Jul 14, 2017
We have the best jobs in the whole world!
We're body builders,
Driving fast cars!
Now, I may not be a body-builder or have a car (fast OR slow), but I’ve just realised I have one of the best jobs in the world, because I am surrounded by the most wonderful colleagues. In normal jobs, I imagine, you are surrounded by potential jerks and the decent ones are the 1%. Not in music outreach! Nice folk make the 99%: encouraging, respectful, engaging, passionate and committed to social justice. I love ‘em.
So it was with great pleasure that yesterday I could watch the in-school performance of the Spitalfields Trainee Music Leaders who had been running workshops in a school in East London. I’d met one of the trainees, Joe Steele, a week before at a concert by the duo Percussing who were playing one of his pieces (an astonishing miniature music drama which Joe had written the scenario and words to as well).
In this East London primary school, I was really struck by the encouraging atmosphere created by Joe and his colleagues, and the enthusiasm and joy with which the young people performed songs they’d composed and musical pieces they semi-improvised. The music trainee leaders introduced themselves and summarised the processes that led to the creation of pieces with the students, and of course, they taught us some of the music so we could sing along. I still have “London, London, make your heart a home” stuck in my head. I felt privileged to observe so many young people striving together to make beautiful sounds and convey a touching story - this one about two immigrant children who arrive in the UK and integrate in their new surroundings.
And this is when I realised what a great job I have, because I am similarly striving to do those two things - make beautiful sounds and convey a touching story - and I am doing it in my own individual way, which I hope complements the way Joe and his colleagues do it. I believe we are each trying to ‘outdo’ each other in the manner that early-twentieth century educator Tsunesaburo Makiguchi espoused in his idea of “humanistic competition”, where people learn from each other and make efforts to improve their own practices so that with each day they might better serve society and create the maximum amount of value. In “humanistic competition”, everybody wins because of the positive upward spiral of activities and efforts that people make in the world.
Personally, this can be harder to perceive when attending an average ‘main stage’ performance, where I feel egos and sensitivities of artists in the audience run needlessly high. Slagging off ‘rivals’ can prove to be something of a passion, made for the sake of looking more knowledgable/capable/beautiful/valuable. Sadly, the shallow benefits of this kind of judgement blinds people to the profound impact of it, which is to normalise a culture of disrespect and the devaluation of art and, more generally, all human endeavour.
A bit melodramatic? Well, think about it.
Human beings have an expressive and creative instinct; there are things we need to say and hear, and whether in ways that are considered sophisticated or crude, so much can be gained from listening to the heart responsible for the art. By actively and openly joining in the artistic ’conversation’, we are certain to gain as much as we give.
I believe it is important that we remind ourselves that art can be a “humanistic competition”, and not take it for granted. Giving me and my fellow artist-audience members the benefit of the doubt, we all have off days where we’re feeling self-conscious or doubtful of our worth and are in need of some affirmation. Though aspiration for ‘perfection’ can motivate some great work, I feel strongly that we should all try to inject a bit more of the humanistic spirit of complementarity into our work. We stand to gain so much, namely: an artistic culture that makes people happy. As happy as someone with the best job in the whole world.
Dec 19, 2016
Reflective Practice: Evaluation in Arts Education
I'm going to start with a provocation: listening to the speakers at the wonderful 3-day European conference at the Opera National de Paris, I came away with the terrible feeling that there is a tendency of middle-aged, white, male policymen to talk purely for the sake of talking, whilst the majority of female project managers and department chiefs actually have pivotally important knowledge or fact-based experiences to share!
But could we hear their experiences? No, because all of the men (bar 3) spent so long upstaging the others with their mansplaining of subjects we already knew about, including the value of arts education! (This is OLD NEWS, mate!) I was disgusted to see that the more powerful the policymen were, the less they seemed to listen or care about anything other than themselves. These dudes have a lot to reflect on - had they participated in the training and advice sessions provided by RESEO at the conference, they may well have picked up something useful to this end! Ok - breathe. I've got it off my chest... I think... Provocation over.
This was just one of the fascinating insights I gained into the situation of opera education in Europe: that politics is actually an important part of the challenge to really create value through artistic practice.
To cut to the chase, the real point of this conference was to remind us all that evaluation - that "boring" thing we do after all the fun of a project or that "scary" thing that might reveal how we didn't really achieve what we wanted to - is actually REALLY VALUABLE if we consider it as part of the project and not just a tag-on at the end.
The whole three days, I kept thinking: "to eVALUate is to make VALUE." Just as when you en-liven something, you can en-value it, give it more value. Even if the project was a failure! Susanne Burns, of Susanne Burns Associates, summarised this idea well:
Evaluation is not just about numbers - It's about actively learning as well as telling stories.
It's not just for our funders - It's for all of us, whoever is running the projects.
It's not about advocating the quality of the work - It's more neutral, and can reveal learning from mistakes.
It's not negative/time-consuming - It can be positive and fit resources.
It isn't just retrospective - It is most effective if it happens concurrently with your project!
It's a tool which you can use to make best use of your experiences and learnings - and others can benefit from it as well! More on this subject in Pt.2
Dec 1, 2016
I am very excited about my first chamber opera for young people being workshopped with a primary school in York. I have been working with the class of Year 3 on developing musical and design ideas that will be brought together in a school assembly! The performers are really enjoying working on it so far, I can't wait to see what an audience thinks!
Aug 5, 2016
In searching for a way to justify my PhD thesis of the composition of opera for young people, I have tried to look at some of the maths. Opera is funded very well by the state. The Royal Opera House alone received an Arts Council grant of £25m in 2012/13, which is appoximately 40p per person if averaged over the estimated UK population of 62m.
Mainstream opera audiences are believed to be mostly in the 60-69 year old age bracket, according to the 2014 study 'Opera Audiences and Cultural Value: A Study of Audience Experience' published by Creativeworks London.
Now, I had previously - and wrongly - assumed that this was a relative minority of our national population here in the UK. In actuality, the Office of National Statistics reveals that since 2014 there are more people over 60 (14.9 million in 2014) than there are under 18. It's almost a quarter of our population.
So I'm now wondering: if our population is aging, perhaps it's not the young 'uns that opera houses need to convert, but more of the middle aged group.
Unfortunately for me, none of this helps my PhD thesis. Rather, I think I have some more statistics to uncover...
Oct 27, 2015
So work begins on the PhD in the composition of opera for young people.
I have so many questions to begin with, both in terms of form and content. What is an opera? What do I want to say in an opera to young people? What are young people? What value can they get from any operas I create, or that we create together?
It should almost go without saying that I am approaching this subject with several years of experience of working as a music/theatre/drama facilitator for opera houses. I have seen joy, creativity, inspiration, dialogue, skill-improvement, confidence-boosting and culture shifts as results of my workshops. I have also seen thousands of young people engage enthusiastically with a culture of rich tradition and thought that they had previously been unaware of, or had felt was not for them.
But what more can I do? How much more value can be created through this work? Are there ways in which those values can be made conspicuous? What are valuable results, or not-valuable results? What could happen that is not expected?
I will keep updates about this and more.
In the mean time - first stop, the Library here at the University of York.
Sep 21, 2014
Basically, 2014 has been so busy I have not had a single moment to actually report what I have achieved. This is quite an extraordinary turnout! Videos to my last few productions are now being put onto this website. Watch this space!
Sep 25, 2013
I've added a few new sound-bites to my dance music page. Me improvising at the keyboard, imagining some dancers jumping round! Improvising is one of my favourite things - it's so theraputic!
Sep 16, 2013
Last week I walked into a local Mosque in Newham to ask about their potential participation in the EastEnd Notes choir, and to ask about what kind of issues might be important to consider in asking Muslims to get involved. The experience was so warm and welcoming, though as it happened they weren't too keen on the choir.
I got talking to a young man who was kind enough to explain his interpretation of the Muslim view on music, much of which centred around humility. For me, this raised questions about how exactly I could engage with Muslims on a cultural level outside of music-making.
We sat and conversed over a cup of tea and some delicious cake, but it was only as I left that I realised one potential cultural exchange that we could continue to develop: namely, eating and chatting! Two of the simplest cultural exchanges, and also two of my favourites!
Now I'm really looking forward to more of that! And meanwhile, recruitment of choir-members goes on...
Jun 7, 2013
I've really enjoyed writing my latest work, The Sweeper of Dreams, and it's almost completely finished! I hope to upload a full version in July.
A lot of hard work has gone into this little opera baby, and a lot of important lessons have been learnt as a result of it. It's been a very wholesome process all-round!
Feb 26, 2013
2013 is to be my most challenging year ever. I have no idea how I'm going to achieve my goals, but I am determined that I will realise every one.
So far, it has been one of the most encouraging years ever. I have had more interest in my project ideas than ever before. People want to get involved, institutions want to commission them, and opportunities are coming up everywhere I turn!
And yet already it is extremely difficult. I am taking a leap of faith, somewhat blindly. I do not yet know what I am truly capable of (but then who does), so I'm trusting that I'll deal with whatever comes my way. Plus, at some point soon these crazy ideas need to turn into crazy amounts of cash. I have a mortgage to pay now!
I keep coming back to the reason why I am doing this. First of all, to prove that normal, mediocre people like me can turn the impossible into the possible. When I prove it, maybe people will start believing me when I say it. Secondly, I want to find out what I am capable of. This is only the beginning, and every mistake will be precious knowledge gained. Every obstacle an opportunity to grow.
Every obstacle an opportunity to grow.
Nov 14, 2012
I've added a new section to the site, all about the pieces I've directed. Looking forward to adding a few more productions in there very soon!
Oct 6, 2012
At last! Yellow Rattle has been added to this website! I've been working to get this piece up here since January. It is now proudly here!
Mar 27, 2012
At last! New music has been uploaded onto my music page.
But just look at these aMaZiNg lyrics from the Year 2s from Southall who wrote this inspirational song about the kind of London they would like to see:
We're gonna build a new London
Not like the old one
We'll have pink seas and parades
We're gonna live and be happy
Share all our money
In this nice, new, special place
I don't like the shops, or the cars or the traffic
I don't like that my friends have to go home
I hate that people look at me like I'm different
We're gonna clean up Big Ben
We're gonna build a new house
In a London of our own
Very emotional to think how much promise and potential these little people have. I'm really determined that they see their vision materialise!
Jan 19, 2012
Yes! At last, I have a new piece up in my Music page. It's the piece that has unleashed a whole lot of creative inspiration, or rather it was the result of a creative outpouring that took months to achieve. There was a blockage in my inspiration tube. Dublin has washed it away, thank goodness! Thank Guiness? Nah, I didn't really have that much. Wasted opportunity...?
Anyway, we are now back in London and making amazing things happen here again. Big thanks to Phil Macdonald for the fun in the studio recording the 'cello piece. There's lots more composition coming up this year, which is fantastic.
Also, I feel today is especially exciting as I played piano for my first dance class ever. It was a contemporary class at Central School of Ballet for Jess Wright (Random Dance) - very last minute - but absolutely brilliant! I was shaking with nerves before we went in, afraid that I'd mis-count things or that my arms would just cease up and I'd physically not be able to play the piano. But it was wonderful. So much fun to improvise all that music to those talented dancers. It's so satisfying to see how you can make someone jump higher just by giving them an up-beat!
Oct 17, 2011
Just playing around with some recorded material I found of a string quartet; I've uploaded it onto my Dance collection. Some really wonderful sounds coming out of it.
This afternoon I met with a raw food culinary artist to discuss how improvised music and improvised food can go together! We're gonna have a jam next week. Not, jam jam, I mean like an improvisation jam. Though who knows, maybe there will be a real jam involved! Raw jam. A real raw jam jam. Maybe that could be the name of the project!
Sep 19, 2011
I am soooo close to posting up 2 new songs I've been working on! Almost there now...
Sep 11, 2011
Actually I've been in Dublin for 2 weeks now, but things are going grand. Soon I'll even be picking up the accent!
I'm spending my time doing 3 things: composing, improving my sight reading, and arranging music for Ballet Ireland.
I love it! I love sound! Please, Genie, make this my job!
"I hear and obey. Your wish is my command."