Telford Southwater Grand Opening

Just a quick note to sat that my friend Richard Shrewsbury and I have written a piece for the opening of the new Telford Southwater development. On Saturday 18 October, the grand opening of the site will have a big event running from 2pm – 8.30pm. Around 8pm-ish there will be a procession (I don’t know if the details are secret so I’m not going to go into detail!) with music written/arranged by Richard, culminating in an awesome fireworks display choreographed to music – a sort of electronic dance track – written by Richard and me.

It should be a fun event so head on down!

Free Radio are hosting the day – click here for more details.

Southwater Development in Telford
Southwater Development in Telford, BBC photo

Molecular Mimicry – BCMG Resolution Project

As I posted about a few months ago, earlier this year I was involved in BCMG’s Resolution project, exploring scientific research through music and I composed a piece for secondary school students to perform. As part of my research, I drew a little storyboard which was made into a little film (thanks to Jonathan Lee). I’ve finally managed to put the audio recording of the performance by the students together with the animation. And here it is (make sure you turn your sound up – the beginning is very quiet):

Programme note:

Molecular mimicry’ is a term that describes the process of the body’s immune system mis-recognising its own antigens (particular proteins which live on the surface of cells) for those of a foreign pathogen and attacking itself. This piece explores the hypothesized process of the body developing Sjögrens syndrome.

Firstly the musical form of an oral bacterium called Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. Gingivalis) is heard:

Molecular Mimicry Melody

This bacteria, or pathogen, is very similar in appearance to some of the body’s own cells. In the music this is represented rhythmically similar harmonies. The melody and harmonies are locked into by another rhythm:

Molecular Mimicry Counter-melody

This depicts the way the body uses a ‘lock and key’ type mechanism when discovering and reacting to particular antigens. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIN5sSUlZWk

This in turn triggers an immune response – an alarm – and the body begins to attack itself. In Sjögrens Syndrome this takes a number of forms, one of which is that the tear ducts and mouth dry up, shown in the music by the change from loud resonant sounds into high pitched dry, scratchy sounds.

A River Through History – double recording bonus!

So I have now got hold of two recordings from the CBSO Our City Our Past project, which I posted about before.

The first is a performance of the piece A River Through History, composed and performed by young people from Shenley Academy at the CBSO Centre in May 2013.

The second recording is of an arrangement I made of the piece for full orchestra, performed wonderfully by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall in June 2013, conducted by Michael Seal.

Sorting The Nation – Futuresonic Performance at ArtsFest Birmingham

This weekend is Birmingham’s ArtsFest, a mega two-day arts festival in the centre of Birmingham which is completely free! Obviously a brilliant idea. I love that you can go into town and check out loads of different performances of various genres. An excellent idea! This year I’m having a piece played by Futuresonic musicians which is a really fun piece as you can see:

On Saturday 10th September at 2pm we’re performing in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Gallery 20 – Sorting the Nation by me, and into the darkness he spoke… by Joanna Karselis and a piece by Shelly Knotts. This programme will be repeated at 4pm on Sunday 11th September in Room 3 of the Council House (not, as it says on the original ArtsFest programme, in the HMS Daring Room because that room is 4m x 5m and we have 7 performers including a drum kit and I requested we have room for an audience!) We are also playing Shelly’s piece outside on Cherry Street at 12.30pm on Sunday.

We have some ace musicians playing for Futuresonic this time:

Baritone – Matt Stone; Flute – Ruth Harrison; Clarinet – Sam Hawksley; Trumpet – Ed Carpenter; Percussion – Bryn Bowen; Violin – Jo Walters and on Sunday we have Beth Clay joining us to sing Soprano in my piece.

This our rehearsal last weekend in Oasis Church‘s new community space (yes, a rehearsal space we can use for free!) at Edgbaston Cricket Ground.

can’t do it… Really?

A minor frustration I have with my private piano teaching is that there is a tendency for children to automatically say ‘I can’t’ before they have even tried! I know this is nothing new – my year 6 teacher banned my class from saying ‘I can’t’ and I remember him repeating the phrase ‘there’s no such word as can’t’ (which, I must admit, was quite misleading to a ten year old…) However, I find it frustrating when my students say it as it is such a destructive attitude to have! It really hinders many aspects of music, from exploration of the music right up to performance in front of people. And, generally speaking, they CAN! In the worst cases, the ‘I can’t’ syndrome even occurs when looking at music already learnt!

So I am looking to develop ways to tackle the issue – a lot of the way I teach is based around relationship with the child, mostly involving humour, so I am finding by using humour to diffuse a potential ‘can’t’ situation it can move the child into just having a go, without worrying too much whether it is right or wrong… Let’s see how it develops!

Summer School, Summer Cold, Summer Riots…

Sitting here coughing and sneezing over my computer… ridiculous summer cold, no idea where that came from, but it’s very annoying!

A couple of weeks ago I went as a ‘runner’ to the Sound and Music Summer School which was brilliant. I spent the week shadowing the excellent David Horne as he taught composition to 16 14-18 year olds. It was pretty awesome – some of the young people were amazingly talented and it was brilliant to be helping further their ideas. Some of these guys will go on to do great stuff! The summer school is a great opportunity to explore composing, and the young people were so so dedicated to the task, with many of them skipping their free time to continue composing! I had to force some of them to take tea-breaks…

In other, more sobering news, riots this past week have affected so many of us in this country, whether directly or indirectly. It saddens me  to hear the politicians harp on about tougher policing but not seeming to address the root causes of these problems – social injustice, poverty, hopelessness… Being tough on crime is not a long term solution and it would be nice to hear some politicians stand up and say as much!

Anyway, back to music… a few things to be working on at the moment – I’m writing an aria for Music Theatre Wales, Welsh National Opera and BCMG‘s Make an Aria project. Also writing some music to be performed with futuresonic at Birmingham’s Artsfest on 10th and 11th September. And trying to finish off my piece for children’s theatre and dance with Springs Dance Company premiering at Epsom Playhouse on 17th September. So busy busy busy!!!

Feel the Buzz with BCMG

This Sunday was the second part of a two-day composing workshop I was doing with BCMG called Feel the Buzz. Its a workshop for 14-18 year olds and the format is a kind of collaborative composing/improvising together approach. Jackie Walduck was leading with BCMG musicians and she used a kind of 1-page score technique which the young people fleshed out collaboratively. All based around the nOSTalgie Cabaret BCMG are doing in May.

We were drawing parallels between the past and present, so one piece we did was based on Mack the Knife (the words in that songs are really quite horrific – check them out!) and another was on 21st Century Pirates! Nice!

There was a final performance of all the music produced on Sunday evening and it was great! It was really nice to see young people all working creatively together and having input into the final pieces. And whatever Birmingham City Council think about BCMG, this project engaged an incredibly diverse group of young people from many different backgrounds.

Unfortunately due to cuts, Birmingham Music Service (who have generously funded this project for the last 10 years!) are unable to continue funding it next year, although they really want to! So it means BCMG are going to have to find to some money from somewhere to keep it going. Really hope it doesn’t stop because I think it is a brilliant project.

Music Play with Early Years conference plus BCMG at Ninestiles

Last Thursday I had a pretty busy day!

Went to Music Play with Early Years conference run by Music Leader. Felt a little like I stuck out like a sore thumb… it appears men are vastly under-represented in the world of Early Years music… ie only 3 men in the entire conference… And I know no harm was meant by the speakers at the conference but I’m not sure highlighting my presence as a token male was the best way to approach this…

It did raise the question of why there aren’t more males working in early years? (answers on a postcard) I think it is (unfortunately) quite a taboo direction for men to go in. Even in this day and age I think people raise an eyebrow at the thought of a male early years worker. (This is also true of male nurses, according to my nurse friend – although they are loved by hospitals, society in general has a bit of  thing about it!)

Anyway, the conference brought two things to my attention – the first was brought up by Dr Susan Young about the need for child-led, adult-led and child-and-adult-led forms of activity for the best outcome. The last of these is the activity which is lacking in music play settings- this I think is partly because it is the hardest form of activity to successfully achieve.

The other thing was the very interesting teaching methods of Sandra Barefoot & Sarah Moody from Visible Thinking. Their creative use of art, drama and music for early years play seemed like a great idea – particularly the use of what essentially turn into graphic scores as you demonstrate. Its about using marking so that the sounds made on instruments are represented on paper. This seemed to engage children on a different level, and seemed like a great way to provide another gateway by which children can access the music.

In the evening I did a pre-concert workshop at Ninestiles School in Yardley with BCMG before their first Urban Tour concert. The concert turned out really well. The three percussionists – Simon Limbrick, Julian Warburton and Scott Wilson did a great job. I particularly enjoyed Tag by Philip Cashian which has real character to it despite the chance techniques employed during the reading of the score. And of course, Okho by Xenakis is a fantastic piece – always a winner for me!

So What? Sound it Out training day

Went on a one-day Sound it Out event on Saturday which was pretty good – nice to catch up with people from Sound It Out and the New Horizons course I did last year. Although Mark Bick started the day on a depressing note about cuts to the arts, things did pick up and he did talk say that there could be new opportunities for Community Musicians – if the ‘Big Society’ idea actually begins to work…

There was also a great talk on Social Pedagogy and the role that community musicians can play with regard to this – I can really see how music can play a real role not just in education but also it has a real social impact, being a way in which communication barriers can be broken down.

Then Bobbie Gardner gave a brief but helpful talk on social media and its role for community musicians – just wish there had been more time on that – its tricky to fit it all in in 30 mins!

And of course there was the traditional sharing of warm-ups / activities which is always enjoyable!!!!! Winner!

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