Thursday, November 26, 2009

John Perryn Primary School, East Acton, London

Back in 2006 John Perryn Primary School in East Acton was declared to be failing its pupils and faced closure if it didn’t pull its socks up.

The school received an £8.9 million investment from the Government and it is now nothing short of state-of-the-art. Facilities for the wider community were also built, including a 25-place children’s centre and adult learning rooms. Impressively strong consideration was given to the environment throughout the project, with the new school using renewable energy sources for heating and achieving a 53% reduction in carbon emissions. Since the pupils moved in April 2009, the school has been taken off special measures, and only one teacher left during the last summer holidays, compared with the four or five in previous years. The number of pupils has risen to 420 from 350 in April last year, and full capacity of 470 is likely to be reached next year. “We’re over the moon,” says head-teacher Von Smith. “We’ve already had people from Buckinghamshire and Essex councils in to see it. I say to them, if every school you build goes as well as this one did, you’ll be lucky.”

John Perryn Primary School

A cellist I have worked with over many years, Robin Thompson Clarke, has recently started a job at John Perryn Primary School and he asked me to come in for a half day and do some composition-related activities with a group of around 60 students.

Here are some of the group. You can see the huge array of nationalities represented!

Students at John Perryn listening to CN

I started by playing the students some pieces (Struttin’ from Microjazz Collection 1 and In the Bag from Microstyles were particularly well received) and got them to keep a beat with each piece, initially one student at a time. We then went onto exploring off-beats, on 2 and 4, but also on 3 and on 4. Finally we began to add rhythms to the beat (and off-beat) to create little purely rhythmic pieces. I got a group of 6 students up and they played simple percussion rhythms while Robin played Desert Air from Big Beats Smooth Grooves with a backing track. One student correctly guessed that the piece was about the desert. The students enjoyed this interactive session and seemed to grasp the concepts very well – the idea of a steady beat, off-beats, rhythms that repeat and rhythms that are an “answer” to a “question”.

After the break, the students were divided into 10 groups of 6 and they worked on pieces, using percussion instruments but also body sounds and glockenspiels! They then all came back together and performed their pieces for the rest of the group. There was a good variety of styles and the concepts they had learned were well embedded.

A return visit could provide an opportunity to develop pieces with more instruments and on specific themes (desert pieces, water pieces, urban pieces with body-popping etc) The willingness to try things out and be creative was wonderful to see.

This was a great opportunity to work with a delightful group of 10 to 12 year olds. I shows that group composition can work as a concept!

CN and students listen to one of the performance

Friday, November 6, 2009

St Veit, Austria

At an altitude of 1500m above sea level, St. Veit is apparently Austria´s highest health resort! 
It’s in a sunny hillside setting (in summer) and has fantastic views of the surrounding valley. 
I flew to Vienna from London, then drove south for over 3 hours to get to St Veit, by which time it was dark, so the charm of the town centre was what I was aware of rather more than the actual setting of the town. Like this:

St Veit, Austria

I was met at the hotel by Cornelia Angelov from Schott Mainz and also by Heiko Kremers from Roland Germany. This was the first joint workshop sponsored by both Schott and Roland Germany and was held in a local church in St Veit. There was a delightful and friendly group of teachers from St Veit, some of whom had heard of Microjazz, some of whom were new to my work. Here are some of the teachers and you can see that they were happy to play as well as to listen:

Teachers playing and listening in St Veit

The first half of the presentation was introducing the teachers to the sounds of Microjazz, which has become a catch-all term for the Microjazz Collections, the Microstyles Collection, the Concert Collections and the Preludes Collections (and latterly MicroSwing, MicroLatin and MicroRock) The teachers seemed to really like the material and could see how it could be easily incorporated into their teaching programmes.

The second part of the presentation was concentrating more on the use of the HPi series of Roland digital pianos. 50 Microjazz pieces are “embedded” into these pianos and you can do all sorts of things with the data. For example:

  • You can listen to a performance of any one of the 50 pieces, recorded (and approved!) by the composer
  • You can record the left or right hand part of your chosen piece, using a built-in metronome (you set the speed) while the “other” hand is played back by the piano. The piano’s software can also rate your recorded performances!
  • You can record one hand or both hands of the piece with a great backing track.
  • You can make your own pieces up to the backing track and record them.

I’m still getting used to how to use the software seamlessly with a student but we had lots of fun playing around with the various combinations (as students will when they use the HPi piano at home)

It was clear that the combination of the Microjazz series, with its pieces that appeal to students and its strong pedagogical elements, and the interactive software built into the Roland HPi series pianos, has great potential. Students will be more inclined to practice, play and record things at home and of course they are building a knowledge base of contemporary popular styles quite effortlessly.

I hope to be doing more work in 2010 with Roland and Schott in the UK, Germany and Austria, using the Microjazz series alongside the HPi pianos. There is good potential for reaching new audiences through this exciting medium.

Thanks to Heiko from Roland Germany and Cornelia from Schott for organising this workshop and special thanks to the local St Veit Roland dealer, who was a great enthusiast for what we are doing (and a big fan of Country Preludes!)

Finally here’s a picture of me at one of the pianos, jamming along with a teacher who is playing the other piano, using the built-in software.