Monthly Archives: February 2015

Soundplay: observing developments

Observing the Soundplay sessions for the University of Sheffield and Music in the Round has been a real privilege. Not only do I get to coordinate and administrate this wonderful project, but also I get to see the changes in the children week by week as they take part in these music sessions.

It is clear from my observations that the children’s experience of music in these sessions is benefiting them in many ways. Quiet children are now happy to speak and even sing on their own. A child that knew no English at the beginning of the project now joins in fully, interacting with other children, singing loudly and engaging with each activity. Children recognise songs from their actions alone and can dictate a song’s speed, dynamic or feel. Phonics are more widely known and DSC01838speech is developed through songs, warm-ups and freeplay activities.Lately, more bands have started to be formed during freeplay with the children organising themselves into groups and taking the time to listen to each other play, rather than just grabbing a drum and hitting it as happened at the start of the project.

City Circle Time 5It is not just the children who have benefited. Practitioners within settings who have embraced the project fully have reported feeling much more confident in delivering music and can be seen adapting songs to fit different purposes (tidy-up time, handwashing etc.), singing confidently and enjoying making music with their children. They also see how music can be used to help transform something ‘dull’ like phonics into a fun game or song.

Whilst it would be naïve to claim that all participating children’s development is solely down to our project, differences in the children’s behaviour with each other and with adults during the sessions illuminates just how much this project has succeeded with its primary aim of using music to develop speech and language. Children are chattier with adults and each other; they have taken on the workshop leaders’ actions and phrases, which they then use to direct their friends in bands or games; many now also adapt songs they have learnt in the sessions and make them their own and recordings made of them are clear evidence of their increased confidence with speech and singing. So many more children want to record a song into a dictaphone now than at the start of the project, and the reaction of hearing themselves sing back is priceless.

Being able to witness and record these developments has been wonderful and, I hope, will serve to advocate the value of using music to support learning in Early Years settings.

Kate Thompson
Soundplay Project Coordinator and Research Assistant

Learning on the job…

For the past nine months, I have been working as the Trainee Workshop Leader with Music in the Round as part of the Soundplay Project. There was no initial training for the position, just straight into the workshops to learn on the go. This practical way of learning is invaluable for workshop leaders as what is discussed in meetings does not always work out as expected. Seeing how different children react and learn the songs is fascinating and you have to think on your feet all the time.

Phillimore freeplay 2Between the ages of 3-5 children can be easily distracted – by the instruments in front of them, by hearing something that reminds of something they just have to tell everyone… So it is vital to keep yourself and the children actively involved in the sessions. Throughout the project I have been shadowing Polly Ives and Vanessa Johnson and one vital skill I have learned from them is how to keep children focused. Whether it be stopping them fiddle with the instruments, by getting them to copy where you put your hands/woodblocks (“hands on your head, hands on your knees”), singing a different song that they know well then going back to the previous song or hiding the instruments under scarves/ribbons, it is essential not to make it seem like discipline. If a child feels they are in trouble then they will lose interest.

Although we have lots of children who get really involved inPhillimore freeplay 7 the sessions, there are always a few that prefer to observe. It is often easy to overlook these youngsters and focus all your attention on the confident individuals. Over the course of the project, we have worked on finding ways to involve all children as far as possible. In doing this we have explored different languages, more instrument use, role-play (this term we are looking at “People Who Help Us”), solo singing and ensuring they are involved when we ask questions (fast or slow, loud or quiet etc). These children seem to thrive more in a one-to-one environment and often come alive during freeplay, when they can feel free to explore the instruments and toys independently.

Usually, the sessions are run by Polly or Vanessa and I lead a few of the songs with the number of songs increasing through the term. However, a few weeks ago I was thrown in the deep end and had to lead two workshops by myself as Vanessa was ill. If this had happened at the beginning of the project then I would have backed out but thanks to their fantastic leadership skills and advice, I felt confident enough to lead both sessions. Luckily, I had Kate by my side to enhance the music-making. Without having to make this leap, I wouldn’t have realised my ability and been able to see the result of all I’ve learnt whilst training on the job. It was a fantastic experience and really helped me gain confidence in what I do.

Thanks to the invaluable guidance and support of Music in the Round, ESCAL, Fraser, Kate, Polly and Vanessa, I feel that I have gained enough knowledge to successfully carry out my own music workshops. There will always be space for improvement, as with any profession, but thanks to Polly and Vanessa’s expert help, I have learned many new skills that I hope to put into practice with other groups of young children.

Martha Hayward
Trainee Workshop Leader

Marmen Quartet Q&A

Marmen Quartet: Bridge Scheme Winners

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At the end of January we had the pleasure of welcoming Marmen Quartet to Sheffield. It’s safe to say they had a busy schedule lined up for them with photoshoots, concerts, sessions with Peter Cropper and the MITR team. We thought it was about time we introduced them to you, as you’ll be hearing about them from us quite a bit over the next few years! Anton, cellist, answers some questions on behalf of the quartet and gives us an insight into what being a part of Marmen quartet is like.

When (what age) did each of you start to play your chosen instrument?

We all started learning at the age of six, although Josh changed from violin to viola at the age of thirteen.

When did you four first play as a Quartet?

Our current combination of players has been playing together since early 2013, but we started with a different second violinist late 2012.

 How quickly did you feel that the four of you could work well together?

There was an immediate instinctive feeling that felt right; it is difficult to determine why. I think we all felt it and it was really thrilling. As a collective we are always developing, adapting, discovering new things. It’s a never-ending process and that is what makes it so exciting.

What was the first piece you played together to a public audience, and how did it go?!

Beethoven Opus 74 – ‘The Harp’. It was a fantastic experience but there were undoubtedly some rough moments! I think we were all overwhelmed by the experience of performing together as a string quartet and exploring such amazing music together. The feeling of finally sharing our interpretation of such a great work is very humbling and brings a greater meaning to the rehearsal process. I find often that we learn as much – if not more – during concerts than we do during a whole day of rehearsing.

How much time are you currently able to spend together, practicing and performing as a Quartet?

We are still trying to find a good balance between rehearsing and individual practise and I am starting to believe that there is no ideal. Keeping things regular is important. We aim to rehearse for about twelve hours a week as a minimum but naturally it depends on what is coming up; sometimes we are offered a concert with new repertoire at one week’s notice and we have to schedule in more rehearsals. It is a very unpredictable profession! It is important that we all continue to develop as instrumentalists though, and for this we each need to make the time to practise alone.

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Who are the composers/what are the pieces that you are most enjoying playing and exploring at the moment, and why?

We always choose to play pieces that we love so we enjoy everything that we explore together. If we had to be more specific I would say Beethoven, for his everlasting energy and will. Bartok – fantastically uncontrived and gutsy. Janacek is also fantastic and, of course, Haydn – one of the great pioneers of the string quartet. The great variety of the works for string quartet is a constant inspiration for us and to explore them together is wonderful and exciting.

You’re going to be helping members of Ensemble 360 open the May 2015 festival, back in the Studio ‘in the round’ where you had your final audition; how does that feel?

We feel very privileged to have been asked, at such an early point in the scheme, to play alongside such established musicians and we are thoroughly looking forward to it! Playing in the Studio was a very unique and special experience and we spoke together about how much we would love to play there again so we’re very much looking forward to doing so.”

Who are the Quartets and other players who’ve been a particular inspiration to you all/individually, and why?

Between us we could spend far too long answering this question as naturally we all have different people who inspire us! Mutually, however, we all find the Alban Berg quartet very inspiring for their humility and their absolute commitment to the music. Quartets such as the Hagen quartet and Artemis quartet are fantastic too. Johannes finds great inspiration in George Szell’s (conductor) intimate and uncomplicated way of interpreting music. Ricky mentioned David Oistrakh, for his warm and sensitive tone. Josh takes a lot of inspiration from the Pavel Haas quartet, Lawrence Power and his ‘wonderful viola professor, Simon Rowland-Jones’ and I often turn towards the more ‘old-school’ cellists, such as Feuermann – for his very unique and sophisticated sound and Fournier, for his impeccable bow control.

What do you see as the biggest challenges starting out on a professional career?

One aspect that we find particularly challenging at the moment is balancing the administrative side of things with making music; writing emails is definitely not as exciting as rehearsing a Beethoven quartet! As we have devoted our lives thus far to learning music our business minds are not as cultivated as they need to be, so learning how to run our quartet as a business to make enough money to survive is also something that we know we need to learn. How to balance our quartet life with our personal lives is also something which is becoming increasingly important.

What does joining the BRIDGE scheme mean for the Quartet?

We feel very humbled to have been chosen. It is difficult to put words to describe what it means to us – I think everyone (in any field) needs a lucky break, and this is exactly that. We now have a real reason – aside from a love of music – to invest all our energy into pursuing a career that, up until recently, seemed more like a dream.

What would you hope to have learnt and achieved as a result of the 3 years on the BRIDGE scheme, working with Peter Cropper, Music in the Round, Aldeburgh and others?

We believe that after this three year scheme we will be in a much better place musically and will have developed all the necessary tools to become more self sufficient and confidently able to run our quartet as a full time occupation. With Peter Cropper as our mentor, the fantastic support network offered by Music in the Round and the performance experience that we will have, we hope to develop a much deeper understanding of the repertoire and a much clearer idea of how to make a career out of making music together.