Over the last six weeks the children in each school have been busy improvising, composing, performing and listening to music that Menuhin recorded. This culminated in an action packed final week with some fantastic music making and really engaging performances of their own compositions.
From the musician’s perspective …
This was my first LMN project working with school children and it was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding projects I’ve ever taken part in. It was amazing to have the luxury of being able to visit the same schools for 6 weeks and was such a pleasure to witness the progress the children made, in particular the ones who were quieter in the first few weeks but really came out of their shell as the weeks progressed. One child who stood out in particular for me was from Bidwell Brook School. He was quite reluctant to join in for the first few sessions but as the weeks went on you gradually started to notice feet tapping and clapping along, joining in with the singing and by the final performance he was playing a tambourine with so much vigour it was amazing! Both his teacher and his Mum commented on how amazing it was to watch as he rarely joins in with those kinds of activities. The importance of having that continuity and that time to get to know the children becomes so clear with a project like this. It enables us to make very real and genuine connections with the children we are working with and makes for a really exciting and touching experience.
Often as musicians it’s easy to get bogged down with the pressure of performing and to become obsessed with the technical side of the music we’re playing but children have a completely different outlook and response to music and it was a real joy to hear their thoughts and ideas about the pieces whether it be how the music made them feel or stories they made up to go along with it. The nerves and the stresses of performance suddenly become completely unimportant and you remember what the real purpose of music is and why you actually love to do it in the first place. One boy said that the Bartók Bankodas Duo sounded like “a really busy bumble bee who was having the most wonderful day.” Those kinds of stories always stick with you! We also did an exercise where we played different techniques on the violin including pizzicato and harmonics and the children used coloured pens with huge bright feathers attached to them to draw how they thought the sounds would look. Alison and I were improvising using glassy shimmering harmonics and a boy named K was just doing the most incredible drawing. The lines he drew followed the pitch almost exactly, and the note lengths, and even the mood we were trying to convey. As we were playing I really couldn’t take my eyes off his pen. He ended up with a drawing that looked like an amazing rocky landscape.
For any violinist exploring the repertoire that Menuhin recorded would be a pleasure. It was great fun for us both to dig out some of our old favourites such as the Bach Double Violin Concerto, but neither of us had played or even heard any of the Bartók Duos before and they are absolutely fantastic! We only used 3 of them for the project but have made a promise to have get together and play all 44 at some point soon. When we get to duo No. 28 it will be impossible for me not to smile and have that really busy bumble bee buzzing around in my head.
About the new music…
During the performances at Pathfield School we had some excellent call and response, dramatic pauses, dynamics, solo cadenzas, improvised trios, rhythms from Mozart’s Violin Concerto in A and they even managed to incorporate some Für Elise by Beethoven! One girl had gone home and talked about her experiences during the workshops so much that her family had even bought her a violin and she was very excited to show us and play it in the concert.
The whole school came to watch at Pilton Blue Coat Junior School and some of the pupils performing were slightly nervous about remembering a grand total of four compositions! This quickly faded and they performed brilliantly. Two of the girls introduced the concert and were so clear and confident that they could have careers ahead of them on radio!
At South Brent Primary we created a very large string ensemble with additional flutes and percussion and they performed to a bustling hall full of parents, very excited pupils and even the local radio station!
The group at Grove School created some fantastic compositions! We had a small group who performed their own piece inspired by Bartok’s peaceful but sombre Bankodas, while the larger group performed their take on Mozart’s lively ‘Turkish’ Violin Concerto with the addition of ukuleles and some pretty epic (and extremely loud) drumming!
At Bidwell Brook School we had some exceptional conducting from one student whilst our ensemble performed an adapted version of Dudelsack from Bartók’s 44 Duos for violin. She took total command of the ensemble and the pupils watched with anticipation and followed her as she clearly showed when each person was to play or stop or play loud or quiet. It culminated in a particularly exuberant gesture and it was clear to all that it signalled the end of a particularly energetic performance!
Rachael Elliot and Alison Boden – 30th June 2017