TRASH Music - Transitions Project Evaluation report.
Over 5 weeks work was carried out in 5 different primary schools in the catchment area of Berwickshire High. The participants were from primaries 6 and 7, and the work was carried out by myself (Alan Govan) and Chris Lusby.
I have been involved with Trash Music Projects for 8 years, including 18 months as a full time employee between 2002 and 2003. Chris Lusby was a prominent member of TRASH's performance group, and has participated in a few one-off workshops over the last few years. For us both this was a good opportunity to work over a longer period and to experiment and develop more ideas and methods of working. Chris was very easy to work with. He was both keen and quick to learn.
Our work revolved predominantly around TRASH's trademark 40 gallon plastic barrels, which are utilised as drums. An alloy wheel mounted on a traffic cone served as a focal point and a contrasting sound. At Swinton we also utilised a newly delivered 'BatPhone': lengths of piping cut to various lengths which create pitched sounds when struck on the end with an old flip flop. This was supplied by sponsors Emtelle of Jedburgh.
Working with minimal means and non-standard instruments creates a level playing field where no-one can claim greater experience than their peers. Where there are no pre-conceived ideas of how to play it leads to more bold experimentation: stimulating the right (creative) hemisphere of the brain.
With the exception of Swinton, where we delivered a single full day project, we visited each school 4 times, working for an hour and a half on each occasion. In the case of Duns and Chirnside, the class sizes negated the possibility of working with the whole class at once. This was mainly a logistical issue. My driving license does not permit me to drive anything larger than a normal size transit van, so we were limited to working with as many barrels as we could fit in (16). We were able to work with most participants sharing a barrel. This is an acceptable way to work, although ideally it would be possible to supply one barrel per player, as this opens up greater possibilities.
Our workshops included exercises such as:
l Hitting together as a group (good for focus, and group unity)
l Passing beats or rhythms round the circle (helpful for learning to take turns, and being aware of each other, taking individual responsibility).
l CopyCat. A rhythm/noise/action/combination is played by one person and echoed by the whole group. Initially this is instigated by a workshop leader, but then each participant is asked to think of their own pattern for everyone to repeat. This is a basic development of improvisation/composition skills and is good for individual confidence.
l CopyMe. The group is asked to copy the workshop leader as they play in a variety of styles. The challenge is to keep up with the changes. This is good for focus and exemplifies the fact the whole group together can create a much bigger sound that any one person.
l Structured pieces featuring overlapping rhythms. Group split in half with each group following one of the two leaders. Various rhythms are taught and then combined in a pre-ordained structure.
l Mnemonics. Playing your name, thinking about syllables and their relationship to beats/hits. Taking a rhythm (perhaps someone's idea from CopyCat), and trying to think of some words with which to remember it. This aims develops a basic and accessible approach towards composition.
l Conducting. Selected participants are given the opportunity to conduct the group. We explored signals for changing dynamics and tempo. Very empowering for conductor, and a good exercise in concentration for the rest of the group.
With very few exceptions, the pupils participated very keenly in the workshops. Teachers and support staff at the various schools were very supportive of our work. We invited teachers to join in with the workshops, and a few did – sometimes joining in with the drumming, and at other points providing extra support to pupils who needed it.
Over the five weeks we were extremely lucky with the weather and worked outdoors on seven out of the nine days. When working indoors the noise level is very high, and I would recommend that ear plugs be made available for this scenario. As a longer term idea, I would suggest that quieter activities / instruments be developed, as working with barrels indoors is likely to cause disruption to other classes elsewhere in the school.
One stated intention of this project was to build up towards some sort of event at Berwickshire High School. All of the primary 7 participants will go to the school on the 12th June to take part in sample lessons and get to know their way around etc. It was initially envisaged that we would attend this day and carry out some sort of work there, however it became quickly apparent that this would not be very easy to implement. The schedule for this day was already full and it the only possible time for us to have done anything would have been lunch-time. It was difficult to imagine what we could usefully do with one hundred and twenty two young people in one hour, whilst also allowing them sufficient time to eat. After discussion with some of the primary school teachers, it was decided to remove this aspect of the project.
Our work culminated with five successful performances. I am confident that we have sparked or reinforced an interest in music making in several participants, and given a boost in confidence to many others. I think that this sort of work could have a place in schools. The following are the main benefits I envisage:
- l Non-violent conduit for the relief of stress.
- l Encourages use of the right (creative) hemisphere of the brain, in the increasingly left-brain dominated curriculum.
- l Social activity which helps people to relate to their peers.
9th June 2008