New Music Alive 2009
Video interview with Peter Moran and updated blog posts from the composer on his experiences leading CMC's New Music Aliveprimary school workshops.
The Contemporary Music Centre's New Music Alive project aims to encourage and assist teachers in bringing contemporary music into their classrooms and help raise awareness of Irish composers and their activities.
Funded by Dublin City Council the project involves a series of practical music workshops led by composer Peter Moran in two Dublin primary schools, Scoil Naofa Treasa in Dolphin's Barn and Scoil Caitríona in Baggot's Street during November and early December 2009.
Peter Moran with the students of the Scoil Caitríona
In an interview recorded on 3 November 2009 in CMC, Peter Moran speaks to CMC's General Manager Jonathan Grimes about his plans for the workshops, as well as his upcoming work.
Throughout the project the composer will report on his experiences and observations from the workshops is a series of short blog posts.
5 November 2009
To me, music represents freedom—a freedom of thought and expression limited only by my own imagination, and that can be stretched ad infinitum. When CMC appointed me to the task of teaching contemporary music in Dublin’s inner-city primary schools, I made this core principal the foundation of each class.
The workshops are led by the children’s own creativity as I give them compositional challenges and provide them with the required tools and the vocabulary to help solve them.
Now entering its second year, the focus of the project this time around is electronic music. First, I returned to Scoil Catríona on Baggot Street where I had taught the first New Music Alive course last year.
Listening to electro-acoustic compositions by Ed Bennett, Judith Ring, Linda Buckley and Donnacha Dennehy, the class quickly grasped the various different approaches to the art and even created and recorded (in one great take!) their own short vocal composition based on ideas from those works—and all this within their first one-hour lesson!
The children had lost none of what they had gained before—a familiarity with the language of contemporary music, the vocabulary with which to discuss it, and the self-confidence and imagination to create it and perform it for themselves.
Their teacher told me later that in the previous academic year she had played the class the latest Contemporary Music from Ireland CD twice—once before they had met me and once again when the course had ended. Her efforts have clearly made a great difference.
My next stop was Scoil Naofa Treasa in Dolphin’s Barn, where every aspect of this course was new to the children. So instead of diving straight in at the electro-acoustic deep end, we took the time to explore how sounds that we might never have thought of as musical can be used in a musical way. I showed them some simple extended vocal techniques to get them started. In response, they showed me six new ways to play contemporary music with a pencil case. I think they’re going to do just fine!
15 November 2009
We had a fun week in the schools this week. One important aspect of creating electronic music, which I have been highlighting for the children, is the free exploration of all the possibilities. So this week we have explored each effect, slid every slider and stretched out every sound or squashed it up and turned it backwards!
The children took turns on the microphone while the class described what they were hearing in their own words. I wrote up their descriptions on the board so that we could use a shared vocabulary to discuss and describe our ideas. This will be an important tool as we go on to compose more complex tape pieces.
I did a few more listening exercises with Scoil Naofa Treasa to provide them with more of the grounding in contemporary music that other schools acquired last year. Playing excerpts of contemporary vocal music such as Jennifer Walshe's Here We Are Now the children had the opportunity to expand their 'repertoire' of vocal techniques which they can feed into later compositions.
The next step is to show the students what audio processing looks like by projecting my laptop screen onto the board. I have given the students a little preview of this already, just to plant the idea in their heads. Now that the children are able to talk about extended techniques and audio effects, understanding how all this information is represented on a computer screen is another language in itself!
27 November 2009
I was pleasantly surprised by the children’s progress this week. Both classes made a crucial leap in their comprehension and application of music technology.
As we worked on their class compositions, they were able to give me very specific instructions as to what effects to apply and to what purpose; “put reverb on the door to make it sound like an empty dungeon and then add delay so it sounds like it's slamming in the wind on a stormy night"; record my voice making a tweeting sound and then pitch-shift it just a little higher to make it sound like a real bird".
Instructions like these made it clear to see the electronic composition process at work in the children’s minds. The children were able to imagine a specific sound in their head first before seeking out the nearest acoustic equivalent they could work with and finally adding the exact effect they knew would create the sound they had imagined.
It was great to see them really getting their head around the challenges of electronic music and turning it into something they could create and understand on their own terms. I’m looking forward to next week when we begin our musique concrète compositions using our found sounds from the school yard and the classroom.
10 December 2009
And so it is that New Music Alive! draws to a close for another year. When we started this project five weeks ago, I was asking the children questions like "What does 'electronic' music mean?" and "What is the opposite of 'electronic' music?" Before we finished, they were able to issue their own instructions to create very specific effects and in our final lesson, they were actually able to predict the result of certain effects-processing ahead of me!
In-between times we listened to a wide variety of contemporary electronic music by Irish composers and discussed their work and techniques; produced a total of six new compositions in each school; and over the whole course, the children learned the basis of creating electronic music, from collecting found sounds to exploring the different effects processes. They even learned how electronic music was made in the past as we cut up magnetic tape and listened to the pieces spliced together!
The progress in the children's comprehension of computer technology was remarkable. By the end of the course they were creating multi-track recordings using over a dozen special effects, even referring to them by their correct technical terms. In their personal growth, as in so many music workshops, many developed a new self-confidence and found voices they never knew they had.
It has been a fantastic few weeks for me. I have thoroughly enjoyed developing so many exciting new workshop ideas and it has been a great honour to be able to introduce them into Irish music education. And seeing the enjoyment the children get out of it make the work all the more enjoyable for me. The teachers involved in the project have been extremely enthusiastic and receptive to these ideas, and I have had very encouraging feedback from other teachers and members of the public too, so I dearly hope to see this material take off in primary schools around the country (and indeed abroad!).
Keep an eye on the CMC website for some of the students' recordings and for the next workbook complete with interactive web materials to make your own electronic compositions in school!
The views expressed are those of the persons concerned and are not necessarily the views of the Contemporary Music Centre.