As part of Menuhin’s Violin, composer Richard Barnard and I have been hosting a series of workshops in primary and SEND schools across Devon incorporating performances from Live Music Now musicians. While the music workshops have involved the children playing, conducting and composing, we have also been exploring some visual interpretations of Menuhin’s repertoire, and some of the musical techniques achievable on the violin.
We started each session by playing some games to learn the anatomy of the violin, passing around a stripped back instrument body with separate pegs, tailpiece, chinrest, strings and bridge.
The children peeped through the spyhole left by the absent endpin and shared their ideas on post-it notes about what they thought it looked like inside the curved violin interior, and what they imagined as they viewed the instrument from this new perspective.
Their imaginative responses included elements of Alice in Wonderland and Narnia with ‘a dusty wardrobe’, ‘a curious fairytale wood’ and ‘I feel like I’m falling down a never-ending hole into another dimension’. Stories were evoked by enigmatic comments such as, ‘I have travelled into books’, and the intriguing hint that ‘it reminds me of a conversation’. Alongside some comforting ideas of a ‘cosy corner’ and ‘feeling peaceful’, there was adventurous boldness with ‘I’m entering a pirate ship’.
One of the pupils at Grove School was even moved to write this beautiful post-it note poem:
How the light goes travelling through
Music in my ears
But the question we ask is who?
The music brings me tears
The performances from violinists Alison Boden and Rachael Elliot brought about yet more vivid stories and emotions, as the children started to draw what they imagined, while listening to the musicians play pieces by Bartok and Gershwin.
It was particularly fascinating to see the children’s visual responses to Alison and Rachael’s demonstrations of different musical techniques on the violin, like pizzicato, glissando, harmonics and tremolando. In these artworks, there seem to be the beginnings of a new generation of William Blakes and Wassily Kandinskys:
There was even thoughtful consideration given to the emotional shape and colour of a sound, and what shade to assign to high pitched notes.
At the end of each session, the violinists ‘played’ a few of the children’s drawings, improvising on the spot to interpret each visual artwork as an impromptu piece of music.
These art workshops have been a truly delightful experience, with many of the children’s drawings representing everything that is joyful and uplifting about music, and the experience of listening to the complexity and emotion of it in a live performance.
See more of their musical masterpieces in our website Gallery!
Heidi Hinder, May 2017