Monday, May 30, 2011

Dreamcatcher Drama (part 1/3) with the Evil Fairy!

In our story, the Evil Fairy places an enchantment over the children.    
They awaken on a dreamship where they discover their own personal dream catchers and medicine shields.  They learn about their personal gifts.   
The ship is marooned on a forgotten island and after a battle with the Evil Fairy there, they discover they have the gift of music for life.    
Eventually, the children sing the Evil Fairy to sleep, steal her magic wand and use it and their gifts to get back to their real lives. 

How we created our Musical Story
One of the Maestros classes asked to create their own play for their year end celebration.  In all it took about 7 weeks from initial brainstorming to final presentation.  

It doesn't always take this long, but this one did.  In fact, I emailed all the parents and asked if we could extend our year by one more class in order to get it all together.

1. Brainstorm
We brainstormed all the elements/characters they wanted in the  play.  It was a terrible, random list from my perspective and I had my own moments of doubt part way through whether or not I could pull their ideas together into a cohesive whole.

This is what our brainstorm sheets looked like.
strange ideas that we tried on...
2.  Role play and scene creation
We worked together, trying on each role and talking about the storyline.  There was much silliness.  One boy was removed from the group a couple of times to regroup and gather his focussed energy.  

I shut down the process a couple of times so as not to waste time with too much silliness.   I also realized that the silliness was appropriate because their ideas were quite silly...kind of like a strange dream.  

We really needed something to tie these strange ideas together.   I had a eureka moment with thinking the whole story could be a dream and then the Dreamcatcher Song caught my eye.

3.  Dreamcatcher Song
This beautiful song called "Dreamcatcher" written by Teresa Jennings, found its way onto my desk.  It's one of those haunting modal tunes that is also a round.
Click here to listen to a snippet of this haunting melody.  

I played it for the children and they loved it.

4.  Learning the song.
We learned it within a couple of sessions and then experimented with instrumental accompaniments.  We tried the frame drum with jingles (like the recording) and sang in 2,3 and 4 part rounds.  We experimented with an improvised harmonic accompaniment using the Orff Orchestra.

5. The Orff Orchestra
This is how I set up the Orff instruments:
Leave in D, F, G, A, B flat
Take out everything else. 

alto xylophone
alto metallophone

alto glockenspiel
The Evil Fairy (me) played the G & D contrabass bars for the improv.  The song was in 3 time so alternating G with D on the strong beat of each measure.

 6.  The Improv Exploration Process
  1. We spent time playing in 3 time. 
  2. We counted 1,2,3, 1,2,3  1,2,3  and played any bars to the counting.
    1. I added the contra bass bars to give a solid strong first beat.
    2. We experimented with playing melodic patterns.  Some of the patterns were very long, some short.  We didn't dissect it much past that point (these are 7 and 8 year old children).
    3. I asked them to choose their favorite pattern.  Each child chose their favorite and played it for the class. 
    4. We practised layering them in one at a time.
    5. We practised a unison beginning (tutti).
      The thinking behind my improv process
      I am a huge fan of improvised performance with this age.  It's a bit risky but I believe it builds confidence and musical independence.  

      Most Orff arrangements that Orff teachers purchase and Orff arrangements we are taught to compose/arrange have definite rules.  Those rules are for sound musical reasons. 

      Teaching those rules to children once they are about 10 years old allows the children to be creative musically.  With this group, they are only 7 and 8 years old so I didn't feel they needed the burden of rules beyond  "start on G"  "end on G".  

      We did try starting on G and some tried ending on G.  It was easy to see and hear which children already have an ingrained musicality that intuitively creates a satisfying musical pattern from a traditional theoretical perspective.

      Over many years I have explored turning over the patterning of ostinati to the children and not try to orchestrate everything myself.  

      Even if the final result is not perfect or perfectly sound from a musical theory perspective, the children love what they hear and they truly own their work.  
      Opportunities to own your music and be a creator builds a life-long love for music.    

      For the performance the room was set up like this:

      The children played the improv as the audience entered to dimmed lights.  Each child took a turn playing an improv solo and then we would all play together.

      7.  Our final form for the Dreamcatcher song:
      intro - Susan plays alternating G/D on the contrabass bars
      part A - Tutti playing their patterns
      part B - Solo when Susan whispers your name
      part A - Tutti playing their patterns
      part C - Acapella singing 'dreamcatcher' in unison voices and then as a 2-part round.

      The Dreamship that transports the children to the Isle of Enchanment!

      This was an engaging and complex process.
      I have more to share with you from this celebration.
      Come back next time! 



      1. This looks like SO much fun, Susan! You make one heck of an evil fairy, too ;) Your students must just have a ball. Thanks for sharing!

      2. Hi Rachel,
        I had so much fun being the evil fairy!

        I made an appointment with my hairdresser to get that fantastical hair:) We drew a crowd at the salon downtown too. One woman (a stranger) took a picture to post on her facebook page. Such fun and the parents and kids are still talking about it.


      Comments welcome

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