Thursday 7 February 2013

Preparing music for a Tedx event: a music teacher´s diary, Part nine

Update on 2 February: step by step
The Content Group has been meeting and we seem to have a more or less fixed programme for our mid March event. I signed off in December with a proposal to initiate 3 actions: a video link up/web jam, an audio installation and a large scale musical piece to be created for the event.
Now that plans have been finalized I am glad to say that my original proposal has survived almost intact from germ idea to the outline programme.
To take them one at a time: the web jam is going ahead, thanks to a great response from friends and colleagues in London, as I noted in the last update. Year 10 students will feature in a leadership role. Now that we have the organizational aspects confirmed we can get down to the business of setting out our musical framework. The key feature is a live interaction between students in different countries with music as the common language.
The interactive audio installation is becoming a reality too. My colleague Dan Horwood has started trying out light sensors and he will work with students to start selecting the sounds to be included in the installation. We expect there to be a selection of samples ranging from vocal sounds to street noise to dub step and other dj beats. The question of the physical location of the sensors remains to be decided, but we are looking at mounting them between plexi-glass sheets to be laid on the floor, thanks to an inspired suggestion from colleague J.
Dan is uniquely prepared to lead the interactive audio installation because he is both a musician and a tec expert. Not only that, but in his native Australia Dan worked on interactive installations. I can’t wait to see the result in March.
The large scale composition is being subsumed into another item: there was a group of very enthusiastic students keen to perform a dance. Instead of them performing to a pop song playback we have convinced them to be part of a dance & music piece which they will help to create, working with other students who will play the music. As the dancers have already prepared most of the choreography, the tempo and structure of the new piece will be based on those of the pop song they were using, but the rest will be original, and should involve dancers and instrumentalists with each other and with the dance and music, both as creators and performers.
More details to follow. Six weeks to go….

Preparing music for a Tedx event: a music teacher´s diary, Part eight

Web jam is on: London Calling!
If you want something done, ask a busy person; if you want something really important done, ask a very busy person. Yet again I have seen this maxim work out in practice.
When I last wrote about the TedxYouth event I had not been able to find a partner school to link up for a web jam. Thanks to the incredible Pete Romhany, inspirational Head of Music at Morpeth School in Bethnal Green, London, I now have a partner. Pete has taken several  groups to my school in Madrid over the years and we were involved in the Comenius project Music is our language, which culminated in a concert at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in 2007. In January he put me in touch with a colleague at another London school and we are good to go: more details to follow, but in principle there will be Year 10 students taking the lead.
At the same time we have the possibility of setting up a kind of web jam pen letter scheme between my students in The Hague and their peers in Australia: again, more details to follow but this initiative is thanks to Gillian Howell, community music leader and teacher.
Thanks to these colleagues and others, our Tedx event will include high levels of creative interaction not just between students face to face, but also across the world thanks to an innovative use of technology.
London calling: The Hague is listening! Australia writing: The Hague is reading you!

Roller Trio: Jazz at King’s Place, London

In London for the weekend and the choice of live music is dazzling. I am looking for high quality contemporary British jazz in a central venue with excellent sound.  I find it all at   King's Place  a superb arts centre next to The Guardian building 5 minutes up the road from King’s Cross station. There are 2 halls in this building and I saw Hall 2, a black box which offers a flexible space for multi media events. On 2 February the stage was taken by  Roller Trio  recently recognized in the UK’s Mercury Prize: James Mainwaring, sax & effects, Luke Wynter, guitar & effects and Luke Reddin-Williams on drums. This trio without a bass have a guitarist who doubles with bass lines, using effects to give a convincing bass sound. The drummer is a power house with a brain, loads of energy with lots of sensitivity to match the brawn. The sax player is tough and aggressive, pushing the music on in irregular time signatures and uneven phrases, he plays virtuoso solos with power even in the highest registers and a breadth of imagination to match.
I did not catch the titles of the tunes in this set but several numbers stayed in my mind even the next day. Among them one which starts with a 5 finger exercise pattern in sax which is passed over to guitar before going into solos. Another number starts with a riff which repeats so many times the joke is you think maybe the fx has got stuck in the works. Funky grooves are a signature of this band and their energy level is able to maintain the interest through ample repetition of few-note motifs.
So much action makes the appearance of the occasional lyrical passages very poignant and left me wanting to hear more from this band who formed at Leeds College of Music.
This gig is one of a series at The Base at King´s Place, great music and best value in town, at 9.50 if booked on-line.
Thanks Roller Trio for a rollercoaster of emotions, a great set.

The Eroica Project Orchestra: Beethoven in The Hague

A friend said, when I told her I was off to a concert:  imagine how all the prayer going on in that church right in the heart of the city infuses the area with spirituality. These were profound thoughts and I sat in the magnificent Kloosterkerk church expectant for a deep revelation of Beethoven´s first and second symphonies as The Eroica Project prepared to perform.
The first disadvantage of performing in the magnificent Kloosterkerk was apparent before the music even started: just as the conductor was about to raise his baton, not one but several of The Hague´s trams rumbled past the building, and the conductor and players all had to wait. It turned out to be a sign that this venue and this music were not to be a marriage made in heaven.
Once the music started, the generous resonance meant that it was very difficult to hear any kind of detail and much of the following 50 minutes passed over in an acoustic blur.
This was a pity, because  The Eroica Project orchestra is made up of an excellent band of players using period instruments and the quality of their playing deserves to be heard and enjoyed.
The programme note tells us that the group have returned to original sources for the scores, and this has led the conductor to follow “extreme dynamics and radical tempi”. The sources are not identified so we are left wondering exactly what the conductor has looked at that other conductors have not already taken into account in their performances of these works.  I did not perceive much of extreme dynamics, certainly not in the piano/pianissimo range, but the tempi did influence the performance. It seemed to me that the faster movements  were energetic and pushed the orchestra to the edge in the challenge of ensemble playing.  Given the resonance I mentioned before, unfortunately the gain in energy and a frisson of risk was not enough to offset the loss of detail.
The second movements are marked Andante cantabile con moto and Larghetto and in this performance there was plenty of moto in both. I do not know what indications in original sources have encouraged the conductor to use faster tempi for these movements but the result diminished my enjoyment of the music. On the one hand, the music in each of these movements needs to breathe and there simply was not time enough to let the melodies sing as one phrase hurried on to the next. On the other hand, the contrast between these two movements and the other movements was absent, so we lost a sense of large scale structure in each symphony. There was a sameness about all the movements which I am sure no version of Beethoven´s scores, Urtext or revised, ever meant to convey.
The programme note explains that the orchestra is made up of current or recent students at the Royal Conservatoire of The Hague and that the conductor teaches there.  I wish this concert had taken place in the conservatoire´s concert hall just a few streets away from the Kloosterkerk so that we could have enjoyed the excellent playing with all the detail which these fine musicians are capable of.
What was added to our understanding and enjoyment of this music by the use of historically appropriate instruments?  In this acoustic the gains were uncertain. Maybe we need to match the effort made to re/construct the instruments with the effort made to find the performing venues for which they were intended.
I hope I was not the only one inspired by the spirituality of the Kloosterkerk to offer up a prayer for the orchestra for their performance the following night. If the acoustic in this church is difficult, the sound in the following day´s venue, a historic sailors´ church in nearby Scheveningen, is an acoustic black hole by comparison.
The Erocia Project has been founded recently by the conductor Isaac Alonso de Molina. There is a beautifully designed web site which will undoubtedly build up its content as this excellent group continues to explore Classical and Romantic repertoire.