kids' music workshops at unsound festival!

from last sunday, february 7th, to tuesday, february 9th, a small but amazing group of kids, aged 6-12, built electro-mechanical instruments and talked about sound / music in ways even some educated adults might have problems comprehending. we didn't talk about scales, notes, or staves. we explored the sounds you hear every day, like dishwashers, telephones, and traffic. we discussed the multiplicity of sounds-- how each and every sound is different and how some are similar to others. we thought about where sounds come from and why they sound the way they do. most of all, we listened and played.

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right off, i want to apologize for the terrible quality of the video footage. it was taken from my phone during one of the practice sessions we had at harvestworks. more footage is coming, and as soon as it does, it will be posted to this blog and distributed to all involved.

from last sunday, february 7th, to tuesday, february 9th, a small but amazing group of kids, aged 6-12, built electro-mechanical instruments and talked about sound / music in ways even some educated adults might have problems comprehending. we didn't talk about scales, notes, or staves. we explored the sounds you hear every day, like dishwashers, telephones, and traffic. we discussed the multiplicity of sounds-- how each and every sound is different and how some are similar to others. we thought about where sounds come from and why they sound the way they do. most of all, we listened and played.

the students were really awesome! as one of the teachers (who were also totally sweet), i found myself spending much less time beating around the bush, and more time diving into, say, a discussion of the physics behind string tension, or a minute-long silent listening exercise. keep in mind our youngest was 6!

there was also absolutely no time spent discussing whether the sounds we encountered were "music" or "noise." we just spent our time enjoying them. i can't tell you how many art / music classes i've run into where the professor thinks it's a good idea to have this conversation right off the bat. in my experience, this invariably breeds a contrarian, pedantic atmosphere and generally just wastes time. it's always better to lead by example and field those kinds of questions, without hostility, as they come up. for many classes i've seen, this topic isn't needed at all.

i was also impressed by how well the students listened to each other. i was expecting our rehearsals --and possibly the concert itself-- to devolve into a number of simultaneous solos instead of one ensemble. (this happens regularly with adults, even ones who love to preach about improvisation and listening.) on their own, some of the students started tuning their instruments and techniques to fit their neighbors'. we teachers had wanted to suggest this at the outset, but as it turned out this guidance wasn't needed. many times, we were only a few steps ahead of our students, due to the unexpected level of our students' engagement. there was a lot of ad-hoc thinking involved. we had to learn fast.

this was one of my first experiences teaching this age group. most of the teaching jobs i had done until this point were one-on-one tutorials, usually with people near my own age. while i also find that form of teaching to be exciting and rewarding, i have never experienced something so invigorating as working with children. even the simplest discoveries can be inspiring. all of this activity came at a time when i was really starting to question the despite the fact that these workshops would immediately follow an 8+ hour work day, and i was getting fewer than 4 hours of sleep per night on the average, i felt renewed after each session. i would come in tired and angry and leave excited and inspired!

the workshops culminated in a performance on february 10th, where the kids opened a night of beautiful, challenging music by mountains, tape, radian and tim hecker. t3db0t conducted us brilliantly through a simple system of hand gestures (mostly pointing), and i knelt on the stage, helping the students manage their levels with our mixer.

when we had presented improvisation to the class, we borrowed an idea from Anthony Braxton he called the "language improvisation," where sounds are categorized into general types like "long, sustained tones," "pulses" or "tremolos." the result was a marvelous, futuristic din, complete with two ovations from an enthusiastic crowd.

after we finished, before we struck the stage, our ensemble's wonky-slinky-can player turned to me and said "i want to play more!" i told her i hoped she played much, much more, and that she would let me know when she did.

i am so very thankful to the belgrade kids' patch worshops for providing the template, to kate for bringing these workshops to new york, and to lori for having me contribute! hopefully there will be many more! in the meantime, stay tuned for more documentation as it comes...

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lori and steve diligently preparing.

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building light theremins!

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...lots of them!!!!!!!!!!1

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our marble-pan-stick player, flangey-record-scrubber player, and wonky-spring-can player.

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on right: our one-stringed-can-guitar player, nommin' out.

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our cranky-screw-can player... also t3db0t snappin more mugs. (& kate in bkgrnd!!)

3 thoughts on “kids' music workshops at unsound festival!

  1. Hi, Joe. My kids would love to participate in another workshop. Do you have one scheduled? Thanks, Ben

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