Performance & Composition Workshops

Education is central to my activities, through delivering workshops in a variety of contexts.

My aim is to communicate the beauty of music to children and older students – to inspire them to develop their own creativity through the process of composing and performing.

Emphasis is placed on attentive listening and creative expression where students will have the opportunity to develop in a group environment. Furthermore, musical traditions from other parts of the world such as Indonesia, Africa, India and Jazz music will be introduced.

This provides a wide range of musical experiences and references for the children, enabling them to learn about another culture, and gives them the opportunity to experience different musical aesthetics.

This will complement their studies of European classical music which is also taught. The children are introduced to a variety of teaching methods that incorporate the traditional teaching perspectives of the culture. The importance of rhythm, form, melody and practice are also explored.

As we start our exploration in music we begin by looking at similarities, much like having a conversation with someone you have just met. The aim is to have fun with music and to play it. The beat of our hearts, the rhythm of tube train sounds - even the sound of someone eating cornflakes!

This is disorganised sound that we would not necessarily call music, but these sounds could be the basis of musical masterpieces when organised by a creative mind.

The children are challenged to develop the techniques involved for musical organisation, and develop their improvisational and compositional skills. The workshops start very simply with fundamentals. They then incorporate more complex teaching material and techniques, including ways to practice.

Where possible the use of video footage of musical performances, making of instruments and other relevant information are used, as well as slide projections and audio recordings to provide a more complete picture of relevant material.

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Workshop One

Gamelan Music

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Among the splendours of the world, the sound of the Indonesian Gamelan is truly one of the most spectacular.

On the islands of Java, Bali and Sumatra this ensemble of instruments can be heard in the royal courts in urban centres and in the many towns and villages. Metallaphones, gongs, drums flutes and stringed instruments are combined to offer an aural experience of tremendous beauty and form.

The traditional music learning process in Indonesia is based on imitation. Children absorb the music gradually and naturally – through listening they unconsciously take in the idiom and the formal structures. The children learn the instruments from the simplest to the most complex in a gradual process that allows a broad understanding of the Gamelan structure. Eventually the musician will learn all the instruments and thus experiences the inter-relatedness of each musical part.

Workshops begin by teaching children pieces by memory and then showing them the structure, and then eventually the notation system.

The number of students can vary from 4 to 16. Once the students have a general idea of the music they will be introduced to the more specialised complex instruments such as the bonang, rebab (fiddle) and the suling flute. This will lead naturally into creative improvisation within the Gamelan.

Gamelan music is not solely for listening to – it is a highly integrated form that is combined with the dance dramas, the puppet theatres and the literature from which their stories are derived. Where possible I use video footage and recorded material to convey the depth of these art forms and to introduce the students to the world of the Gamelan.

Workshop Two

Jazz & Improvisation

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Jazz music and improvisation are often regarded as synonymous, since one of the key aspects of jazz is the element of spontaneous improvisation.

However the development of the ability to improvise requires techniques that can occur only through long preparation. The ability to hear a melodic line and repeat it on the player's instrument is a pre-requisite to being able to compose spontaneously. This involves ear training, technical and artistic skills, and emulation of master musicians.

The jazz workshops will be pitched at the level of the participants. At the most basic level, ear training, scale and chord combinations will be focused on. Following on from this, musicians will have the opportunity to develop listening and group playing skills.

As well as the standard jazz repertoire, pupils will be encouraged to write their own melodic lines and tunes that will be a vehicle for improvisation.

A brief examination of the most famous jazz musicians reveals that most learned by ear before learning to read musical notation. At the more advanced levels students are shown how to transcribe solos and how to analyse them for melodic, harmonic and rhythmic content. The workshops will also concentrate on the development of a "musical voice" which includes tone production, phrasing and musical vocabulary.

Videos and recorded material will be used to show the range of jazz and the various methods of improvisation.

Workshop Three

Traditional African Music

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Music is integrated into every aspect of African life. Just like religion, music and dance penetrate every level of existence.

Much music is a communal activity and the acquisition of musical sounds and genres occurs through social experience.

Today African music is known and respected for its complex polyrhythmic base and its multi-layered polyphonic music with different meters and accents creating an intricate webbing of sound. In Africa there are as many musics as there are languages. There are at least 514 officially recognised languages and many more hidden ones.

In these workshops I concentrate on the polyphonic interlocking xylophone music of the Bugandan and Busogan peoples of Uganda.

The Amadinda Orchestra consists of a large xylophone played by three people, three drums, a set of four panpipes, and a vocalist. The amadinda provides the foundation of the musical activity in which the other instruments reinforce.

I also explore the horn music of the Alur peoples of Nebbi in North West Uganda. This comprises five to twenty horn players blowing different pitched horns to create melodies. I also focus on the general characteristics of African traditional music, making reference to Pygmy music and Bambara harp music.

For these workshops video footage and audio examples are used where possible to explain and demonstrate the musical material.

Comments & Feedback

on Previous Workshops


Here are some comments and feedback from the staff about Byron's three day workshop at William C. Harvey, a special needs school in Tottenham. These workshops took place in February 2007 in collaboration with Creative Partnerships, North London.

It was great to have the time to do it – we need to timetable it … part of the way it is. Byron kept it creative and lively for a longer time. We do this, but it is hard to keep it up … how can we do this? Great equipment – better if it could be more sensitive – the drum one was good. It was really good – working together – different abilities. The mixed groups worked really well so the children can support each other. It was fun, tiring …

We worked in our way, but we could now do it more intensively – other people in the school could really learn a lot from working like this. There were practical issues – time. I loved doing the silence bits, and I see how the kids respond, but 'cos it was the end of the day, we needed to clear things away … and that's the reality of our school day. It was really tiring. Come Friday, the room was a mess … but it was worth it. I was frustrated 'cos we didn't record some really good stuff. How can we catch it all? The days and the work were motivating for the students. Overall, there was a sense of immersion in each medium … attained through time and the senses. It was more efficient than other work I have seen in the school.

The music stimulated the voices – the peers also stimulated each other. This creativity was a gateway to empowerment. Byron did that with stimulation and permission. The staff appeared to be more relaxed in this environment than in the usual school day. There was a sense of inclusion … of staff and students. Staff and pupils being creative together – the gateway I was talking about … Fantastic … I really enjoyed it (personally). I wish I could put it into the curriculum, but I don't know how.

What I loved was that Byron finds a way to communicate with everyone – staff and students. You can tell him how you feel and then you talk it through and sort it. I loved it for my students, I loved the earth music work – it was great to see all the faces – lots of smiles. Freedom – out on the floor. All were involved. The atmosphere was amazing. It was wonderful how the students were helping and supporting each other. The work between the students was lovely to see. All staff were involved and happy. The equipment was amazing – I want to use it, and I want to know how to use it – we need training, I was knackered, but it was amazing. I want to see more of this in the school. We saw much difference in the students. When we had the silences, it got the voices going better than usual because we gave them more time. If we had that regularly, it would really help – it's different.

We do music, but Byron used instruments and gadgets which we don't have … brought out more in the students and staff. Byron's approach is different. He got something musically continuous going on, and he allowed the students to have their voice to make more music. This is a good way to work with these children. It was great in the swimming pool and on the trampoline – responding to their own voices which had been recorded in previous sessions and put on a CD I Can Hear Me and then respond to it. It was absolutely … I don't have words about the way Byron works with the students.

I liked the way he introduced it – gave students a chance and time. He was always smiling, approaching and motivating the students. He was happy for the students to play his trumpet and shells – which was great. It was excellent when the children did their voices on the microphone. The children who you don't think would do anything, they made sounds. He made it into a great CD – so we could hear each other and ourselves and work with it. Working in different spaces worked well. It was different to usual because we used different multi-sensory props, responding to their voices.

One of the children's mum was there for a bit … and she looked so excited and surprised at what her child was doing, and what other children were doing. It was great to hear the sounds all put together – as music. The children were singing in their own way. It was good and different and we need it. It was very fitting – the way it was put together. The sounds and music that was to collaborate with the different elements, the effects we used enhanced the environment – making it more real. The way the more able students supported the less able, the way we all pulled together was like one big team (staff and students). Byron enabled the less vocal students to have more space to be heard. This was brought about a lot with silence. It was great to have that quality time to mix with another group, to have togetherness.

Byron's instruments and gadgets helped bring things together. His knowledge about music also did this. I still think this was the best medium for my students. Everyone had a chance to join in. We ALL gave and took and compromised really well. Byron's expertise made everything connect. He made us all feel comfortable to express. I felt we all had some kind of ownership of these three days. Staff and students were put in situations which challenged them, used the many skills we already have, empowered them. Peer advocacy has a big part to play in enabling our students to express their voices. Through this wonderful musical journey, Byron facilitated this beautifully in the different groupings, the choice of instruments and technology, and the way he guided the students' contributions.

It was particularly lovely to see the students feeling confident to express themselves, interact and be sensitive with each other, and each other's communications. Byron created an environment – communicatively; physically; musically; allowing space, time, respect; which was supportive of students and staff creatively allowing us all to explore our voices/feelings – without words. I found the practice of silence and stillness each day really magical – it was great to be given permission to do this as it is so effective on so many levels and I am certain it had a big impact on everyone. It particularly allowed the less vocal students the freedom to be heard in an environment which usually never stops, and is never quiet; and the more vocal students to stop and listen to each other. A lot of staff found this difficult, but it seemed to get easier each day. We all saw – and heard how important this is for the students, as well as ourselves. We need to allow for this in the school day.

The technology that was used was great – it was extremely accessible for all of the students. It followed the principles of cause and effect, anticipation – the way the big mack switches do. But it took the work we do in this area to another level … allowing all of us to be much more creative and imaginative with using our voices and movements – as valid in their own right, as well as creating beautiful pieces of music.

This film by Pinny Grylls documents a Creative Partnerships project at William C. Harvey school in London, meeting the needs of secondary age pupils with profound and multiple learning difficulties and complex needs.