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 !

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

 

One Note Wonder

‘Hello… helloo… hellooo…ellooo…llooooo….’ Circle games are beautiful, concrete examples of how individuals contribute to form a group. Change one person in a circle and the group sound changes. Send a ‘hello’ around the circle in one group sounds like a chorus of wolves, while another group erupts into a polyphony of greetings in various languages. It all depends on where you and your group take it.

The last post described a circle game based in repetition and variation. The task is to make a sound similar to the previous, rather than exact imitation. Sometimes this is easier said than done. To take an extreme example, imagine imitating a long tone on a trombone using a found instrument such as a tree branch full of dried leaves. It’s obviously not going to sound the same. How can a long tone be imitated by a tree branch? It all depends on the musical element you chooses to imitate.

Ask your participants to brainstorm the elements that make up music:

  • Time (rhythm, duration)
  • Pitch (melody, harmony, gesture)
  • Dynamics
  • Tone/texture
  • Form

Form is established by the circle game. Fix another element, leaving the rest open to play with. Here is a circle game where pitch is fixed:

One Note Wonder

Pre-establish a pitch to send around the circle. One person plays that pitch for the length of one breath. When you hear the person to your left play, add your sound to theirs, imitating or varying their sound using time, dynamics and tone/texture.

This is one of my favourite games, since there is security in knowing what to do (i.e. the fixed element) and room to play (everything else!). Let your participants play and discover what they like and do not like. A group sound will start to emerge and lead you and your group to the next step.

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.

 

 

 

Notes from Knitting Lessons

‘If you make a mistake, do it twice. Then people think you did it on purpose. They won’t be any the wiser if you don’t tell them!’

Photo credit: Ben Hosking

This was my Nana’s advice when she was teaching me how to knit, one of the most awkward things I have ever learned. Combined with my penchant for following the gist of the instructions rather than actually following them, Nana and I had many mirth-filled knitting sessions turning mistakes into ‘design features’. Her words came back to me when I was recording a sketch of an open score for a friend and colleague. They apply beautifully to making creative music with amateurs.

Whether it’s knitting or making music, I prefer clear global direction to excruciating detail. Because of this, I write open scores that allow for a lot of wiggle room. This is a bonus when playing with loopers, because every loop comes out a little (or a lot) differently. When I sat down to record a sketch for my colleague, I had a plan – sections with pitch choices and processes for each.

And… recording!

Sketch for Knitting Lessons, for clarinet and loop station

Everything is going swimmingly until:

ME TO MYSELF: Bah. I made a mistake. (listens to 1:55 for a few loops and remembers Nana’s knitting advice)

Hmmm, actually that’s not bad, kind of foreshadows what I’m gonna do later.(continues process for section, building new loop)

Now to work in that mistake… (plays footsie with loopers 2:35-2:50)

… yeah, cool, that works…

Whoops! I didn’t mean that. (listens to new ‘mistake’ at 2:50)

Actually that’s pretty cool. I wonder if I can use that… (follows process to end)

If there is anything looping has taught me, it’s that unintended events are just as interesting, and sometimes more interesting, than intentional events. The two ‘mistakes’ in this recording were unintentional, but they became ‘design features’ to the point that they are now part of the final score. If I had stopped when I made the first mistake, I would never have found out where it would lead me.

That’s how Nana’s knitting advice applies to creative music making with amateurs. The greatest block to creativity and flow is right-wrong thinking. Sometimes mistakes are mistakes, in which case it is important to address the causes (just found where that pesky distortion sizzle came from…). More importantly, what strategies can be used to set up a creative music activity where right-wrong thinking doesn’t apply and mistakes are viewed as potential? More thoughts on that in the next blog posts. Welcome back to the new season and school year, everyone!

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.

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!

Ack! Here comes the concert

You’ve been doing all this improv, everyone is having a great time, and now the concert is looming. What to do? I say improvise in concert, as is. Or you can get a wee bit more composition-y about it. Let’s take the previous blog post ‘Long tones made fun’ one step further…

The basic rule of the game stays the same: you can play a long tone, or a silence. Now for pitch choices. Play through several versions of this game using different pitch set options (see previous blog post or invent your own). Does your group like certain pitch sets better than the others? Take the group’s favourite pitch sets and find a way to display them so that everyone can read off the same chart – a white board, Smartboard or other kind of projection works well for this. Then have one person ‘conduct’ by pointing to which set they want the group to play and for how long.

This is what your white board might look like. The conductor points to a pitch set and the players go to town using those pitches!

Choose different conductors – each conductor will lead the group through the pitch sets in different ways with different timing. This alone is fascinating. For the concert, ask the audience to guess the rules of the game and then have your three most enthusiastic conductors lead the group through the same game – audiences love it, because they hear how active music-making is and they get to be a part of it, too!

Long tones made fun

I admit I’m a geek – I like to play long tones even after 30 years of playing my instrument. It’s a form of meditation when I get to forget about everything and enjoy making sound. I can wax poetic about it, but I also recognize that not everybody feels this way! Yet, more than anything else, long tones dramatically improve my students’ playing. So how do I make long tones interesting and inspiring for the less-geeky-than-me? Oh, I have so many ways…

Sound and silence

Instrumentation: Wind, brass, strings, pitched percussion
Age & ability: All ages, intermediate to advanced
Number of participants: 6-35

My long-time long-tone favourite is a game piece in which players have two choices:

    1. play a long tone
    2. play a silence

Campbell, Sound and Silence

The long tones and silences can overlap in any way, creating shifting textures and timbres as different instruments come in and drop out at various times.

Campbell, Sound and Silence, a variation

Pitches can be open or predetermined. Here are some examples of predetermined pitch sets:

Choose from:

          1. An E in any octave
          2. Any note of a specific chord, such as C Major or E minor minor 7
          3. Any note of specific scale, such as pentatonic, or D Major
          4. Any note from a tetrachord such as (0, 1, 2, 6) or C, C#, D, F#
          5. Any note of the chromatic scale

Any of these options can go on for a fair while. Encourage your participants to listen and respond to each other. Each group takes it in a different direction – yours will too.

More next time on shaping this game into collaborative composition.

Sound poems

“You want me to what? Oh no, I have a terrible voice…”

What musician hasn’t heard that, or said it themselves? Most people speak daily. However, ask people to sing and insecurities abound. I have a lot of ways of putting people at ease using their voice in a musical setting. One way is to ask people to play with words as sound.

Ten-second Sound Poem

Instrumentation: Voice
Age & ability: All ages, no musical training necessary
Number of participants: 6-35

Choose a topic and brainstorm words related to that topic. I’ve had groups choose place names, seasonal and natural phenomenon, and shared experiences. Steer the conversation towards onomatopoeia, words that sound like what they mean.

For example, let’s take water:

Dribble, roar, bing, swoosh, plop, sploosh, plonk, burble, sploosh, whoosh, trickle, drip, plop, gurgle, splash, kerplonk…

The list goes on and on! Do call-and-response with your participants playing with different ways of saying the words. Sploosh can be full voice or whispered, long or short, with sibilant s’s or a long drawn out shhhh….

Next, write each word on a piece of paper and ask each participant to choose a word at random. Surprise! Which word are you going to draw?

Then, conduct a Ten-second sound poem: as conductor, signal the beginning of a series of 10- second time segment. Each participant speaks their word at any point during the ten seconds. I might say splooooooooooosh at the beginning of the ten seconds, or at the very end. Each ten-second segment is unique as the participants say their word at a different points, in different ways.

The Ten-second sound poem can go in many directions. The conductor can change the duration for shorter, longer, getting faster, getting slower. Change conductors, or have multiple conductors. Choose new words. Check out this in-class recording of a co-composition by my group Sing! using this process – we surprised ourselves with this one!

Water poem, co-composed and performed by participants of Sing!, spring 2017