Thursday 4th February 2021
On Tuesday I noticed Thomas wasn’t able to identify the sound of the woodwind instruments in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. So today we watched this section of the Nutcracker Suite performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and I named the instruments as they were played:
https://youtu.be/h77jra9F4b4 (It is 36 minutes into the performance).
We then read about the woodwind section in The Story of the Orchestra by Robert Levine and listened to the accompanying CD which has examples of the instruments in well known classical pieces. We also discovered that the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has some videos for kids about different orchestral instruments. We watched ones about the oboe and the clarinet which explained about how the mouthpiece reeds are used to make sound.
Wednesday 3rd February 2021
Tuesday 2nd February 2021
Collection 1 / 40 The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy by Tchaikovsky
Following on from our listening to the Romeo and Juliet ballet music last week I decided that today’s minute would be another ballet piece. Thomas picked out strings and what he thought were bells. He didn’t seem to pick up on the woodwind instruments even though we listened a few times. He imagined a scene a bit like the one he imagined for Collection 1/8 “Walk in the Snow”. There was someone hiding in the woods who then started chasing some burglars! He couldn’t pick out any words from our list to describe the feeling of the music.
We looked up pictures of a celesta and a description of how it works with hammers hitting metal plates instead of strings. Having looked inside our own piano when after we listened to John Cage’s prepared piano in Collection 2/1 we could imagine how the celesta might work inside. We then watched a Youtube video by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra about it: Introducing: The Celeste.
We also watched the Sugar Plum Fairy scene performed by the Royal Ballet: https://youtu.be/zV1qLYukTH8 I told him about how my mum once took me and my sister to see the Nutcracker ballet in London one Christmas when I was a child and how magical it was.
Thursday 28th January 2021
Collection 2/28 Romeo and Juliet, Finale Act II by Sergei Prokofiev
As we listened Thomas picked out brass and drums. I asked him what kind of music it was, for example was it jazz, traditional etc? He couldn’t say, so I said I would describe it as classical and orchestral. He thought it must be a big orchestra with a lot of instruments. On second listening we also picked out the strings. He said it sounded like a film soundtrack and something scary was about to happen.
He chose the word mysterious from our collection of descriptive words. I invited him to move around the room in the way that the music suggested to him. We played the minute loud and found ourselves doing bold rigid movements. He sided-stepped in a small circle in a stiff fashion. I sort of marched around pompously. I asked him how moving like that made him feel. He wasn’t sure. I said the music and movements felt like a demonstration of power and felt quite military.
We then read the notes. Last year we learnt about Shakespeare and read a children’s abridged version of Romeo and Juliet in The Usborne Complete Shakespeare, so he was familiar with the story. I found act II being performed by the Ballet de Santiago and we watch the final scene and looked up what happens in this act of the ballet. We think that this bit is the murder of Tybalt, but we’re not sure!
We also watched the Royal Ballet performing the Romeo and Juliet Dance of the Knights and also an introduction to Romeo and Juliet by the Royal Ballet:
We talked about telling a story with music and dance – I introduced the words ‘narrative’ and ’choreography’. I explained that different choreographers could come up with different interpretations of how the story could be told through movement. I also mentioned other well known ballet music he may remember. The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. I’m enjoying getting more familiar with classical pieces – I recognised the Dance of the Knaves when we watch the video but I would never have known what it was or who it was by. I was inspired to listen to Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet on Spotify while I cooked lunch!
We’ve also today started making recordings for a sonic postcard of our home during lockdown – inspired by the minute Collection 1/12 St Abbs Sonic postcard that we listened to the other day
Wednesday 27th January 2021
Collection 2 /31 Wasps
The other day Thomas made a rhythm recording that he called ‘Wasp’ so today we listened to this minute of a swarm of wasps and picked out the sounds of the wasp banging into the microphone and the drone of the swarm in the background. We talked about what a drone is, in terms of music, and how Thomas has sometimes used a single repetitive note underlying some of the tunes he’s made up.
We followed the link to find out more about wasps and did some more research on the internet, finding out what the difference between wasps, bees and hornets is. We were fascinated to find out that the first paper made was an imitation of the recipe that wasps use with wood pulp and saliva. Humans learning from insects! Thomas and Jon, his dad, have been teaching themselves how to restore violins this year; buying them in online auctions and learning from youtube how to do the repairs. Thomas reminded me that he saw one video where, when they took the violin apart, there was an old wasps nest inside it!
Monday 25th January 2021
Collection 2#44 / Oiseaux Exotique
Wednesday 20th January 2021
Pitt Rivers Museum Collection minutes
I thought we’d use the minutes to do some geography today. We listened to 3 different minutes from the Pitt Rivers Museum collection:
- Children’s Song Celebrating Rain in South Sudan
- Collection 3 /27 Indian Woman Singing with Harmonium
- Makuti and Mbonjo: Mondum and Eacute playing & singing
We looked up the locations on the globe. We read about the Central African Republic and South Sudan in ‘Amazing Africa’ by Atinuke and in the Lonely Planet’s ‘Travel Book’. From this Thomas was able to understand why the South Sudanese children might celebrate rain. I asked Thomas if he thought there were any peoples in the world that didn’t make music. He thought probably not. So I asked why humans make music. He wasn’t sure. I asked him why he made music (he has sung and experimented with rhythms since he was very young and then, as he got older, began to make up his own music using my mum’s old keyboard). He said “I just do it. It’s automatic.
Most of the time I don’t know I am doing it”. I said this was interesting because maybe music is an innately natural thing for humans to do. He thought that in stone age times they probably made music, and when I asked why they would have done that he said “because it makes you feel good”. We thought it would definitely cheer you up when it was cold and dark. We then discussed all the reasons why people make music, including to express emotions, to celebrate, to entertain, for religious ceremonies or for rituals (like asking the gods for rain), how it brings people together of all ages, and how that, before writing was invented, songs would have been a way of telling stories and histories.
I explained that all three minutes were from the archives of the Pitt Rivers Museum of archaeology and anthropology. I explained that anthropology is the study of human societies and cultures and that studying musical traditions could be a very interesting way of finding out what is important to different people, and how the amazing diversity of music worldwide music might reflect their different environments and lifestyles.
Tuesday 19th January 2021
Collection 2 /49 , GRC4 /50 & Collection 1 /8
Today I decided to use the minutes to explore feelings and to encourage Thomas to expand his vocabulary of feelings. On a big sheet of paper I wrote lots of descriptive words grouped into different kinds of feelings. We then listened to the following minutes and for each one I asked him to choose 3 words (or think of his own) and to think about what qualities the music had that triggered these feelings.
Collection 2 /49: ‘Laborinatus 2’ by Luciano Berio
Thomas chose ‘strange’ for this piece and then seemed to get a bit stuck, so I asked him to imagine he was exploring somewhere on his own and these sounds were what he could hear. How would it make him feel? He chose ‘fidgety’ and ‘unsettled’. When asked what it was about the piece that made him feel this way he thought it was “because the sounds don’t really go together”. We talked about how the sounds jump around unexpectedly from high to low and how lots of the sounds were very sudden. He imagined it being inside a big marquee tent. He could hear ‘”all sorts’ of different sounds. He thought the spoken words at the beginning might be in Latin and he wanted to know what they meant. We talked about how having words he couldn’t understand and the fact that they were spoken rather than sang also added to the strangeness.
GRC4 /50: New Haven Reel
Thomas said with a smile “This is completely different!” and he chose the words ‘joyful’, ‘lively’ and ‘inspired’. When I asked him about the latter he said he thought that the composer had been inspired by something but he wasn’t sure what. He said “it makes me want to listen to it”. He imagined it was made for dancing and was being played inside, and he could identify the violins. We talked about what made it feel this way. Thomas wasn’t sure so I suggested that if we compared it to the last piece it might feel very different and more reassuring and enjoyable because it had a regular beat; there was repetition so we kind of knew what to expect in terms of where the tune was going; and the genre of music was familiar (me and his dad play traditional Scottish tunes sometimes).
Collection 1 /8: ‘A Walk in the Snow’ by Charlie Barker
The only word Thomas could pick for this was ‘mysterious’ but he imagined a lot of narrative. There was someone hiding and waiting for someone to go past. They were getting ready to chase them. In the second part this person was chasing some burglars through the woods to try and stop them robbing a bank. We talked about the change of tempo helping to create these two scenes. He identified a double bass and a whistle. When we listened back I pointed out the bass clarinet and that the whistle was actually a flute (I play the flute). We then read the notes and both thought that the music didn’t sound like a drive at all – there was definitely some running going on in the second half!
Wednesday 18th January 2021
Collection 1 /12: St Abbs Sonic Postcard
Thomas had his friends over today with whom we have just started a childcare bubble with. They are brothers aged 8 and 5. As this was the first time Thomas has had children in the house for many weeks there was a great deal of high spirits. I managed to get them to focus for a short time on today’s minute. They said they could hear beach sounds and coastal birds and it made them also think of a festival with lots of people. They were intrigued to find out that some of the sounds were made by children because they had thought that they were all recordings of the place. We listened again and tried to work out how some of the sounds were made and which ones were natural. Scrunching paper, whistling, screaming. They worked out which sound with the markers on the whiteboard. We talked about what sounds they would record if they made a sonic postcard of where we live. They said there would be seagulls, pigeons, ambulance and police sirens and traffic. Afterwards they experimented for a while with different sounds on Thomas’s keyboard. It was pretty noisy!
Sunday 17th January 2021
Celebration Musical Role Models Minute 6: Memphis Slim – Broke and Hungry
Thomas thought this piece sounded happy. I don’t think he really understood the words. We played it again and I explained the singer was telling how his girlfriend had left him. We read the notes and talked about the blues structure, which he has learnt about with his piano teacher. He said he could recognise the structure in the piece but said that the piano music sounded happy to him, rather than sad.
We talked about how maybe the purpose of the blues was to provide some sort of comfort and so the music itself might help sooth the sad feelings of the words. Thomas said he thought he could hear a double bass but we then worked out that this was just very low notes on the piano.
I have noticed that Thomas has been experimenting more with sounds since we’ve been exploring the minutes. He has always enjoyed this but it seems to have opened his imagination to the possibilities. He’s been exploring making sounds with everyday objects such as drinking glasses or paper. Tonight he was playing around with amplifying with his voice using a combination of a plastic funnel and a houseplant watering can!
Friday 15th January 2021
Christmas /4 – Bach’s Gloria in Excelsis
Today at bedtime we went to the ‘explore minutes by mood’ section. I asked Thomas to choose a mood. He chose ‘Jolly’ and then chose the piece labelled ‘Christmas’.
He said it made him feel happy. He wasn’t able to identify what about it gave it a happy sound. He imagined a lot of people playing instruments on a big stage. He could hear brass and a big drum and voices. We listened again and I pointed out the strings and woodwind too. I found the music very uplifting, joyful and exciting.
Wednesday 13th January 2021
Listening to Composing 1: Make a Rhythm Piece
Today we are exploring the resource From Listening to Composing 1: Make a Rhythm Piece. We are having a more relaxed home school day today after a lot of lessons yesterday. So we started by listening to pieces in bed in the morning.
Hull1 /1: Hands Free by Anna Meredith
Thomas heard clapping, “yeah!” and ‘shhh” sounds and we also thought we could hear a big deep drum. There were obviously lots of people and they were inside a large building as the sound was echoey. Reading the notes we realised the drum was probably stamping feet. We enjoyed the BBC bitesize clip about the making of the piece and talked about how much practice it must take. We talked about how the musicians kept in time and knew what to do and when. Thomas suggested they had the piece written down somehow. I asked him how even if and orchestra has the music how do they make sure they all play exactly together. He remembered then that they have a conductor.
Hull 1 /19: Speaking in Tongues III by Shiela Chandra
This piece made us laugh because when Thomas was very young and only just starting to talk he used to frequently make a very fast repetitive “dugga dugga” sound and play around with the sound and rhythm. He could do it really fast. This reminded us of that and he realised he couldn’t do it that fast any more. We were absolutely intrigued by the incredible tabla playing in the Ted talk clip and again discussed how much practise it must take to be able to do something like that.
Hull 1 / 47 L.O.V.E. by Daniel Elms
Thomas heard lots of brass instruments and maybe strings. In the second listening we also picked up a harp and woodwind. He said the second half made him think of a satellite orbiting the earth. Whenever I ask him about the mood of feeling of the minutes he is not very forthcoming but seems to come up with images more easily.
I have been listening though and choosing the minutes or resources for the next day rather than working through in any order or picking randomly. I think about diversity and how we can take the experience a bit deeper by making our own music or linking it to other learning, like geography for example. For that reason I really like the information that goes with each piece, particularly where there are links to related videos to watch. For each minute there are so many learning directions you could go in. This makes me feel very excited and inspired and is what I love about home schooling – being able to go on a multi-disciplinary learning journey with any starting point. In future we might take just one minute a week and jump off from there into other learning. Todays minutes are getting me to think about how we could do some drawing of the minutes and also use them specifically to explore expanding Thomas’s vocabulary of feelings.
Later today we will try composing some rhythm pieces.
Tuesday 12th January 2021
Collection 1♯9 Earth bow
I chose this minute for today because I had seen the band Baka Beyond play years ago and their music is inspired by the Bakaya people. Thomas had seen the title accidentally and so he already knew it was a bow. He thought the high pitched continuous sound was likely to be insects.
We were amused to read that Sumba breaks his bow at the end and that is why there is laughter. We tried to work out the rhythm of the music but it was not anything familiar and seemed to have an odd number of beats (maybe 5?). We went on to watch videos of Baka people singing and water drumming. All their rhythms were quite complicated.
I think we will follow this up with learning a bit more about the Bakaya people later in the week. In the evening Thomas had a bath and we experimented making sounds with a plastic cup and a small watering can, a wooden spatula and an elastic band stretched between the taps. Thomas worked out a structure for a short percussion piece and we recorded it.
We realised that after doing this we were listening to everything in a different way and he played around with sounds for another half hour before bed.
Monday 11th January 2021
Collection 2#1 John Cage ‘prepared’ piano piece
We decided to use our minute of listening today as a break in the middle of doing maths. We lay on the bed and listened with our eyes closed and listened through twice. Thomas, who is 8, had the following comments.
“It sounded like a piano. Also there was someone bashing their hand on the piano. It made me think of a cave with lots of stalactites hanging from the ceiling and dripping. It sounded a bit spooky. The cave would be cold and wet and there might have been an underground river.”
After reading the notes about it about it and listening again he added: “There’s 3 sounds. The tapping, the piano and a cymbal-like sound that is probably a string rattling against something.”
I said there were two distinct piano sounds that I could hear. A clear high one and the lower more echoey notes. There was a lot of repetition and a regular rhythm.
We were very intrigued and amused by the youtube link to Stephen Scott’s Bowed Piano Ensemble. Thomas found it funny that they were actually hitting parts of the piano with hammers. We talked about how much practise the piece must have taken and that it looked quite uncomfortable leaning over the piano. It inspired us to look inside our own piano. Thomas spent about 40 mins exploring how it worked. He asked his dad why each note had three strings. Jon thought the idea was that they all had a very slightly different pitch so that it gave a rich sound. We used a wooden spoon to tap some of the strings.
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