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! 


      Monday, May 23, 2011

      The Most Amazing Giant Wooden Xylophone!

                                   You will LOVE this! It's a xylophone built in the middle of a forest that plays a little Bach...enjoy!

      Wednesday, May 18, 2011

      Venetian Carnevale at Musicalia (part 3) - our masks!

      Making Our Masks
      Preparation and Planning 
      1.  Look at pictures in books, magazines and on the internet.
      2.  I prepared an outline of a face for the children to design their best carnevale mask.

      Casting the Masks
      • casting bandages (I used 3 packages for 7 masks and had leftovers)
      • scissors (for cutting the bandages into tiny pieces that can be laid easily on the shapes of the face)
      • water and bowl (for dipping the bandages into as you are casting)
      • towels (to lay under the children during the casting)
      • vaseline...don't skip this part! (vaseline is spread on the skin to cover all parts of the face that the casting bandages may cover so removal of the wet masks later will be easier)
      • soap, water and towels to wash up afterward
      • a place for masks to lay and dry out overnight

      1.  I purchased casting bandages from a surgical supply store.  They come in a variety of widths.  

      2.  I purchased the widest roll (about 2 inches wide) and had the children cut them into smaller pieces (about 1/2 inch wide by 1-2 inches long).  

      3.  We cast the masks one at a time with the children helping to lay the strips on each child.  I did the majority of the casting.  

      4.  Each mask took about 15-25 minutes.  We worked on the masks for the last part of each weekly class, with some kids staying a bit later each week to complete this part of the project.  It took us 4 weeks to complete.  

      A half-face mask to cover the top part of the face.
      This was a full-face mask and took a bit longer to complete (about 40 minutes)
      Dipping bandages into the water before smoothing onto the face!
      I kept a dry cloth nearby to wipe out their eyes, ears and mouths as the water/casting liquid dripped into various places.  The kids were really good-natured about the dripping!

      Painting the Masks 
      Painting took almost one entire class (almost 90 minutes)
      • tempura or acrylic paints 
      • small paper cups for mixing specialty colors
      • paintbrushes
      • decorative bits (sparkles, ribbons, beads, feathers)

      I placed a large sheet of plastic on the floor to make clean-up easier. 

      We had 3 different sizes of paintbrushes for painting large areas and tiny areas.
      What a difference the glitter makes!  They LOVED the glitter:)

      She added sparkles
      A quarter-face phantom of the opera.
      The orange mask with stripes and glitter!
      The original phantom mask!
      A full-face mask..two-tone!

      Decorating the Masks & Adding the Tie-on Ribbons (this took about 60 minutes to complete 7 masks)
      You'll need:
      • hot glue gun & glue sticks
      • cloth ribbons
      • scissors
      • beads
      • feathers
      • glitter
      • fake jewels
      Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures during this part of our process!  I was too busy using the hot glue gun and pasting the ribbons onto the masks.  

      Some of the kids brought special add-ons from the 2-foot long white feather!  wow...

      Lots of glue-gunning on this one!  I used strips of brown papertowel and glued them over top of the ribbons and feathers on the underside of the mask to keep everything in place securely.
      Note the blue third-eye! and the lovely peacock feathers.

      Rick-rack decoration and tie-ons.
      Black rick-rack for tie-ons. 
      Purple feather, jewels and ribbons to complete this lovely mask!
      Green ribbons for tie-ons...the contrast was so unexpected and carnevale-like!
      Gold rick-rack for tie-ons.

      Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of the Venetian carnevale posts!  
      More pix coming. 


      Tuesday, May 17, 2011

      Venetian Carnevale at Musicalia (part 2)

      publisher:  Dial Books
      Many years ago I purchased this book.  The illustrations are so beautiful and story is magical.  Even after more than 20 years of reading this book, whenever I take it off my shelf, I spend way too much time gazing at the pictures...they are just so lovely.

      Check out the Amazon link...sorry that as I write this post, this book does not seem to be available!  

      This book was my original inspiration for creating the Venetian Carnevale theme at Musicalia.  For many years I would think...I'd love to have a party where we could pretend we were in Venice...and for some reason I just never got to it.

      Nigel & Susan walking up the aisle!
      Then 3 years ago, I married my husband and one of the wedding gifts I received from a dear friend was her cello.  She just showed up with it one day and said, "Congratulations!  This is your wedding gift." 
      Of course, when small children play the cello it might as well be a stand-up bass!

      She said she knew I would share this cello with all the children at Musicalia.  She felt it would be better for the cello than just sitting in her livingroom.  Isn't that amazing?  So, now we have a cello and we all play it all the time!

      Once the cello moved in to the studio I was immediately inspired to begin planning for our first Venetian Carnevale, which we held in May 2009.

      It was such a hit the first time around, that I used this book this year as well when introducing the concept of carnevale.

      We learn about the beauty of Venice, the canals, the idea that a real person crafts a violin or cello, as well as the masks and costuming of carnavale. 

      As it is unlikely you will be able to find a copy for yourself, I've written a synopsis of the story.

      A synopsis of The Voice of the Wood  
      Written by Claude Clement.  Paintings by Frederic Clement.
      This tale takes place in Venice and revolves around an instrument-maker and a musician.  

      The craftsman lovingly creates handmade violins and cellos in his home workshop overlooking the canals of Venice.  Behind his house is a peaceful little garden and a great old tree.  The instrument-maker loved the tree where he would spend hours listening to a symphony of birds singing, leaves swaying and boats gliding by.  He felt nothing could compare to its beautiful music.

      One winter the tree dies and sadly, the instrument-maker chops it down and stores the lumber.  Many years later he comes across the stored lumber in his workshop.  He decides to create a masterpiece.  He builds a cello in tune with the music of nature.  Finished on the day of the Grande Carneval, the master craftsman looks for a musician worthy and skilled enough to make his magical cello sing.

      A famous musician is in the masked crowd outside his workshop.  The musician arrogantly enters the workshop and reaches for the cello even as the craftsman warns him that only the most gifted fingers and heart in tune with nature can play it.

      The famous musician is frustrated that the only sounds coming out of this cello are grating and brutal.  The crowd of onlookers leaves in disgust.  The musician tears off his wig, mask and costume in humiliation.   He spends the entire night playing as he has never played before.  

      In the morning the old craftsman awakes to the most beautiful, magical music he has ever heard.  The  musician is palying as one with the cello and from the neck of the cello a young tree has magically begun to sprout leafy branches.  A flock of songbirds has landed and adds their voice to the voice of the wood.

      Sunday, May 15, 2011

      Venetian Carnevale at Musicalia (part 1)

      Multi-sensory learning
      When I imagine Venetian Carnevale I see costumed revellers with bejewelled masks!  I imagine people eating, drinking, wandering about, laughing and being engaged by street musicians.

      You might think that mask-making has little to do with musicality yet I love to involve children in multi-sensory projects connected to our music learning.

      This year my oldest Maestros group (ages 9 and 10) have been building toward a celebration of their learning with an elaborate Venetian Carnevale party!

      Waiting for our masks to dry.
      This Maestros class meets once a week afterschool for 90 minutes.  The time has flown by and I wish we had a few more weeks to add more to our celebration but we're out of time.  

      We've been preparing our own beautiful masks, a variety of street performances, ensemble playing on several instruments, as well as  learning a bit about Venice and the Renaissance.

      Tomorrow is the big day!
      The parents and siblings are invited to join us for a Grande Venetian Carnevale.

      I've been at the studio setting up the space to set the scene for an afternoon in Venice.  We have a gondola, steering pole, docking pole, tables for food, water glass chimes, space for street musicians, juggling apparatus and much more.  

      We had a Venetian Carnevale party 2 years ago and the kids (now graduated from Musicalia) said it was the best party ever!  I'm hoping this group will feel the same.

      The next few posts will highlight how we created our Grande Venetian Carnevale (it was a 5-month process leading to this celebration) from original inspiration to mask-making to invites to party activities.   I'll post tons of pictures so you can see what things "really" looked like.

      Maybe you will be inspired to create your own Venetian celebration! 

      Friday, May 13, 2011

      Superhero Powers Through Smiling!

      Mr. Gutman talks about his discovery...:)

      How to be a superhero through smiling!
      How smiling can have the same chemical effect as a stack of chocolate bars, reduce stress and give you a look of confidence and competence. 

      I'm pretty sure all those smiles we give and get when we work and play with children are big reasons we spend time with the youngest yet biggest smilers on the planet. 
      Click this link and you too will discover the superpowers of smiling...

      Wednesday, May 4, 2011

      8 ways to slow down your blogging!

      Alien playing the drum! Or maybe it's Susan multi-tasking...note the 5 eyes...multi-focussing!

      It's my busy time of year and it seems that I have been somewhat unsuccessful with my multi-tasking when it comes to blog posting lately!

      If you're looking for ways to slow down your own blog posting:) is my list of the 8 things that been enveloping me and my brain for the last while and slowing down my posting.  

      1.  Registration for next school year.  
      My extra bits of time have disappeared lately with my attention on registration for next year.  This includes creating a workable schedule that can accomodate the families I work with and also my family at home...and this year I'm putting my own downtime desires into the mix (not something I always do because I really do love to do all the things I do).  I'm trying to find a better balance of work and play so I can spend more time with my husband!

      2.  Planning to NOT teach on Saturdays and evenings next year.   
      That means saying goodbye to the majority of my private students and focussing almost solely on my classes.  This has created a huge emotional burden for me and for some of the parents.  How do you say goodbye to the only music teacher you have known for 7, 8, 10, 15 years?  How do I say goodbye to families that have begun to feel like my own family?  I have supplies of tissue on hand around the studio:)

      3.  Lots of behind-the-scenes planning for the celebrations happening this month for my year-long classes.  I work with each of my Maestros classes to create a special show for each of their celebrations.   I will write a series of posts about these creative staging projects.

      4.  Maestros Year 1 is creating a shadow puppet play to the music of Greig's Morning Mood.  I am hard at work with my exacto knife and scissors these days creating an Alien Orchestra and rocket ship.  This group is also perfecting tunes to perform on the violin, recorder and ukulele.

      5.  Maestros Year 2 is creating a musical play from completely random ideas generated during a brainstorming session.  Truthfully, I weave some magic out of the ethers to connect all the random ideas into a narrative.  This year the narrative includes themes of dreamweaving, native-theme music and totem animals.  This group is also perfecting tunes to perform on the vioin, harmonica, guitar and recorder.

      6.  Maestros Year 3 has been preparing since January for a Grande Venetian Carnavale.  We've made stunning masks, talked costuming, street performances where they can earn real money, juggling.  They also play fiddle, guitar, recorder, harmonica and percussion.  This group is also hoping I will find a way to carve out time to paint them a giant backdrop to set the venetian scene.  This backdrop is in the planning stages and looks like it might be 10 feet by 12 feet to cover a whole wall in the studio.

      7.  Finalizing my plans to study abroad this summer in Salzburg!
       ...more in another post about this exciting adventure!

      8.  Worrying like mad about my 97-year old grandmother (I wrote about her in a post this year).  She had been hospitalized, recovered, moved to two different wings of the hospital before finding out she was not going to be able to return to facility she had been living in for 7 years.  Then...moving her to a new facility.  

      Shockingly, she was mistreated in the new facility, being physically abused, neglected and disrespected.  Thankfully, after several tortuous weeks and some frustrating conversations with facility staff, she has been moved to a completely new facility and will hopefully never have to move again.  I think this 8th thing has been the biggest weight on my mind the last couple of weeks and probably the true reason why my posting has slowed.  

        What's next?
        I'm taking photos today of all the shadow puppetry-making and screens, etc.. so tune in soon for a creative update.
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