Hommage to R. Murray Schafer

(Pour des raisons technique, le français suit)

I am lucky to be part of a wide and deep tradition of music-making in classrooms. R. Murray Schafer (1933-2021) was pivotal to music in the classroom, and was known for his ability to connect with students of all ages. While I did not know him well, I acknowledge that I work in a tradition deeply influenced by his work as a musician and music educator. 

Schafer’s practice in the classroom centred around attention to sound and listening. Many of his music activities don’t require specialized equipment, a bonus when incorporating music into any classroom and subject area. Here is an activity I first witnessed Schafer lead at the CNMN FORUM 2018 in Montreal:

  1. Crumple a piece of paper and throw it against a hard surface such as a wall
  2. Listen the sounds made throughout this act
  3. Imitate the sounds using your voice

Students imitate the sounds they hear in many ways, the greatest variety being which sounds they choose to imitate. Some imitate only the sound of the paper hitting the wall, some imitate the sound of the paper whistling through the air, and others imitate the sound of the paper ricocheting off other surfaces after the impact. A rare few imitate the paper crumpling at the beginning through to the paper coming to a standstill. None of these imitations is right or wrong; it is simply indicative of what each person attends to. 

I wonder sometimes if what a person chooses to imitate is also indicative of the sounds they think of as ‘worthy’ of listening to, which is certainly fodder for my musician’s curiosity about how other people hear the world. 

Here are a few directions I’ve taken this exercise:

  1. Imitate the sounds using an object other than a piece of paper. This option is helpful for classes that may be shy using their voices)
  2. Imitate the sounds using an instrument. If this I am working with a music class, I generally ask students to do this exercise first with a percussion instrument, and then transition to imitating it with their own instrument.
  3. Draw a visual representation of the sound: 
    • Explore the ‘feel’ of the sounds for a more abstract representation of the sound. See the music video Message in the Bottle, the final product of a workshop that delves into this idea.
    • Explore graphic notation, using strategies different sizes of objects or weights of line to represent volume, assigning a timeline to the x axis to depict sound as it occurs over time. 

These activities are wonderful for encouraging students (and myself!) to attend to the sounds that surround us, and have fun with sound as an artistic, expressive and acoustic phenomenon. They inevitably lead to discussions about individual experiences of sound. Delving into to curriculum, I’ve used these activities in the following subject areas:

  1. Literary arts: concepts of literacy and communication through the visual medium.
  2. Math: visual representation of information through graphic scores that assign various parameters to the x and y axes (e.g. x=volume, y=time).
  3. Science: understanding acoustics and the properties of materials by doing the same activity with materials other than paper (e.g. tennis ball, tinfoil paper) and throwing these materials against different surfaces (e.g. metal, plastic). 
  4. Music: depict these sounds through graphic scores and tradition Western notation. Pick one element of the notated sound (rhythmic motive, pitch etc.) and use it as the starting point for an improvisation/composition.

The possibilities for play and learning are many! If this activity intrigues you, please don’t hesitate to reach out for resources for music activities you can do in your classroom.

If you are interested in bringing a Teaching Artist into your classroom, see here for funding to bring me and other Teaching Artists into your school:

ELAN ArtistsInspire | Culture in Schools | Culture pour tous  

If you are looking for more ideas, please contact me for sample workshop descriptions. If you have ideas you’d like to explore, I’d be happy to chat with you and come up with a workshop tailor-made for your class! Please contact me at mlouisecampbell(at)gmail.com.

All the best to everyone in this new school year and artistic season!

Hommage à R. Murray Schafer

Je faire partie d’une tradition large et profonde de création musicale dans les écoles. R. Murray Schafer (1933-2021) a joué un rôle central dans la musique, et était connu pour sa capacité à se connecter avec des étudiants. Même si je ne le connaissais pas bien, je reconnais que je travaille dans une tradition profondément influencée par son travail de musicien et d’éducateur musical.

La pratique de Schafer en classe était centrée sur l’attention portée au son et à l’écoute. Beaucoup de ses activités musicales ne nécessitent pas d’équipement spécialisé, un bonus lors de l’intégration de la musique dans tous les sujets. Voici une activité de Schafer dont j’ai été témoin pour la première fois Schafer au FORUM CNMN 2018 à Montréal :

1. Froissez un morceau de papier et jetez-le contre un mur

2. Écoutez les sons émis tout au long de cet acte

3. Imitez les sons avec votre voix

Les élèves imitent les sons qu’ils entendent de plusieurs façons, la plus grande variété étant les sons qu’ils choisissent d’imiter. Certains imitent uniquement le son du papier frappant le mur, certains imitent le son du papier sifflant dans l’air et d’autres imitent le son du papier ricochant sur d’autres surfaces après l’impact. Quelques rares imitent le froissement du papier au début jusqu’à l’arrêt du papier. 

Voici quelques directions que j’ai prises pour cet exercice :

1. Imitez les sons en utilisant un objet autre qu’un morceau de papier. Cette option est utile pour les classes qui peuvent être timides avec leur voix

2. Imitez les sons à l’aide d’un instrument. Si je suis en cours de musique, je demande aux étudiants de faire cet exercice d’abord avec un instrument à percussion, puis de l’imiter avec leur propre instrument.

3. Dessinez une représentation visuelle du son :

a. Explorez la « sensation » des sons pour une représentation plus abstraite du son. Voir la vidéo musicale Message in the Bottle, le produit final d’un atelier qui approfondit cette idée.

b. Explorez la notation graphique, en utilisant des stratégies tel que des différentes tailles d’objets pour représenter le volume, ou une chronologie horizontale pour représenter le son tel qu’il se produit au fil du temps.

Ces activités sont formidables pour encourager les élèves (et moi-même !) à prêter attention aux sons qui nous entourent et à s’amuser avec le son en tant que phénomène artistique, expressif et acoustique. Ils conduisent inévitablement à des discussions sur les expériences individuelles du son. 

En approfondissant le curriculum, j’ai utilisé ces activités dans les domaines suivants :

1. Arts littéraires : concepts d’alphabétisation et de communication à travers un médium visuel,

2. Mathématiques : représentation visuelle de l’information à travers des scores graphiques qui attribuent divers paramètres aux axes x et y (par exemple x=volume, y=temps).

3. Science : comprendre l’acoustique et les propriétés des matériaux en faisant la même activité avec des matériaux autres que le papier (ex. balle de tennis, papier d’aluminium) et en projetant ces matériaux contre différentes surfaces (ex. métal, plastique).

4. Musique : dépeignez ces sons à l’aide de partitions graphiques et d’une notation occidentale. Choisissez un élément du son noté (motif rythmique, hauteur, etc.) et utilisez-le comme point de départ pour une improvisation/composition.

Les possibilités de jeu et d’apprentissage sont nombreuses ! Si cette activité vous intrigue, n’hésitez pas à me contacter pour des ressources d’activités musicales que vous pouvez faire dans votre classe.

Si vous souhaitez amener un artiste dans votre classe, cliquez ici pour plus d’information sur les subventions :

La culture à l’école | Culture pour tous

Bonne chance à toutes et è tous en cette nouvelle année scolaire et en cette saison artistique !

Getting pitchy

Funnily enough, I find one of the biggest challenges in facilitating participatory creative music is how to deal with pitch. It seems silly since pitch is one of the fundamental parameters of music.

Here’s the situation: I walk into a high school band room full of 20 to 30 teens playing wind instruments. Our task is to co-compose, rehearse and perform a piece in one hour. I’ve just met the players. I don’t know their musical taste or level of music theory, let alone their names. It’s go time!

The first thing I do is make sure people know that there are no wrong notes in a creative process, only interesting ones (see Knitting Lessons for more). After that, it’s crucial to find a way for everyone to talk about pitch easily. When I’m a guest in a high school band class, we usually warm-up with the lingua franca of high school band, a concert Bb Major scale. Happily this lends itself to speaking in scale degrees.

EDIT: A number of people have asked me to explain what scale degrees are. Scale degree associate a number to each note of the scale (i.e. the first note of the scale is 1, the second note of the scale is 2, etc.). Here are the scale degrees for CM:

           1     2     3     4      5     6      7     8(1)

CM:   C     D     E     F     G     A     B     C

And for FM:

          1     2     3     4      5     6      7     8(1)

FM:   F     G     A     B     C     D     E     F

When dealing with transposing instruments for whom the sounding pitch has a different letter name per instruments (e.g. concert Bb is a fingered Bb for flute, a fingered C for clarine), scale degrees lets you ask for ‘scale degree 1 in concert Bb Major’. Each musician then translates this into a pitch on their instrument. So rather than saying “flutes play x, trumpets and clarinets play y, altos play z, oh and you’ve got French horns…”, I can simply say, “play scale degree X”.

I wax poetic about scale degrees. Even if a group is not familiar with scale degrees, it takes maximum 10 min. for to become comfortable with them. Not only do they make pitch-based exercises easier to lead as a facilitator, scale degrees empower participants to speak directly with one other, rather than going through me, their teacher or a transposition chart. Easy communication means people are more inclined to make music on their own, which is ultimately what I hope for.

Once you have decide on how to talk about pitch, here’s a process to find pitch material:

  1. Ask four participants at a time to play any note on your cue.
  2. Cue multiple times, asking participants to change notes on each cue, resulting in a series of 4-note chords.
  3. Ask participants to pick one of the chords to play with.
  4. Write the notes on the board, using scale degrees or transposing as necessary.
  5. On your cue, ask the full band to play any one of the four notes on the board, resulting in a rich orchestration of this chord.

This sequence takes around 20 minutes, including warm-up. I learn a lot about groups’ musical preferences and experience during this time, which helps me direct the process moving forward. Groups choose wildly different pitch material to work with, from crunchy atonal clusters to four-note jazz chords to open fifth power chords. I go with whatever a group chooses – it’s their music, after all.

Samples of pitch material chosen by different school groups

Here are some examples of the pitch material various groups have chosen:

  • 3-7
  • 1-3-7
  • 2-4-6-8
  • 3-4-7
  • 1-4-#4-5

 

In the next blog post, we’ll take this process on to the next challenge: a group that clearly wants to make beat-based music.

 

Not so silent films

How many digital devices are in the room you are currently in? How many of these have capacity for video and sound? Probably quite a few: in the age of the internet, video and sound hold a large place in how people access information. Especially true for youth, how can we play with and use this fascination with video and sound in the classroom? Click here to read the pedagogical guide I wrote for the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal on the silent film era for a few ideas …

Ready… set… listen!

Ever sat and listened silently for an extended period of time with a class of 8 year olds? In the cafeteria where they normally get to talk with their friends as much as they want? I wasn’t sure about how this was going to work with elementary school kids, but I was convinced: in order to have an effect on noise levels in any space, you start by listening. So if the project Sound Bites aims to reduce the noise levels in the Coronation Elementary School cafeteria, we need to make listening fun and engaging for the students…

Ready… set… listen!

It is a fairly ambitious task to ask 20 or so children under the age of 12 to sit and listen in silence for any length of time, so music teacher Connie Wilson and I took great care into setting up the following activities for success.

“Anybody want to do a treasure hunt?”

The kids were all in.

Sound Treasure Hunt

  1. Before playing the sound treasure hunt, ask students to name any sound they hear (e.g. a sneeze, a car horn honking, shuffling feet).
  2. Ask students to identify a sound they hear frequently in this room, and not say it out loud. Pick one student to ‘play’ the sound while everyone else covers their eyes (e.g. eraser on whiteboard, chair scraping, percussion mallets clacking against each other). Ask for volunteers to guess what the sound was.
  3. Ready… set… listen: Over a two-minute period, sit quietly and listen. Then, ask students to write or draw the sounds they heard. If they have trouble remembering what they heard previously (I do!), they can write or draw any sounds they are currently hearing. Ask volunteers to read their list or describe what they heard. Notice the similarities and differences in what students hear.

Tips:

Use a visual aid to show where you are in the two minutes period to avoid the inevitable question ‘how much longer?’

Adapt the length of time to your group. I prefer several listening periods of shorter time frames so the treasure hunt is different every time. Given how much how quickly sound changes in an elementary school, one two-minute treasure hunt could feature the janitor walking down the hallway with a trolley, greeting a few kids, while the next might be about the sounds of the heating system starting (reluctantly), and the next basketball practice in the gym down the hallway.

Brainstorm a number of distinct acoustic environments to listen to that are within easy walking distance. Repeat the treasure hunt in each location, writing and drawing the sounds of each. Discuss, comparing locations.

For Sound Bites, we chose to listen to a stairwell, the library, and two different locations in the cafeteria. The kids floored me with their enthusiasm and acute ears. As you can see in the images in this post, their responses are amazing, complex and varied, and say as much about each individual as it does about their school.

Droning on…

Circle games come out sounding very different depending on group dynamic. Some groups tend towards close imitation, leading to gradual evolution over time, playing with one or two of musical elements at a time. For example, if a group fixes pitch and focuses on changes in duration and dynamic, the group sound can become very drone-based, with gradually shifting timbres based on instrumentation. This is when droning on is definitely a good thing.

Campbell: Circle Game variations. Players play a fixed pitch (e.g. concert G) with a crescendo-decrescendo note shape. Overlap notes and breathe as necessary.

A different dynamic shape will create a very different sound. You can lead a different dynamic shape either by playing it or by suggesting it in words or images.

Campbell, Circle Game variations. Players play a fixed pitch (e.g. concert G) with the dynamic shape of a crescendo. Overlap notes and breathe as necessary.

We can flip the paradigm and fix a different element. Let’s fix the dynamic shape as a crescendo-decrescendo and leave pitch open. It’s a simple change, and sounds totally different. What happens when pitch and dynamic shape is fixed, and rhythm is open? Your drone might gradually start to groove. Open up pitch or dynamic shape, and we start to have more variety. Keep this up and your group will start to develop opinions about what is more musically effective, and you will be well on your way to creating a group composition. Here is one group’s score resulting from this process:

Co-composition based on Circles Games by Lindsay Place High School Etude students, facilitated by Louise Campbell in Culture in Schools workshop

This group tended towards close imitation when playing circle games. Other groups tend towards radical changes in sound, jumping from one musical element to another, creating surprise and contrast even as the pitch is stable. Both are interesting strategies and useful in their own right. It’s up to you to read the dynamic of the group and build on the strengths of the people and group you are working with. Every group will come up with something totally unique to that group! That’s the beauty of circle games.

Campbell, Circle Game variations

 

Circle games

The last post posed the question: what strategies can be used in creative music to focus on exploring potential rather than mistakes? To use current ed and tech buzzwords, ‘fostering a growth mindset’ is my primary task, whether as an Artist in Schools or Community Music facilitator with participants of all ages. For new groups, I jump in with a musical way of saying hello. A circle game, it’s really saying ‘hello… helloo… hellooo…ellooo…llooooo….’

Circle games are based on the simple musical principles of repetition and variation. First, form a circle. Then, play repeat-after-me: I make a sound and everyone repeats it as a group. The task is not exact repetition of the leader. Rather, the task is to make a sound similar to the leader. Start with simple sounds. Throw in a few silly ones for good measure. Laughter keeps things light, stretches peoples’ ears and ideas of ‘what goes’, and shifts focus from ‘right-wrong’ to simply playing with sound.

Once everyone is comfortable and knows what to do, you’re ready for a circle game. Here is a simple one:

Circle Games, by Louise Campbell

Sit or stand in a circle. One person makes a sound for the length of one breath. When you hear the person to your left make a sound, add your sound to theirs, imitating their sound in your own way.

This circle game is a great way to encourage listening. I’ve been in circles of 3 people to 60 people, featuring standard instrumentations to chaotic mixes of whatever people brought or could find. The magic happens when everyone is listening and playful and the circle takes on it’s own sound and rhythm. Now that you’ve said hello, the next post will feature suggestions for in-depth conversations in sound.

 

 

 

Going loopy

Featuring: École secondaire Pointe-aux-Trembles
Karine Lalonde, Music teacher
Nikola, Sec. III violinist

Working with teenagers can be as rewarding as it is challenging. Get them hooked on something and they’ll run further than you ever imagined. But if they’re not interested… ouch. I knew I hit on something earlier this year in an Artist in Schools workshop at École secondaire Pointe-aux-Trembles when I did a demonstration playing clarinet with guitar pedals. When I finished playing, I saw 25 teenagers with their mouths hanging open and heard: ‘on peut faire de la musique comme ça ?, ‘est-ce que je peux essayer ?, ‘mind-blowing’…

Hooking someone up to pedals is the easiest thing in the world. Just put the pedal on a delay setting, hold a mic by their instrument and ask them to play one note. The pedal plays it back. Over. And over. And over. This immediacy allows people to instantly hear what they played. Most amateurs are quite refined listeners; they know right away if they like what they hear or not!

This was certainly the case with Nikola, a violinist in his first year of playing and the first student to use my looper after the demonstration. We had the advantage of having completed two workshops on improvising in the Game genre, in addition to the excellent musical training he receives from his music teacher Karine Lalonde. Beyond that, I can take no credit for the following sound samples: I held the mic, explained how the loop pedal worked and Nikola took it from there. After a few trials, here is the first loop he made:

Rhythmic loop by Nikola, delay setting equivalent to mm=120

During the recording of this loop, Nikola wasn’t satisfied with a high, sustained sound and wanted something a little less piercing. Karine, a very fine violinist, showed him how to play a touch-fourth harmonic, which created exactly the kind of sound he was looking for.

Since Nikola’s first loop was rhythmic and droney, I suggested he do something contrasting using glissandi. Here is his second loop:

Glissandi loop by Nikola, delay setting equivalent to mm=120

After class, I wanted to show Nikola one example of what could be done with two contrasting loops. Here’s the result:

Loops by Nikola, arrangement by Louise Campbell

What I would really like to hear is what Nikola would have done with his two loops. My current homework: checking out free apps so students can record, create and mix their own loops with a minimum of gear. Look out, 2018-19, I’ve got some new Artist in Schools workshops in the making!

A note on tech requirements: tech does not have to be fancy or expensive. Here’s my rule of thumb: assess the gear you have and supplement to make it functional. Check out free looping apps, amps with built-in delay and reverb and loop pedals. Ask your students what they already know and do: chances are a few already make their own mixes. Use their favourite gear, and you’ll have an expert who’s excited to talk gear and share what they know with their newly plugged-in counterparts.

Music at your fingertips, part two

The previous blog post detailed a process for making creative music using cellphones for recording and playback. What happens when we experiment with pitch material and incorporate acoustic instruments into the mix?

The process: full class

  1. Ask students to make recordings of 3-5 long tones on concert Bb separated by silences. Playback using as many phones as possible, resulting in a concert Bb drone. So this:

    Becomes something like this:

    Example: Cellphone cue from Waxworks by Trina Davies, directed by Glenda Stirling, sound design by Louise Campbell (CUE production, 2017)

  2. Ask a few students to improvise using a concert Bb scale. Keep it simple – sometimes just walking up a few notes of the scale can be quite beautiful.
  3. Record 3-5 long tones on concerts A and Bb. Playback results in a shifting semi-tone drone.
  4. Ask few brave souls to improvise using concert Bb scale. How does it sound different against a semi-tone compared to unison?
  5. Ask students to choose 3-4 pitches to record, such as A-C-E-G or D-F#-Bb. Playback.
  6. Improvise using the same notes as the recordings, and then add one note to fill in the intervals until students come up with a scale that works with the recorded pitch choices.

Break out groups:

  1. Divide students into groups of 6-8 with the task of choosing their own pitches, recording, playback and improvising. How does a smaller group change the texture of playback and improvisation compared to larger group?

 

Music at your fingertips, part one

What happens when you make music with the tech-y tool many people carry around in their pockets? You guessed it – this blog post is about making creative music using cellphones.

I first used cellphones as a sound source to create the illusion of a forest filled with birds – many thanks to choreographer Louisa Rachedi and the dancers at the Banff Creative Gesture Lab 2017 for humouring that whim! I wanted birdcalls to come from many places and move as they would in nature, so I asked the dancers to play a pre-recorded track of birdcalls from their phones that they kept on them while they danced. I had some trouble-shooting to do (pressing play on a phone is not exactly a great dance move) but the effect was magical – the space came alive with sound with a dimensionality I usually only experience when camping.

To recreate this experiment, cue up the following track on 6-8 cellphones, launching each phone at different times over the course of 45 seconds:

Songbird@Banff, by Louise Campbell Banff Centre Creative Gesture Lab Open House 2017.

Now for using phones in a creative music process with high school students:

  1. Set all phones to airplane mode to eliminate unwanted interruptions during recording and playback.
  2. Using the phone’s built in microphone and recording app, ask students to record 3-5 long tones separated by long silences. Mic sensitivity varies greatly from one phone to another, so give students time to do several takes with the phone 1 foot, 2 feet and 3 feet away to determine what sounds best.

Example: Cellphone cue from sound design by Louise Campbell for Waxworks by Trina Davies, directed by Glenda Stirling (CUE production, 2017)

  1. Set the track to repeat and/or turn off the advance to next track function. If neither of these options is possible, record a ten second silence after the last long tone to give the student an opportunity to stop the sound file before it advances to the next song on their playlist.
  2. Ask the students to play the recordings starting at different times.

Example: Four cellphones playing the previous example track. I was going for an eerie, disembodied atmosphere to accompany a fairly disturbing scene from the play Waxworks.

  1. Repeat #4, asking students to spread out around the room in different configurations. How does it sound when students are bunched together compared to spread far apart? How does it sound when 6 phones are playing compared to 26? How does it sound when the recordings are started close to the same time, compared to started at different times over the course of 1-2 minutes? What other ways can you imagine playing this tracks?

 

 

Memory and Making the Most of Ear Worms

Ever got a tune stuck in your head? And couldn’t get it out?

As Oliver Sacks discussed (Musicophilia, 2008), ear worms are songs that repeat over and over in your head. The jury is out on how and why this happens: but we’ve all had the experience of that tune going round, right round, baby, right round-round, baby, round like a record, baby….

You get the idea! Let’s use this funny brain hiccup to help you and your students create a memory game embedded with the information you want your students to know inside out and backwards.

The game: Fruit Salad is a rhythm game that features word-based chants. The chants are repeated and layered an indeterminate number of times. The following score uses rhythmic chants of different lengths: 3, 4 and 5 beats long. When layered, the chants phase due to their different lengths.

Fruit Salad, Louise Campbell

How to toss the fruit salad:

  1. As a class, learn each chant by heart. Loop as many times as necessary until comfortable.
  2. Drop a word(s) from the chant and replace it with a rest(s). See boxes in the score above for suggestions of what to drop.
  3. Add a word(s) back into the chant.
  4. Find a way to add/drop words on the fly.
  5. Divide your class into 2-3 groups, and assign one chant per group. Ask each group to practice the chant until they can loop it easily and add/drop words on the fly.
  6. Bring the class back together and loop the chants at the same time, adding and dropping words at will.

On the level of memory, participants learn the chants by rote, and then challenge and integrate memory through the game of keeping their place in the chant as words are added and dropped. The result is a groovy group rhythm in which different words from the chants pop out at different times. The game itself is fun to play, and has all kinds of interesting musical possibilities.

Now imagine how you can make this game work for you and your students in terms of memory – say you use this game when teaching your students about nutrition. Chances are if you ask your students on a test to name a number of fruits, they will come out with the fruit in the chant they learned. What if you and your students made up a chant with examples of each of the major food groups? The information will be even more committed to memory if students come up with the chants themselves.

A chanting game can be made out of any material you want your students to memorize. Pick a topic and ask your students to brainstorm words associated to that topic. Then ask students to play with the words as rhythm, dropping and adding, arranging and re-arranging the words to be as groovy as possible. For best results for memory, the chants can be made to represent a ‘chunk’ of information, as in one chant dedicated to a specific food group.

The key is to boil it down to the essentials – words and rhythm – to make the chant rhythmic and catchy. In the process of playing with the words, your students will be committing the chant to memory, building their own earworms out of information needed to master a subject. Who knows how far you and your students will take it – want your students to memorize the Periodic Table of Elements? It has some fabulously rhythmic words that would make a great rap!