Peterborough was a new stop on this tour. In prior years, students from Peterborough had chosen to travel to events in Toronto, Sunderland or Kingston. The local organiser was Karen Lander, a member of the Peterborough Branch of the Ontario Registered Music Teachers’ Association (ORMTA), whose calming presence helped to make this event a particular pleasure.Day One began with a teacher presentation grandly entitled How Do You Work Improvisation into Lessons? Starting with references to great composers of the past who were also great improvisers (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt…) I outlined the benefits that improvisation can bring to both teachers and students. I then took a very simple (one-note!) idea and showed how easily it can be extended into a longer piece. Various teachers came up and invented new ideas on the spot for me, which I then continued, even completed, with input from the whole group. I also introduced the idea of starting a piece with a rhythm or with a chord progression rather than a melody. We then moved onto some American Popular Piano pieces that have associated Improv Etudes and I got the group to do the various clapped and played ideas that almost inevitably lead to improvisation.
The teachers who stayed on for the student improv sessions immediately found the whole process much more comprehensible and engaging, as they saw students grappling with exactly the same concepts with which they had just been grappling. Here are some of the student groups during very happy and productive Improv sessions:
As in the other venues, apart from the group improv sessions with keyboard groups, there were master classes and a final Gala Concert, which had a really special atmosphere as a result of all the work that had preceded it – the audience were amazed by the combination of happiness and concentration in the performers.
Comments from Peterborough:
From students: This was great, this was awesome, we would definitely do this again.
From a Peterborough parent:
The Gala showed what the children accomplished with this remarkable composer/teacher and musician in such a short time. It was great to see the way he addressed the different levels of students and the general format of the workshop/Master Class and gala was excellent. There were many happy parents and students at the end of the Gala and many pictures taken and many books autographed by Christopher. That is an indication of the respect and enjoyment the children and parents had for the man and the workshops.
From Peterborough Teachers:
I was happy to see how easy it would be to use the resources I already have in my studio to improve sight reading and ear training as well as improvisation. It was a very constructive workshop for teachers.
The highlight of the Norton Improv workshops was to be present and see what the kids learned in the workshops. He took them from just learning the rhythms into a fun way with rhythms, an easy entry to making up their own little compositions, and improving their musical memory in an easy and fun way. I can hardly wait to get started with these new ideas. I did not see one sad face leaving any workshop.
From Karen, the local organizer:
Thank you for planning and promoting the Christopher Norton tour, and for giving Peterborough the opportunity to host this event. We are very proud to have offered such a unique and inspiring experience to local music students.