A Year of Many Surprises

Over the last year, I have had the pleasure of working with elementary and high school students in distance and hybrid learning contexts, teachers and students in a school dedicated to special ed students, neuroscientists and people living with Parkinson’s Disease and dementia, a community centre for people with severe physical disabilities, and, on a very local level, my next-door neighbours. Zoom much? Yep. A lot. And I also use the good, old-fashioned phone s as a platform to make music with too.

Like many others, I have relied on old and new technologies to connect with people at a distance and continue to make music. The biggest lessons I have learned, and re-learned over the last year are:

  1. Connecting takes time. Take the time, and respect people’s time. It’s worth it.
  2. What works in person doesn’t necessarily work online, and vice versa. Whatever communication platform is being used, activities are most effective when they use the platform’s best features as an integral part of the process, rather than as a substitution for being in-person.

A few observations and strategies for ways to make music through platforms such as zoom.

  1. One of the interesting features of distance learning is because everyone is in their own space. Observing your surroundings through sound and sight and sharing these observations with each other can help create connection between participants while keeping sensory experience central to art-making:
  2. Video conferencing is all about visuals. Use the ‘video’ part of video conferencing to make music by:
    • Using movement to shape the music, such as Piece of Mind’s Musical Diary in which a person with Parkinsons describes and conducts her experience of time. For a detailed description of process, see HERE. For two diary entries:
    • Watching a silent film together and improvising a film score to it, such as Piece of Mind’s illustration of a day in the life of a person with Parkinson’s. For a detailed description of process, see HERE:
  3. For a million reasons, through-composed music is not well adapted for video conferencing. Create a music that provides instructions for how, rather than what, to play:
    • Fair Jenny Alone, a work for at-home or in-person choir featuring a ‘sing-along’ track
  4. Share stories based on a prompt, and use voice recordings to shape and tell these stories:
    • …sounds like static… People affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia were asked ‘Who are the people who keep you anchored in life?’
    • Stories of Care. Multiple prompts were used in this podcast series created with the CARE Centre, a centre for adults with severe physical disabilities, including ‘what is your favourite childhood memory?’, ‘what is your favourite activity at CARE?, and more.

In a year unlike any other, I have had the good fortune to learn many new skills, push my creativity in directions I never imagined. connect with many kind and generous people, to whom I extend many, many thanks. As I sit down to make plans for workshops in Art inspired by Nature, a Dinner in the Dark and Music through Action Painting, I am looking forward to what the next year brings. If you’re interested in brainstorming and planning ahead for the 2021-22 season and school year, please reach out! I’d love to hear your ideas.

For funding to bring me and other Teaching Artists into schools see here:

ELAN ArtistsInspire | Culture in Schools | Culture pour tous

To hear what these MacKay Centre teachers have to say about our ArtistsInspire workshop: