a three year old girl. She spent the first half of the year consistently confused and bewildered looking, but over the last term and a half or so has brightened up considerably. It turns out that jowly three year old cheeks when they smile? Are the Best. Thing. Ever. And P was having a grand old time at sports day, racing around the circle in her hilarious torso swivelling run with the biggest grin ever on her face. I freaking love P.

So that was sports day. The week before we had had International Day! International day is a trip. The school is almost absurdly multicultural, and in addition the parents can sometimes get absurdly competitive. This is all to the good on international day when everyone shows up in their own traditional costumes and two of the nursery rooms get given over to FOOD. Piles and piles of delicious, amazing, fabulous food. The two rooms are divided up amongst countries or regions and then decorated by the various families, each trying to out do the others. Mmmm. Korean sushi, home made hummus, fried plantains, empanadas, crepes filled with nutella, delicious piles of things from the Indian and Middle Eastern tables, and I don't even know what I was eating from the Austrian table but it was cheesy and awesome. (Man, now I'm hungry again.) The poor kids are given hot dogs in the cafeteria while the teachers and parents get scrumptious food...

It's not ALL about the food, it's also about the costumes! And because the parents need a chance to photograph their babies- we had a parade. The parade also included a short musical performance which was my responsibility. It was really rainy that week and usually International Day spills out into the garden, but because of the mud we planned to have the parade and performance in the library. Except that someone then made the decision that it was bright enough and dry enough to do the parade and performance outside even if the eating still had to take place inside. This meant that it was totally unorganized and the tykes ended up streaming out through a filter of their parents which meant that I had to figure out how to A: collect all the tykes and B: distract them from "Mummy!" so that they would sing their songs.

A few minutes and some very over exaggerated warm up exercises later I pushed the encroaching crowd of parents back and we got along to singing. Whew. They were delightful, and if their are now some videos floating around of me jumping up and down and looking ridiculous- well, that just goes with the territory.

Do you remember my little Italian Boy? His family is moving back home after this week so he won't be around for Open Music Day on the 30th. On sports day his mom apologized to me that she was taking him away early (I encouraged her to come see our class this week) and explaining to me how much her son loves my class. He has apparently taken to singing our songs to himself as he wanders around their home. He also gets disappointed whenever we fail to sing his favourite song ever "copy cats" so she asked me for the lyrics so that they could sing it together.

I love stories like that. Just love them. And the lyrics were put in his box that afternoon.

Games! Games! Games!

Oh Sandpit. I love you. For those of you who don't know, Sandpit is a monthly (more or less) event put on by an organization called Hide & Seek, and it is a testing ground for pervasive games. If you search for a definition of pervasive games on Wikipedia it redirects to location-based games which I'm not totally sure I agree with, but close enough. Point being, FUN! and PEOPLE MY AGE! and WHEEE! I love Sandpits because to me they feel like a networking event at a convention for interesting people doing interesting things. Case in point, on Wednesday I met this guy, who was getting spooked because so many people were recognizing him on the internet. I also had some great conversations with a pair of people who do satirical theatre events in North London, a tourist from LA who was stoked that he chose this time to come visit the ICA gallery (where this month's sandpit was based), and one of the people who run The Fun Fed. And those are just the *new* people I met, I'm already friendly with about, maybe 10%? of the folks who show up to these things.

So the way it is organized is that you show up and you are given a schedule and description of the games being played that night. Then you choose which one's you want to play and you go to the reception table thing and get stickers for 2 games. They've been having trouble at the last few events because there have been way too many people for the number of games planned. So this month they beefed up their offerings and overshot a little bit. This doesn't bother me because it meant that I ended up getting to play 5 games. Well, except that the last one was oversubscribed again (people were just showing up without having stickers) so we split the group in two and instead of playing I ended up leading the second group.

I remember what I played because I've still got the row of stickers attached to my T-shirt:
7:00-7:30: Fun Fed - outdoor games that basically boil down to "warm up activities for workshops" and/or "team building exercises." (My favourites.) There were only four of us who managed to get out there for the first time slot so that was lovely but then I had to leave early to get to...
7:30-8:00: Pavement Wars- one team was on lines and the other on cement squares. Each team had a "king" surrounded by the other team and though we could only move one person 2 spaces (lines or cement squares) each turn we had to get to reach the king and have the whole team hold hands at once.
8:30-9:00: Sangre Y Patatas- run by a guy who has developed this game as an iPhone app we were in a black box theatre with bells hung from the ceiling. Everyone had their eyes closed and whenever you bumped into someone you had to say "patatas" if you were a benign potato or "sangre" if you were the monster. Every time the potatoes bumped into the monster the potato died loudly and dramatically. (or quietly saying "oh, crap.") This was actually hilarious and amazing. Our group was so big that after the first free for all we were broken up into three mini sessions and timed to see which monster could get the potatoes out fastest.
9:00-9:30: Fun Fed- I went back again but this time there were more people and it was awesome.
10:00: Werewolf- this one is a tradition at Sandpit events. I gather that they keep trying to not do it but then get yelled at so they keep putting it on. It is "Mafia" but where the evil creatures are werewolves instead. At the planning meetings for Montreat in 2001/2002 we played this every night, so I'm familiar with it. Basically you get a group in a circle and give everyone a secret role- werewolf, villager, seer, or healer. Then each night (everyone puts their heads down) the werewolves decide who to kill, the healer decided who to save, and the seer gets to find out which players are werewolves. Then when everyone wakes up (opens eyes) they are told who was brutally eaten by werewolves and then get to start wildly accusing/defending the other players until they eventually decide on one person to lynch. (This game is rather violent, isn't it?) If the werewolves are convincing enough they can win, if the villagers are clever enough and figure it out- they win.

So that was the games. It was well good.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Improv Class!

I've signed myself up for an 8 week acting improvisation class! It is the follow on from the two weekends that I've done and the first class was last night. There are about 15 of us and each class is three hours long. I gather that a number of different people from The Spontaneity Shop will be teaching us. Last night we had Claire, a lovely woman from Chicago. (There were 3 American women in the group, we had some USA love.)

Because it is level 2, it means that the group has self selected to be even more awesome. Level 2 is one that you can just hang out in for as long as you want, continuing to work on skills and playing and practising. It's a class but it's also a lab, if that makes sense. I think about 50% of the group has already done level 2 at least once before. Of the two weekends that I did only three of us managed to persevere this far. You do level 1 if you're curious or want to work on breaking out of your shell or whatever. You do level 2 if you secretly love this stuff. (Oh wait. Is that just my reason? Not so secret now.)

At one point I was telling someone about the improv choir that I did this weekend, and I think was also drawing parallels between what we were doing and contact improvisation. They asked if I had had an abnormally structured childhood...

ps. Yoga brag: I hung out in a head stand today. Just 'cause, you know, I can. Whee!

Instructional Video

This kid is fabulous. I don't understand how the "Drawdio" works but it is SO. COOl! And I think that if I had made one when I was 8 like this kid is, I probably would have seriously annoyed my entire family.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Improvisation Choir

Ella’s mum Jilly is running an improvisation choir in London and they had their second rehearsal/meet up on Sunday so I went along. It’s been a while since I’ve done free improv with people and it was a lot of fun to do it again. Especially since I figured out how to belt in my lesson with Jilly on Wednesday so I can get LOUD now. Whee!

There were about 8 of us there, and I gather that there was only about a 50% overlap between this week and last time so the full group is a bit bigger than that. We spent the beginning playing with a lot of different sorts of sounds starting with things like growling and then moving that into pitched sound while keeping the same level of energy and tone colour. We did one free improvisation and discussed it afterwards, noticing that we felt like we wanted to move more. So that was the next aspect we added to it- each sound had to be associated with a movement. We then continued to do improvisations and change the parameters a bit each time to see what came out.

Once we relaxed into it and started playing with what we were doing it was really fun. One woman, a puppeteer, and I ended up trading places a bunch and the whole group was doing a great job of listening and joining in with what was being offered. At one point we were clearly in a jungle with a number of monkeys, some birds, and wind blowing through trees. At another point one woman crouched down into the middle of the circle and started intensely speaking the words “Once upon a time” and the group immediately hushed and created this spooky, magical soundscape.

The fun thing about voices is that there is nothing between you and the sound- so things can change instantly and you don’t need to worry about the right pitch or technique or anything like that. Voices are available and just there in a way that instruments are not necessarily.

People were being both bold and generous with their offerings to the group and it was a pleasure to work with them. Four of us went out for drinks and a snack after the rehearsal and chatted about the experience and what we were looking for/what Jilly was looking for out of the group. It was interesting and the sort of conversation that I haven’t had in a while.

Last week Meredith and I were discussing what it had been like to create my final project from last year and what we thought went well and how we would do things differently now. Again- I hadn’t talked like that in a long time, and it was nice. I miss talking analytically about artistic processes.

I need to make something soon...

My feet are filthy

There has been a lovely stretch of gorgeous weather this week. Doubly nice as it has been half term this week so other people also had time off and there were activities going on. On Saturday I was down in Brockley with some of the fire-hazard folks to run games at the summer fete/festival they had going on. Perfect weather for a community festival. And for running around barefoot in the grass.

Fire-hazard's target audience is usually young professionals without kids who are looking for something unusual, active, and somewhat silly to do. The festival? Was filled with toddlers and adults who were just chilling out and listening to the music. Not a lot of adults looking to run around (did I mention it's been hot? It was hot) and many of the children were far too small to be involved either.

Giving it a go anyway, we set up an obstacle course with bits of rug, cones, a handy bench, and three big yoga balls. The idea was that you had to get through the course without touching the grass (it was lava you see), get to the inflatable sword at the end of the course, and then get back again all without being hit by the roving lava balls (yoga balls) or the rock giant (one of the team with an inflatable axe). It was pretty fun and we were having a good time with it.

Every once in a while we'd get a curious kid staring at us or starting to do the course and then I would try to corral the other children who kept stealing the yoga balls to roll them towards the runner. I think we only had three people who weren't from fire-hazard run the course.

There started to be some trouble with the yoga ball stealing children throwing the yoga balls too hard at passing strangers, so being the responsible adult that I am and the only member of the team that was not actively afraid of children I hollered at them all and made a big circle out of red cones and codified the game that they were already playing- which is to say "tag" where whoever was "it" was running away and you tried to hit them with the giant rubber balls so that you could be "it" next. No throwing, only rolling, and no going outside of the cones. Harumph.

We played that for quite a while (me and the kids; the rest of the fire-hazard team was refining the lava game) and then I was losing them and the balls again so we played something called "Manhunt" which is hide and seek and tag combined into one game. I made the other fire-hazard folks put up a boundary perimeter of cones that included a big area to run in and some trees for cover. Each of the kids got a neon yellow arm band and 10 seconds to run and hide. At which point I sauntered over to the one place that they actually could hide and managed to get three of them before they could run away. When you got tagged you gave up your yellow arm band and started running after the others. Last one with the arm band still on wins.

After that game ended we packed up and went off to enjoy the rest of the festival figuring that we had dispensed with our duty. It would help next time if we all had fire-hazard T-shirts and if there were some official looking signs. In spite of the announcement from the stage I think one of the big problems was that people couldn't tell if we were part of the festival or just a bunch of people having a silly looking picnic.

We played manhunt again with just the five of us later that afternoon. It was fun figuring out how to hide in a huge group of people and how to get away without running and freaking out the rest of the people innocently hanging out at the festival. (Most importantly- I won. Remember how everyone else is freaked out by kids? I found the highest concentration of children that I could and so spent most of the game making things out of pipe cleaners in the crafts tent and keeping an eye on where the rest of the players were out of the corner of my eye. They never even looked for me there.)