Week 8 – The Final Concert and Finish of the Project

I find it hard to believe that this project is finally coming to an end!

Last night we had our final public concert at the ‘Complex’ – A gymnasium which is shared between the school and the community of Cummins.

We had quite a good turnout of audience – which is amazing, considering two very important factors:

1) Apparently its the middle of Harvest for the local farmers

PLUS

2) There’s a bushfire happening nearby! Lots of the locals are cfs volunteers, so its quite understandable that they missed a concert to be away fighting a bushfire.

On Tuesday I even had doubts that this concert would happen at all: given that there was a very real possibility of quite a devastating bushfire on the outskirts of Port Lincoln. As I write this the bushfire still isn’t out, and it could still threaten homes.

I’ve been driving from Port Lincoln to Cummins each day and seeing smoke and the cfs trucks. I can only have the highest admiration for these volunteers who put their lives on the line and work tirelessly day after day.

Anyway, that is off the subject, but still a very real thing that affects communities. It was difficult working at Cummins on Tuesday: a day of catastrophic fire danger. Cummins school isn’t considered a real fire danger, so it wasn’t closed, but the school buses didn’t run. Because the school buses didn’t run there was only about half of the students at school. I could only do my best to do my job in the best way I could, and not show any worry to the kids, as I didn’t want them to be stressed. I could tell that they were concerned, as anyone would be with a bushfire in the area.

Still, I think doing our drumming workshops and preparing for the concert was a very welcome stress relief for some of the students, teachers and parents!

Here are a few of the performances that were featured in this performance:

1) Year 5/6/7 performing ‘Funky Junky’

2) Year 4/5 performing ‘Infinity II’

3) Year 8/9 performing ‘rainforest fantasy’

This week we also put together a staff & community ensemble and they performed at the concert with the kids. They all had a fantastic time, which was essentially my outcome for this activity.

I’ve done these sort of adult groups before, and generally they always have a great time. The thing with it is to stay flexible in approach. I had one idea for a beat to have them play, but it actually got modified within about 30 seconds of trying it with them. There was something else that sat much better, so I didn’t persist with my first idea, instead I shifted my expectation, and it worked really well.

Anyway, here is the video of the staff & parents performing their ‘Hip Hop Beat’ piece. As you can see in the video – they have a great time, and really enjoyed their performance. I wasn’t actually planning on playing myself, but one of the participants couldn’t come at the last moment (something to do with the Bushfires I think), so I had to fill in.

Lastly – Our Big Finale.

I was so thrilled to be able to put together a big finale with all the students involved in the project. They had to share drums, use the buckets which we normally hold sticks in, and utilize just about every drumstick we had – but we did get there!

I was so proud of the kids – and so many people came up to me afterwards and the next day saying how you could really see the joy on the kids faces that were taking part.

It was a really special thing to be able to do this project, and I’m forever grateful to an enormous list of people for making it happen.

Firstly, to Musica Viva in Schools, particularly the South Australian State Manager Emily Kelly. It was Emily who really believed in me, and submitted the initial idea to do Junk Percussion as an Artist in Residence Program. Also a special thanks for Cassandra Knox who put together the initial funding application to get this off the ground, and Laura Read who provided the logistical support with booking flights and making arrangements.

Most importantly I have to thank Arts SA – without whose funding there would have been no possibly to undertake such an amazing program.

Also I need to thank the Staff of Cummins Area School for their support, particularly assistant Principal Mike Ford for his support and belief in the project. Its been my pleasure to work with Arts Teacher Natalie Scheepers and John Wood throughout the course of the project, and get to know all the other staff as well.

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Week 7 – Days 4 & 5 – Preparing for our Final Week and a Big Concert!

Its the end of the second-last week of this Artist in Residence project, and I think its a good time to reflect on what has been achieved:

  • We’ve created 16 complete, brand new pieces of music
  • We have had over 70 students through the intensive program
  • We have impacted nearly the whole primary school with one-of workshops.
  • The students have performed at the Cleve Field Days (one of the biggest local events all year)
  • The students have performed at the Primary School Music Festival in Port Lincoln
  • The students have recorded tracks for their very own CD
  • The students have reflected on what they’ve done with written reviews

I’m currently in the process of finalizing the CD content, and its actually been a difficult process to refine the pieces down, as there are so many good ones!

I’m also developing the final teaching resource which will make the materials available for teachers all around the world to implement fun, easy junk percussion with their students.

Today they had a short concert for the school community and performed a couple of pieces.

This one was a highlight – their ‘Chinese Dragon Dance’

 

The Students spent the rest of the week working hard towards their big public showcase concert which will be held when I return for my final week in a few weeks time.

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Week 7 – Day 2 & 3 – What to do with Remo Percussion Sound Shapes

Remo Percussion Sound Shapes are flat frames with a drum skin like membrane stretched across them. I’ve seen these in plenty of classroom shelves, but I’ve not really had the opportunity until now to really explore their potential in percussion workshops.

 

The sound shapes come in a set of five. This to me is quite annoying, as I basically design most of my classes around FOUR groups. Its not that I think five is terrible, its just that usually musical phrases work if you have four groups – you can pass a one-bar rhythm around and it will take four bars, or a two beat rhythm and it will take two bars. With FIVE different shapes it really suggests FIVE groups… which musically doesn’t really work.

If Remo wanted to improve their product… all they need to do is take one away and give us a package of four different shapes! Then I could buy six packs for a class set of 24, Seven for a class set of 28, or eight for a class set of 32. They would then be perfectly grouped into groups of different shapes.

As it is I will basically not use one of the shapes, and it only comes out for ‘special’ purposes, of if there is too many in one of the groups. Its almost more economical for me to purchase them individually to get around this problem, rather than in the package as given.

One more thing to rant about with Remo… I purchased six packs.. one would think that all the colors would be consistent, but unfortunately not! They’ve got some Red Circles, Some Black and Some Blue. It all seems a bit random as to what color is what shape.

I’ve learned that with kids minimizing choice of things like color is a good thing. If you have five red ones and one blue… guess what will happen? You a  bound to get a fight over color sooner or later! That is what is so great about the consistency with boomwhacker colors… the colors are always consistent, because of course they are matched to pitches, and that really makes them work very well.

OK my rant over Remo’s package over.

I have to say, even though they’ve got their weaknesses.. they are actually a brilliant product!

They are very durable – they will last a lifetime of regular playing, and they are extremely portable, packing down very small.

I have done two things with them so far.

The first thing  I’ve done is further explore my concept of ‘orbit groove’. This is a concept where a rhythm is passed through the class: Each group has a different shape, so you’ll have them sit around in a circle or semicircle in four groups – Just choose four of the shapes and make sure you sit them in their shape groups.

You can then pass a one bar rhythm around, and I’ve developed a backing track to do this. Its further developed with a call and response rhythm and variations in Dynamics and Tempo.

The Second thing I’ve done which I am pretty happy with, is a rhythm game, which develops into a piece.

The Game goes like this:

1) You choose just Circles, Triangles, Semicircles and Square shapes, and sit them in those groups around the semicircle.

2) Then you say ‘OK now we’re going to play the names of these shapes’, and you have them echo patterns you at first say and play, then just play.

3) Then you say… ok now just the people who have the shape that I’m playing copy me.

4) Then it becomes a game.If anyone either:

a) Misses playing their rhythm, or plays it out of time

or

b) plays when they’re not supposed to

they are out! and they have to put their sound shape down on the ground.

I had loads of fun with this…. playing it behind my back, so they’d have to use their ears.. then playing one rhythm while LOOKING at a different group… Its heaps of fun! the kids loved it!

This leads beautifully to my new piece I’ve composed just this week… Sound Shape Dance, which I’ll post on the blog when they have done a performance of it on friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Week 7 – Day 1. – Developing Musicianship

Today is the start of the second-last week of the program at Cummins Area school.

Today we are very excited because the school has just had delivery of a whole lot of percussion instruments that were purchased for the program, and the continuation of music at the school.

Its my intention that when I leave Cummins I leave the school richer and more vibrant with music happening right through the year levels.

For this reason we have found a range of traditional percussion instruments that work along with the junk percussion instruments we’ve been using so far.

 

Also, I should give a big shout out to the great guys at Optimum Percussion – they got all this out to the school very quickly indeed, and they had everything I asked for exactly as promised. There are not too many suppliers who can get this range of percussion instruments out to you so quickly.

I wanted to find things that not only lasted a long time, but also met the practical needs of the teachers after I leave the program.

The large barrels and bottles I know will be great when they are able to be used, but they will be more difficult to implement, just because of their size and the time it takes to organize and set them up in a teaching space.

I wanted them to have some instruments that class teachers and the Arts specialist teacher could use whenever and most importantly wherever they happen to have classes. held.

For this reason we found some sound shapes, woodblocks and tambourines that I know will work very well. I thought long and hard about the instruments to purchase that would be durable, not too LOUD, and easily storable and movable between classes.

I’m also very keen to develop the overall musicianship of the students in the last few weeks that I’m here, and I want to give them a little more of some aspects of music that have had less emphasis so far.

Part of this is developing Melody. We have done a lot of work with pitch, working with boomwhackers and tuned PVC pipe tubes, however they have been limited to playing 2 pitches at time.

Now, I’d like them to have a diatonic, or at least a pentatonic scale available to them, and learn some grooves and learn to improvise and compose using a range of available notes.

For this reason I’m experimenting this week with the ‘Boomophone’ (which is a set of Boomwhackers, set up like a xylophone), plus sets of Chime Bars.

The other aspect I’m keen to work on is Timbre – the idea of getting different qualities of sound through using different striking implements. For this reason I’ve purchased a range of different felt covered mallets and sticks to experiment with different sound colours.

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Week 5, Day 5. Over half way there… what I’ve learned so far.

I’ve just finished my fifth week of the program at Cummins. There are only three weeks to go, and I’m sure its going to fly by!

I thought this was a good time to reflect on what i’ve learned so far through this project.

1) Establish classroom management expectations early.

I’m a musician and composer, and while I’ve done a lot of instrumental teaching and conducting groups, I’m not really used to managing classes.

I’ve learned very quickly with this project that managing the behavior of students is critical: especially when they have drumsticks in their hands.

I’ve managed this much better in the last couple of weeks, thanks to a consistent approach. If you start early with a new group and lay out the guidelines immediately, then you won’t have a problem.

2) Small achievements, everyday.

I’ve always believed that kids need to see pretty much instant progress in what they are doing. Its difficult for them to understand where they are going if they can’t hear something that sounds pleasing and fulfilling right away.

3) The best isn’t always the biggest

This refers to the drums. At the start of the project I really guessed on what selection of bins and barrels to purchase for the program. I’ve found that some of the smaller barrels are completely PERFECT for this drumming – and I’d get many more for schools as they are brilliant. Some of the larger ones however, while probably perfect for drumming myself, are not so brilliant in schools, as they are a touch too big for the kids to stand behind and play.

The same is really true with the music as well. I’ve found that a couple of the simpler pieces that we’ve put together are better and more effective than some where I worked harder and put more into it.

4) Inspiration sometimes comes from unlikely sources

One of my favourite moments of this program so far was when one student said to me ‘hey I made up this cool beat’ – and then I wrote it down and created a whole piece around it.

5) Kids are often capable of more than we give them credit for.

I wasn’t expecting that I’d have public performances with the kids from this project. I was thinking it would be good to just perform infront of the school community. However, we’ve already performed in public at the Cleve Field Days, and in a few weeks they are performing at the Primary Schools Music Festival in Port Lincoln.

Even today I was amazed at some of the younger kids – as they had to learn a piece that they hadn’t done before, to join in with the older students at the Primary Schools Music Festival. They did a great job, and picked it up very quickly!

 

 

 

 

 

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Week 5 – Day 3 & 4 – Working with the rest of the school

Today has been a brilliant day!

Today I had a chance to work with some of the rest of the school community who have not had a chance to work with me so far.

The younger children particularly – those in Reception to year three have not yet had an opportunity to work in my groups.

So, with only a couple of days left of my time for this week there was no time to start anything new with the usual groups, so we decided to take the chance to work with the other children of the school.

The little kids absolutely LOVED it! It was so great to give them a chance to play the drums which they have seen the older children play in the regular school concerts.

I came up with a brand new piece/game, which I should patent, it worked so well!

I called it ‘Time to Play – Time to Stop’

Basically it involved the children playing for 4 bars, then stopping for 4 bars. This sounds incredibly simple, but we are talking about reception students (5 year olds!) up to around year 2 students (7 year olds). Believe me, for reception students to achieve this is a complicated task!

I set up the various instruments in a large circle, and I had them stand around the outside of this circle. They then played on the instrument in front of them for four bars. Then, during the ‘time to stop’ part they had to rotate clockwise to the next instrument.

The year 1′s and year 2′s got this concept almost immediately, and they were able to quickly work out what they needed to do. After a few teething issues with the Receptions they even worked it out, so they were doing it really well after a few times.

Of course each group had different ability levels from Reception to year 2. The activity can have them playing a specific rhythm for the four bars, or it can be just playing crotchets on the beat. I Found the best thing to have them play was three crotchets and a rest.. So you can vocally demonstrate with “Time-to-Play! (rest) Time-to-Play! (rest) Time-to-Play! (rest) Time-to-Play! (rest)” then practice “Time to Stop” as well.

Critically the classroom management of this is extremely important, especially when you are working with very young, excited kids!

Its taken me most of this year to really get to grips with this.

Junk percussion can be a DISASTER if you just say to them, “Ok lets go to the instruments now”. Believe me, I know!!!

What I’ve found that I need to say is “OK everyone, now we have important rules when it comes to drumming”, then I ask them “What happens if somebody drums when they are not supposed to”, and I always get back extremely sensible, good responses. I’ve found if you have THEM take responsibility and understanding that ‘It’ll make the music sound bad’ or ‘no-one will hear the instructions’, then they’ll quickly fall into line and do the right thing.

What I’ve found is that if you establish the simple rule that if ANYONE hits the drum except when they are playing together, then the whole group must sit back down, right away from the drums. This always works a treat, and once I’ve set it up this way, rarely do I have to use it.

So, I know I’ve been ranting on a little bit in this post, but today I feel really great about this project, and about the impact that I’ve had in the school.

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Week 5 – Day 2 – First Public Performance!

Today was the first time I’d ever been to the Eyre Peninsula Field Days at Cleve.

I was quite amazed at how BIG this event is. Its hard for us city dwellers to appreciate just the scale of an event like this. All the local community get involved, and volunteers come from everywhere to put on a great show!

There is loads of everything you could possibly want; if you’re a farmer, of course  :)

There is lots of great country food, and lots of wonderful country hospitality.

One thing there was also a lot of…. WIND!

It was blowing a gale most of the day, and you’ll hear that in the videos below.

On the whole I was totally blown away by the way the students from Cummins ‘stepped up’ and performed on the day. They really did exceptionally well, and I couldn’t have asked for better.

Please forgive the quality of the sound in these videos – you can hear the wind. The video also doesn’t quite let you know the amount of people that were watching… there were probably a couple of hundred people around the stage, and the performance of these kids attracted the biggest crowd of the day!

Anyway, here are the videos

Year 4/5 performing ‘Infinity 2′

 

Year 4/5 performing ‘Noise Poem’

Year 6, 7, 8, 9 students performing ‘Electromatic’


Year 6, 7, 8, 9 students performing ’40 Thieves’

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Week 5 – Day 1. Preparing for our first PUBLIC performances

Today I’m back in Cummins preparing the kids for their first public performances at the Cleve field days tomorrow.

Before I came today I was expecting around 14-15 kids to be involved in the performance: they had to send back a form letting us know that they would be there, and a week ago only a few had.

However by the time I got to the school this morning I found that there was over 30 kids who had returned their forms! Kids in the country are like that: once they get enthused about something they’ll get into it in a big way. I am really thrilled that so many are keen to perform and show off the skills they have been developing through my time at the school.

Its great to have a decent number of kids involved in the performance tomorrow – and they did well rehearsing today. The Cleve field days are apparently a really big part of the farming community calendar, and its really important to these kids.

 

 

 

 

 

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Week 4 – Day 5, Concert Day!

 

Today was our fourth concert performance, and the half way point of the Cummins Big Bash Project.

Its really quite amazing to see the progress in these students, remembering that they have had no formal music program before, and not much exposure to music.

Each group now knows FOUR pieces, and we’ve done a total of twelve over the four weeks. I found it really interesting this week to get their feedback on the pieces, which ones worked and which ones didn’t, and what they liked and didn’t like about it.

This week we were under additional pressure, as Monday was spent revising pieces for our recording, and Tuesday was spent in the recording studio. So, in effect the students had only three days to learn these new pieces.

OK, lets get down to todays concert!

 

Starting with the year 4/5 students

I decided to do something different with them, and give them a performance opportunity using just the waterbottles with hands, rather than sticks. This gave them some contrast and difference from the usual junk percussion repertoire.

I used an African feel for it – and found some really nice African marimba and flute for the backing track.

Part of the piece involved the boomwhackers, and they had to be very organized to stand up, pick up the boomwhackers and be ready to play in just 8 beats!

The students named this piece Safari Bash

Next, the year 5/6/7 students:

On Tuesday in the middle of the recording day a couple of these students came to me and said “i made up this really cool beat”. I listened to it, and it was a shuffle beat! I had considered a swing or shuffle beat piece with them, but had resisted thinking that it wouldn’t necessarily be something they would a) be able to master easily and b) something that they would like.

Since the impetus came from them I put together a few other ideas on Tuesday night and ended up with this piece. I actually think that this is one of the best pieces of the program so far.

It also involved a key musical element which we hadn’t yet dealt a lot with – Dynamics!

We actually struggled to come up with a good name for this piece: The students had a couple of ideas: something “Jazzy” and “Jungle” but they couldn’t agree. Eventually I came up with Jive Box, which I thought was a good compromise and something that would suggest a Swung feel, but not necessarily Jazz, as it really isn’t Jazz.


Lastly, the year 8/9′s.

This term I really wanted to expand the students awareness of music from around the world, so I chose something middle eastern for this last piece. The students named this piece 40 Thieves.

 

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Week 4, Day 4 – Preparing for the Long Term Continuation of the program

Today was an excellent day – we made terrific progress on our new pieces, and the kids had a great time.

I was also privileged to have the Arts coordinator from Cummins work with me today, and she is preparing to work with the students after I finish.

My hope with this program is to create a resource that just about any class teacher or music teacher can implement with their students relatively easily.

It was pleasing to me that the teacher I worked with today had a very positive reaction to the music, and felt that she would be able to implement it pretty easily.

Over eight weeks I’ll compose together with the students twenty four pieces – and I’ll then I’ll go through them and decide which are the best, most easily understood and achievable by any students.

Some of these pieces have already been informally shared with some of my colleagues, and I’ve already used one of them in a teachers workshop and it was received very well.

Tomorrow we will be at the half way point of this project – and I’m thrilled with how well its gone so far.

I have twelve pieces finished, and I think nearly all of them are good enough to be included in the resource at the end.

This week I’ve been having the students write journal pages – and its great to read their comments about the sessions.

In answer to the question:

“I enjoy the cummins big bash sessions because:”

one of the typical answers is:

“They are fun and I learn lots of things”

We’ve also taken some photos this week which will be used on our CD Cover. This is just one of the fun images we took:

 

 

 

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