Creating playground games, imaginary friends, and losing yourself in a made-up world forms part of early childhoods all over the world. We gather confidence from make believe worlds, exploring new creations and discovering more about ourselves. It’s forms our childhood, and is an integral part of childhood play.
Then it all stops.
I’ve often heard people say that children are more creative than teenagers and adults, I think it’s probably something as teachers that we visibly see diminishing at the end of primary school. So how can we as music teachers continue to harness the creativity in make believe?
At the Music and Drama Education Expo this year, we presented a session on storytelling in performance. This session was for all teachers and we wanted to explore the commonalities in our teaching styles, and how there are certain skills that all teachers use in their teaching, regardless of where or what you teach.
We opened the session with a lovely lilting piece called Daydream.
It features on our Grade 2 Piano syllabus and was written by one of ABRSM’s composer mentees from the mentoring programme. Without giving the title of the piece away, we asked teachers to listen to the piece and tell us what the story was being told.
Kristina Arakelyan, the composer of Daydream, came on stage to discuss her piece and where the ideas had come from. One of the things she spoke about is how exciting it is to see other interpretations of her piece, and that every idea was valid. The balance between composer intention and performer interpretation is an interesting one, it led us to discuss instances of where this happens in our teaching and what emphasis we put on intent vs interpretation.
It’s clear to me that some music lends itself to obvious stories, motifs for characters or the development of a narrative. Many of our list B and C pieces already have a story, a character, a narrative. List A can feel quite loose in narrative in comparison, perhaps offering a different challenge for our pupils. The typical title of ‘Allegro’ doesn’t help us here, but the blank slate can offer us a great opportunity to allow our pupils to write their own story.
In the session, we also discussed different stimuli for composition. The audience gave us so many ideas that they use themselves, showing that the story of a composition can come from the sound of the rainforest, the journey to school, their paintings from art class and many other places.
We moved onto demonstrating how helpful motifs can be in composing or introducing new pieces. The example we provided was a very famous tune by Howard Shore, the theme from the Lord of the Rings. This piece features in our free classroom music resource, Classroom 200. It’s getting on for 25 years old now, so when we played the audio for the audience, I wasn’t sure how many people would remember it.
Of course, everyone knew what it was, why did I doubt it!? Again, the answers were narrative driven, timbre and texture ideas, and music for an occasion. Introducing part of the story, we split the room into five and created five motifs to bring a soundscape into the room. We had Sprites, Goblins, Soldiers, Griffins and Trolls.
A long, long time ago in a land far away,
Was a forest named Forever where the Sprites love to play.
They played all day and played all night, singing their favourite song,
Until one day they had to stop when the Goblins came along.
They were a pesky little bunch you see and never ever fun,
But that all stopped quite instantly when they heard the distant drum.
For it was the rhythm that they feared, because it only meant one thing,
The Soldiers had arrived at last and they'd leave them with a sting.
The forest of Forever returned to calm at last
That was until the unthinkable happened, a visitor from the past.
With massive hands and gargantuan feet, its footprints left a hole
As it slowly trudged and knocked down trees, in entered Trugg the Troll
An even longer time ago he lived inside these woods
But the image of this creature was often misunderstood
To bring the two together and help a friendship to begin
They knew they needed help from the wise and mighty Griffin
Forever returned to peace at last and everyone was friends
The Sprites continued to sing their song and now the story ends.
Performing this accompanied story together, we created characters, the overlapping of sounds to create a simple soundscape.
Our aim was clear, storytelling is an approach that every teacher, whether instrumental, vocal, or classroom, can use in their teaching to embed creativity, progression of narrative and fun into what they do with their pupils.
Is it easier for young pupils to engage with? Well perhaps, but the teachers in the room enjoyed becoming a Sprite, Goblin, Soldier, Griffin or Troll as much as the Year 5s this Classroom 200 lesson plan is intended for. Go on, embrace your inner storyteller.
Find out more about Classroom 200.
Find out more about Storytelling through performance in Troubleshooting your Music Teaching.See Next