Friday 25 January 2013

Apple, RDFZ Beijing and Madrid

The RDFZ middle school was featured by   Apple   in its world wide review of innovation in technology and education as:
the first school in China to participate in a Mac one-to-one program, which provides each student with a MacBook Pro and has transformed learning into a collaborative and engaging experience

I recognised the red logos on white track suits immediately when I clicked on the link to the video, and even saw the sports field which I have walked on in person.
RDFZ XISHAN is the middle school section of the school in Beijing with which I have been privileged to be associated over the years.

The RDFZ High School Affiliated to Renmin University is an amazing school in many ways. For a start, the inspirational Principal, Madame Liu is a powerhouse of ideas and passion for education. She travels the world making connections with the educational institutions to share the best current practice and to open opportunities for her students.

I have been delighted to welcome   visiting groups  from RDFZ to my former school in Madrid. During their visits, which took place in January each year for 4 years I arranged home stays for them with my students. Their visits to Madrid included sharing Spanish language and culture with the host students and visits to key sites in the city such as the Royal Palace, the Prado art gallery and, of course, the Bernabeu stadium, home of Real Madrid football club. Each group was treated to a talk on Spanish music by one of my expert and generous piano teacher colleagues.

One of the visits included a tour of the   IE University   in Segovia, a memorable occasion and an opportunity for the visiting students from an innovative school in Asia to have a taste of a truly world class university  in Europe.

In 2010 I was delighted to be invited to speak at a  conference  in Beijing organized by the RDFZ High School to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Speakers included education luminaries such as Anthony Seldon  . It was a fascinating event and I am grateful to the school for their generous hospitality.

For me the highlight of my links with the RDFZ school was to accompany 8 students from Madrid to Beijing in November 2008. My students had the unforgettable experience of living with Chinese families in their homes for one week.  Of course, the intensive plan of visits to major historic and cultural sites such as the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Olympic Stadium were all striking and enjoyable experiences, but the most important aspect of the visit
 was the personal relationship established with the host students and their families. Even years later I know that some of the students were still in contact with their hosts by email. The Madrid students’ families later expressed their gratitude to the RDFZ High School for their kindness and generosity and repeated over and over what a profound effect the visit had on their young sons and daughters.

Thank you again, RDFZ High School Affiliated to Renmin University for your generosity, kindness and inspiration, and thanks to Apple for bringing back happy memories.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Fall over Friday is not better news than a music festival

Accounts of a wasted generation, of lost youth and of innumerable souls falling into an alcohol fuelled hell. This is what I saw, no, not what I saw last weekend but what I saw in one of the UK papers online in December. It turns out Fall over Friday is the start of a binge weekend before Christmas and the paper in question was there to cover it in all its sordid details. Were there millions, hundreds of thousands, or many thousands of young people involved in unseemly behavior in the streets of Britain that day? The paper chose some pretty close-up photos to prove its point. In the end, the numbers were nearer the hundreds than the thousands.
On the other hand, last weekend in Holland I saw 550 young people from six countries spend a day making music, performing repertoire which had been painstakingly prepared and which was warmly received by those who listened in. I watched in admiration as expert judges coached and encouraged the young musicians and I enjoyed a final concert involving a saxophone quartet whose senior member was almost 80 years old.
So what did the paper have to say about this music festival held last weekend? Nothing, of course. Okay, fairdos, it took place across the North Sea, way off the UK press´s radar unless there is European football against Ajax.
Even so, we all know the press would not have covered this story. There is no story.  No drunks, no pills, no abuse, so it’s not worth the space.
Why are fine, outstanding events such as this no-go areas for the media? A few years ago I took some students to take part in the final concert of a European project we were partners of. On a snowy February morning in the City children from 6  local primary schools and one local secondary school were joined by a group from Iceland as well as my group from Madrid. The final product was the result of nearly 2 years of work. When I asked one of the organizers if she had notified the press she laughed and said she wouldn’t even waste her time writing an email. There was no story.
A couple of years before that I was part of a group of teachers who arranged for nearly 100 teenagers to travel half way across Spain to rehearse and perform, among other things, Dvorak’s New World Symphony. As in the UK, so in Spain: there was no story.
I wish I could say the Dutch press were different, but you will hunt in vain for any mention of last weekend´s festival there either. No story.
It´s not fair to pick on any particular paper, but when all is said and done, coverage of Fall over Friday gives some clues as to what makes a story. Without going into lurid details, suffice to say that the worse for wear partygoing teenagers paid less attention than they might have done to their hemlines, and wardrobe malfunctions gave photo editors plenty of scope. By contrast, as at all well organized music festivals, concert dress last weekend was dignified and all the young people involved spent the entire day showing and being shown the respect they deserved.
Very sorry that music can’t beat mayhem as a story, but I do look forward to the day when the press will recognize that Fall over Friday is not better news than a music festival.

Saturday 19 January 2013

AMIS Solo & Ensemble Festival in The Hague

Several children slept in the row in front of me during the closing ceremony and in the row behind an 11 year old boy explained to his friend that as the bow he ended up with did not fit in his violin case, obviously he had picked up someone else’s bow by mistake. I shudder to think how that could be resolved as the violin cases concerned were about to take wing for many distant cities.

550 young musicians took over the American School of The Hague on Saturday 19 January, filling the building with music from 9 till 5 for the   AMIS  International Solo & Ensemble Festival.   AMIS is the Association of Music in International Schools.

I was happy to accompany a group of my students who took part in several categories, including vocal ensemble, instrumental solo and piano and string duet. They joined more than 550 students from international schools in Belgium, Germany, Luxemburg,  Switzerland, Spain and the Netherlands at the 20th edition of this musical marathon.
After their performance each student or group received personalized feedback from one of the  19 expert judges, and in most cases these comments included very practical suggestions as to how to improve and provided much food for thought.

The Solo & Ensemble Festival also provides students with the opportunity to listen to their peers and to attend a master-class in their own speciality before the closing ceremony where certificates and medals are awarded.

I sat in on the sax and clarinet master class at the end of the day. This session had the added magic of a local prize winning saxophone quartet, Met Marteen, described later by  Jim Yarnell as the best sax quartet in Benelux. They played on their own and then invited all the students present to play along. In the closing ceremony they performed a lively, witty, jazzy contemporary piece.

I very much enjoyed some of the comments and coaching given by the judges, especially those of Anne Nissinen, piano, and Anne Laberge, flute and Darren Hain, violin. It was significant to me that all three had their instrument readily to hand and used it to demonstrate technique, illustrate their remarks and even play along with the students.

Anne Nissinen coached one student on the Turkish March sonata movement by Mozart, encouraging him to be more daring in his expressive range and to explore the use of the sustain pedal to give an added percussive tone where appropriate. This session worked out especially well as he had been in the room during the previous  student’s  performance and coaching session, and she then stayed during his performance, so the wise words were doubly worthwhile: both students seemed to appreciate the judge’s positive energy and musical inspiration.

 Anne Laberge asked two young flautists  to count the subdivisions of beats out loud in order to help them grasp a secure hold on a rhythm that sounded a bit dubious in a Telemann piece, “Like we used to do in the old fashioned way”. She demonstrated perfectly that whatever you call it, old fashioned or not, her method works and the students went home with a much clearer idea of the piece than they arrived with.

I watched with admiration as Darren Hain coached two different groups. This Australian born musician, now based in the Netherlands,  was really exceptional in his approach to the music, and caught the attention and fired the imagination of the 15 to 17 year old musicians. He asked the violinists to experiment with different ways of holding the bow, with bowing at different points on the string, and encouraged them to communicate more closely with each other, among other things. It was clear that some of the approaches he was suggesting were completely new to the students, and it was a delight to see how the young players blossomed at his expert guidance which he offered with such an encouraging manner.

Thanks to Jim Yarnell, host organizer, and his team for a great day at the American School of The Hague, with Michelle Yarnell deserving a special mention. Hope to be back next year, with more students.

Monday 14 January 2013

Camerata Delft kick up a storm in Scheveningen

The Camerata Delft  is a superb ensemble of ten professional musicians based in the Netherlands. I heard them yesterday in a concert celebrating their fifth year of playing together: on this form they should be giving concerts for many more years to come.

I do not know any of the musicians personally but it is quite clear just from one concert that their individual technical facility is prodigious and they communicate with each other with or without a conductor with a deep and shared understanding of the music. I heard the Camerata Delft at the    Muzee Museum in Scheveningen   in The Hague, a museum which makes use of a 100 seat hall for classical concerts on Sunday mornings. The acoustic in the hall is ideal for chamber music and on this occasion the ensemble made the most of the intimate setting by placing their two singers and occasionally instrumentalists around the room.
The programme was billed as Music Old & New, with Baroque high on the list. When I turn up to a concert of Baroque music I fear I am going to have to listen to The Four Seasons or other such chestnuts yet again. Fortunately that was certainly not the case as the programme was  a really intelligent sequence around the theme of the Western wind, the sea and storms  of, on the one hand, 17 & 18 century composers, Telemann (Watermusic), Purcell (Tempest suite), Vivaldi (La Temepsta di mare), Rameau (Zephire suite) and Monteverdi (Zifiro Torna), and works by two living composers, van Deurzen (Uit de Brief) and Clark (Westron Wynde).
The playing throughout was excellent, and so was the ensemble, as I have said, and I should not forget to mention also the beautiful singing by Leonore Engelbrecht, soprano, and Hans van Dijk, tenor. The string players are Quirine van der Hoek, Machteld van Delft, Siebe Visser and Lotte Beukman, Elly van Munster, thorbo; Andrew Clark was conductor and harpsichordist, and the wind players are Douwe van der Meulen, oboe and Imre Rolleman, flute.
The voices featured in the two contemporary pieces. Patrick van Deurzan, b 1964, uses the theorbo  to accompany the soprano in his Uit de Brief. I enjoyed this piece for its use of 20th century harmonies on a 17 century instrument.  I asked myself whether he wrote the piece for this ensemble and also my mind wandered slightly into imagining the same music played on a guitar: would there have been a touch more warmth in the sound?
Westron Wynde, conducted by the composer Andrew Clark, b 1956, stole my heart. The writing, for string quartet, oboe, flute and yes, theorbo and soprano and tenor, was exquisite and I was deeply moved, and I was not the only one in the hall I am sure. The text is taken from the 16 century, as far as I can understand, and the use of vocal sounds to conjure the whoosh of the wind to top and tail the piece, and the beautiful  use of the two voices, placed around the room to create an echo effect, was powerful. Those of us who attended Sunday’s concert were especially privileged: I understand this was the third concert by the ensemble in the same weekend, after performances in Delft and Rotterdam. So we were witnesses of that precious and unique point in a work's history where it is still absolutely fresh and new, yet is well enough known and performed to be a fully realized performance.
I will now search out more music by Andrew Clark: I want to hear more, and if I can hear his music played by Camerata Delft , so much the better.

Friday 4 January 2013

Planning a Tedx event, a music teacher's diary part seven

A song worth singing/ Lend a hand

x=independently organised TED event
How did my involvement in a Tedx event start?
How did I structure my first ideas?
How much of those first ideas will see the light of Tedx day?
Read on......

December 2012: Lend a hand
I have made it a routine to open lessons with whole class starters, usually standing in a circle. One has been especially popular and with the Y9 classes it has developed almost a life of its own. With some tightening up it can work as a part of the large scale piece. A colleague´s absence means that I can borrow time from his lesson and put two classes together, moving out to the school’s beautiful open plan indoor plaza. We rehearse a clapping sequence with 40 students, starting with 4 players at the points of the compass, adding 4 more in between each time we go around the circle until everyone is taking part. We discuss how this could sound in the auditorium with double the number of students standing up and down the aisles and on the stairs. The idea seems to catch the students´ imagination. Yes, keep working on this.

December 2012: A song worth singing
The school Talent Show introduced me to some wonderful singers in the senior years. Their voices give rise to the idea for the 2 section of the extended piece. I meet them to describe my ideas for a bluesy, soulful vocal section which will start small and build to include a call & response section with the audience, singing in 2 parts.  

31 December 2012
New Year’s Eve: what progress have I made?
No partner yet for video link after contacting various possible partner schools. What to do? 

Planning a Tedx event, a music teacher's diary part six

Interactive audio installation: music at the speed of light

x=independently organised TED event.
How did my involvement in a Tedx event start?
How did I structure my first ideas?
How much of those first ideas will see the light of Tedx day?
Read on......

December 2012: Let´s interact

My colleague D spends a day researching prices and availability of hardware we need for the 200 hands piece and tells me of his former life in Melbourne where he worked on, among other things, an interactive video installation. Now we are really moving. I get onto google and find examples of audio installations: some are plain boring, some are interesting but do not involve the audience actively, and the best involve technology in an original way to enable the audience to become active participants in the art making process. My favourite is from an event in  Lima in 2010. This is my favourite example because it gives the member of the public a chance to interact with light and sound and create their own work of art in real time. For me, the use of coloured lights is especially effective.
The drawback is that each person seems to have only one go at the controls. I hope we will be able to mount an installation  where partcipants can try their hand several times so that they gain some expertise at the technique and can truly make their own art work, invloving intent, choice of sound sources and control of the medium.

Here is a really useful summary of 15 interactive audio installations from around the world.

This post was edited on 6 Jan2013

Planning a Tedx event, a music teacher's diary part five

200 Hands: music from the past & the future

x=independently organised TED event
How did my involvement in a Tedx event start?
How did I structure my first ideas?
How much of those first ideas will see the light of Tedx day?
Read on......

November 2012: the world comes to The Hague
Early November, my school hosts its annual Model United Nations bash. More than 700 students from schools in many countries present arguments for and against many proposals on the great issues of these days. 
My students perform Charpentier´s Te Deum at the Opening Ceremony. I am struck by their serenity and coolness under pressure and this convinces me to involve them in Tedx music in a significant way. I am also struck by the power of my school to draw delegates from far and wide. If this is how the school  hosts Model United Nations, the Tedx is going to be fantastic. Got to get my ideas clear. 

December 2012: Cards on the table
The big day: the Content planning meeting where I have to put forward detailed proposals to the organizing committee. I am glad to say all goes well and we seem to have a common understanding of the priorities for March: originality, creativity, communication and a purposeful use of technology. I am going to put my cards on the table and lay out what I hope to present in 3 months. How much of the detail of these ideas will make it through to see the light of day at Tedx?    

Here is a draft of three ideas. As I publish them in Jan 2013 I already know we have made changes, but the interest is in seeing how far the original ideas are finally brought to fruition. so here goes:

1. Live video link with a school at a remote location.
A prepared improvisation involving music students in The Hague and city x.
Previous experience of a similar activity between Madrid and London in 2004.
Status: awaiting reply from colleagues.

2. 200 hands
Audience participation and use of technology to create a unique and one off sound scape. Joint action between Music and Technology departments.
Mount light sensors on boards on the stage, connected to sound sources which will produce instrument or vocal sounds, dj beats or sound effects.
Lights are shone from behind the audience and as people raise and move their arms they activate the light sources causing sounds to be produced.
The audience will interact with the lights to create the sound scape. All audience members can participate and no previous experience is required.

3. New improvised composition for Tedx: 1,9,3,2 zero13
This composition is in 5 sections, each one taking elements of the date of the Tedx as a starting point.
Approximately  70 students can be involved including  curriculum classes and instrumental groups.
Each section involves different groups of performers until the last section where all join in. 
Rehearsals can be as straightforward as possible, starting from a clear lead sheet.
The starting point and outline is fixed for each section, and the choice of notes is left to the performers.

I edited this post on 6Jan2013

Planning a Tedx event, a music teacher's diary part four

Kiss the sky to link across the world

x=independently organised TED event.
How did my involvement in a Tedx event start?
How did I structure my first ideas?
How much of those first ideas will see the light of Tedx day?
Read on......

October 2012: Kiss the Comenius Sky

Half term and a short trip home. Searching through all those discs of concerts, music exchanges and workshops from more than 20 years of intercultural educational work in Madrid.  I watched the dvd of the final product of a 2007 Comenius Project    Music is our language   which brought together my students from Madrid with their contemporaries in Reykjavík, Iceland and Tower Hamlets in London. A moving final concert at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London takes the theme of Kiss the Sky. Children from local primary schools and the Comenius groups perform an extended piece in differentiated sections with Jimi Henrix’s rock guitar music as the central theme directed by Sigrun Saevarsdottir-Griffiths and Paul Griffiths.

An extended piece with a common thread is a great way to structure a large scale piece for Tedx. But what can we use as the central theme? 

October 2012: You in London & us in Madrid

In 2004 Sean Gregory, Director then of  Connect  at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, accepted an invitation to come to Madrid to lead a project combining creativity, communication and technology, three great themes of our age. With the help of my school’s IT team we set up a live video link to create and perform a musical improvisation piece involving students in Madrid and students with Rob Thomas at the University of East  London at the same time thanks to a live video link. 
Watching it again I am struck by the sense of wonder and sheer joy we all experienced as we enjoyed, as performers or as audience, the sight and sound of young people making music together in spite of being more than 1,000 kilometres  apart. In 2004 the technology was expensive and clunky: in 2013 we can almost do this via a couple of iphones. Who can we link up with to do a live improvisation via video link at Tedx?   

I start to contact colleagues in Italy, China, Prague, Australia and UK. 
Who will accept the invitation? 
How will we manage a long distance link up?
How will we cope with 8 hour or more time differences?

I edited this post on 6Jan2013

Planning a Tedx event, a music teacher's diary part three

Big numbers make big noises ... and good ones

x=independently organised TED event.
How did my involvement in a Tedx event start?
How did I structure my first ideas?
How much of those first ideas will see the light of Tedx day?
Read on......

October 2012: 140 young musicians playing Pirates

A Year 11 student who plays in a local youth orchestra is going through the hoops to arrange for my school to host a joint concert of her youth orchestra and a visiting school orchestra from   Germany    Yes I would very much like to spend my Saturday evening at school and is there anything I can do to help, say I when invited to attend. It´s a great concert and the highlight is a performance of both groups, some 140 players, performing an excellent arrangement of Zimmer´s music for Pirates of the Carribbean.
Two things strike me: the amount of space available when the school stage is opened to its full extent: usually I see it in reduced form. The space is really decent and offers a myriad of possibilities. The second thing is the sheer exhilaration of seeing/hearing 140 performers playing together.

This concert takes me back to my own experiences as a young player. Some of the most memorable concerts were the ones where large numbers were involved. There was a concert at the Cheltenham Festival where a new work commissioned for the occasion involved several orchestras, I think four.
Then there were annual Christmas concerts, organised by the Liverpool Music Service, at the Central Hall. These concerts involved children from numerous schools and also several youth ensembles and the highlight for me was always the combined grand finale which raised the roof.

Yes, the excitement of taking part in a large scale group is very special.
Must see if we can find a way of including a mass performance at Tedx.

I edited this post on 6Jan2013

Planning a Tedx event, a music teacher's diary part two

Old music can be a new language: Spanish folk songs

x=independently organised TED event
How did my involvement in a Tedx event start?
How did I structure my first ideas?
How much of those first ideas will see the light of Tedx day?
Read on......

September 2012: An open canvas or a blank page

True to her word, my colleague introduced me to L and Y who are the inspiration behind the Tedx event at my school and yes it turns out they are very interested in original ideas for the big day.

The theme is Spark Your Talent, and the date 19 March 2013. No turning back now!

October 2012: Students to count on

An invitation from the Spanish Centre in The Hague to perform Spanish music at their Open Day takes up time and energy. I get to know some senior students and find them to be excellent musicians, serious about rehearsing and performing to a high standard and ready to take on new musical experiences which challenge them. Perfect candidates for the core group for Tedx music.

A fascinating insight while rehearsing the music for this concert. It’s Spanish music from the Renaissance, no problem, and a handful of Spanish folks as arranged by the poet Federico García Lorca, yes problem. I have become so accustomed to my Spanish students playing these intoxicating rhythms without any problem. Suddenly, when I say to my students here in The Hague: just play as if you were dancing with Miss Lola I am met with blank stares and I realize these rhythms are not so simple after all. The lesson learnt is that musical figures which are natural and easy in one setting are not so easy in another one.

Anyway, between us we managed it all very well and it was a very happy, multicultural occasion. Students from 5 nations played traditional Spanish music for the first time in their lives and listened as fellow students read Spanish poetry.

I edited this post on 6Jan2013

Planning a Tedx event, a music teacher´s diary: part one

GPS creates a GPx?

x=independently organised TED event
January 2013: a reflection on progress so far
How did my involvement in a Tedx event start?
How did I structure my first ideas?
How much of those first ideas will see the light of Tedx day?
Read on......

September 2012: GPx?

Driving through the countryside in Holland on a Sunday afternoon shortly after joining the faculty at my new school. Several Arts colleagues together on our way to a birthday party. When I say driving I should say being a passenger as I am car-less in The Hague and enjoying the wonders of safe cycling.
Turn left after 50 metres says my friend’s GPS; approach the roundabout with care; turn right after the third tree.
After listening to this for a while I thought out  how it would be fun to use a GPS style set of instructions as a live arts piece, directing member of the audience to make this or that response depending on whether they chose to turn in one direction or another: aleatory art with audience participation.
The late afternoon party started worryingly with cake and coffee: had we got here late and missed the meal we were expecting?
I had the good fortune to sit and talk to a colleague´s partner, an artist who works in and through video installations, among other art forms. We talked about the issues arising from working in new media: the difficulty in of building up a body of work, the momentary nature of the art form and the matters of property, ownership and copyright of works which are by nature collaborative products and about the importance of the audience interacting with the artist.
Thankfully it turned out the Dutch way is to feed you with coffee and cake as a welcoming act and to follow this shortly with a full scale meal. On this occasion it was delicious and plentiful so we were in no hurry to go and in the mood to carry on talking.
 My colleague joined us and I half jokingly put into words the idea I had in the car of GPS-ing an audience into participation. She said that was exactly the kind of thing that would fit into the school’s forthcoming Tedx event.

Ted who? I asked. No not really, of course I know of Ted Talks and have admired and enjoyed Ken Robinson’s entertaining musings, among others. So I said fine, count me in.  

I edited this post on 6Jan2013