Training day with the LSO – teaching music history

St Teresas’s very kindly booked me on to a CPD day run by the very talented Rachel Leach, an Animateur for The London Symphony Orchestra. It was a workshop designed to explore the history of western classical period through class composition, using appropriate musical forms for structure.

We started the day as you would expect with a warm up. We passed a clap around the circle in different directions – something I often do to start. Then Rachel started passing different numbers of claps around – not something I usually do! Rather than changing the direction which often produces anxiety Rachel just kept saving waves of claps around which got everyone focused.

We then changed to a stamp stamp clap rhythm with the stamp stamp going one way and the clap going the other.

Activity 1 – Baroque period

The group was given 2 rhythms which we internalised and clapped which I have now forgotten. I did ask if I could record an audio clip and take some photos to which the answer to my surprise was no! I found this really irritating as it means I can’t stick up here on the blog and then share with my class at a later date. Apparently the rhythm was from a Bouree baroque dance suite. I’ve googled but don’t recognise anything as even remotely similar to what we did!

Anyway, we split into 2 groups. We  were each given a rhythm which we transferred to untuned percussion instruments. I think my group were given te te ta, te te ta, te te ta, ta-ah. Not sure what the other group were given. We then played them in a binary form ie our group as A, followed by other group as B. This apparently was the distinguishing feature of music composed in a Baroque period.

Activity 2 : Classical music 

With this activity we remained in our 2 groups and group 1 were asked to create a melody by leading and swooping through the notes and group 2 were asked to make a step by step melody where the notes had to be adjoining. Despite my being told I couldn’t take photos many other teachers simply took them without asking so I  did take this snap to show the two group compositions. However I’ve forgotten the rhythms

Each of the groups had an LSO orchestra member who played their instrument as the rest of us used assorted xylophones and glocks. We spent time considering the texture and dynamics as well as playing with the melody. We then put them together in an A B form. The next step was to use elements of A & B to create a combined segment. Again, I would love to play you a clip of what we came up with but am unable. Rachel gave us a very clear explanation of the ternary form

A-B-A

However this is more complicated than it looks as we tried to create an

Exposition
Development
Recap

If I’m honest, I’ m a little confused because our A section seemed to be composed of A followed by B, our B section was a mash up of elements of both A & B and our final A section was a repeat of first A section.

The part I enjoyed the most was when we did the mash up and swapped rhythms. It felt satisfying to listen to.

Romantic period

We discussed features of this period but don’t remember doing anything practical with this.

Serialism

We created 12 sounds and then gave them a number. We then randomly called out the numbers to create a structure. When 2 numbers were called out simultaneously they were played together. The piece was then played backwards and forwards.

Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

This was our last activity. We composed

1 An early morning, waking up piece
2 “This way, that way” melody”
3 Moaning sounds

We then played with some pretty fiendish rhythms

Rachel did a really great activity with sitting, standing, standing on a chair and male, female clap pattern which we did going round in a circle. When we could do this confidently she showed us this pattern to clap. At this point my brain went into overload andI’m afraid I struggled to keep up with everyone else.

I am going to have a go at this with my key stage 2 classes but obviously I shall take it MUCH slower!

As part of the inset we shall be having a follow up session at the Barbican and then we are invited to watch the LSO perform The Rite of Spring.

Rachel was a great teacher, the activities had been carefully though out and helped me understand more about the features of traditional western music.

I did learn lots about structure and form and I will use this to give a tighter structure to pieces we improvise in class.

I’m disappointed we didn’t have a chance to use the experience in the room. There were lots of music teachers present that I would have loved to talk to about their practice. I would have also appreciated some time to reflect on my learning or maybe even just to observe the music making. I find it hard to listen properly when being expected to perform and follow instructions. These are minor quibbles however and may well be addressed when we do the follow up session at the Barbican.

Overall it was a good day and well worth the cost to the school. I came away with lots to think about and try out.

My final plea though is to ask the LSO to rethink their policy of not allowing audio clips to be recorded! It really is how I learn. When I  scroll back through my past posts about CPD just listening to short audio clips prompt my memory of the day.

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