In the UK during the past 30 years there has been something of a revolution in music education, with, very broadly speaking, a shift from learning about music (theory, lives of composers etc.), to learning how to invent and perform music. This shift has brought literally thousands of professional musicians from behind their music stands into classrooms, prison, hospices, youth clubs and many other community venues. It has also meant that these musicians have had to learn many new communication skills, as well as how to improvise, compose in groups, run workshops, and conceive and plan and execute a diverse range of projects.
In 1986, I took a small module at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama entitled Music Performance and Communication Skills. It was only three hours a week for 12 weeks, but it was enough of a taste of workshop leading, improvising, and stimulating discussion about the role of a musician in our society for me to be changed for life! While a post-graduate student at the Moscow Conservatoire I made a link with the International School attached to the US embassy and began to work with a class there, doing simple, practical music-making exercises. Then when I returned to the UK, ready to go out into the big wide world, instead of hiring the Wigmore Hall – as most aspiring soloists were supposed to – I hired 12 cathedrals in England and Wales, and played solo recitals there. In the middle of each concert, I performed a work with 15 schoolchildren that we had written during the three previous days in workshops. During these projects I began to develop my style and approach as a workshop leader, which then led to projects for the London Sinfonietta, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Association of British Orchestras, the Purcell School, the Royal College of Music, the South Bank Centre, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and as a professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for the postgraduate course of Performance and Communication Skills.
When I formed the group Between The Notes in 1997, it was to explore the areas of contemporary music that fascinated me (and sometimes to see how they can link to education projects).What is most important to me in music education is that a project goes all the way through a creative process from musical warm-up exercises, through improvising, composing and rehearsing, to performance itself. The performance is vital. Without that final act of communication in the creative process, you lose so much of the power of what music is all about. With Between The Notes, and the wonderful workshop leading skills of Fraser Trainer and Paul Griffiths, and the instrumental and compositional support of Pete Whyman and Sam Walton, we have run some very exciting projects. These have ranged from small groups of teenagers on intensive song-writing projects, to a performance with 1,000 children for the ISCM in Hong Kong. Venues have ranged from Salisbury Cathedral (for the opening night of the Festival) to the Sydney Opera House and the KÃ¶ln Philharmonic Hall.
As for the role of a musician in society, it deserves a far richer discussion than I can undertake in these pages, but I am fascinated by this statistic: When Classic FM came along, they attracted around 6/7 million listeners within a few years, but concert attendance in the UK remained about the same. This says, simply, that people love classical music, but that somehow the concerts are not as attractive as the music itself. In the light of this, I think that musicians have a responsibility to go out into the community to try and make music become more alive again – there can be no doubt that a concert has more exciting communicative potential than a CD, but somehow we’re getting it wrong. Similarly, the great shrieks and groans that come from the ‘establishment’ in the face of Vanessa Mae and the Bond Quartet – to me this just says that there are a huge number of people out there prepared to listen to classical instruments. There is
no doubt that the above mentioned musicians are not the best in their class, but then what are the best ones doing wrong in terms of how they communicate? Why are they not attracting the audiences?
For me the key is education; an interface between the performer and community that can inspire people, break down barriers, and expose the amazing riches of music without being stifled by dead rituals.
Workshops offered by Matthew Barley for professional musicians
For 15 years I’ve been developing a body of work to offer to professional musicians who wish to learn new skills and reach a broader spectrum of the community than is traditionally found in the concert hall. This has included workshops for the Philharmonia in London, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gürzenich Orchestra (Köln, Germany), Brussels Opera, Melbourne and Sydney Symphonies, Malaysian Philharmonic, Nyyd Emsemble (Estonia), Tampere Philharmonic (Finland), Sun City Ensemble (Japan), and for the Association of British Orchestras.
In this training, musicians are encouraged to reconnect with the reasons they became musicians. Most musicians decide to go into the profession as teenagers or children, and do so because of outstanding talent and a driving passion for the music. Yet all too often orchestral life’s pressures dull the sparkle of young talent and the passions that originally ignited the musician. Years of reading the music behind the stand with often too little rehearsal (especially in the UK), exhausting hours, performance-related stress, and sometimes boredom, make it hard to remember why one originally chose music.
Areas covered include:
– Playing and Musicianship Skills
– Workshop Skills
– Rhythmic skills
– Workshops structure
– Improvisation (free, modal, harmonic, solos)
– Warm ups
– Work with riffs and patterns
– Blueprints for the creative process
– Design, planning and organising
– Workshop composition techniques
– Philosophy of the work
This is a course in creative music-making – by which I mean creating music that is not written down. This music is partly directed, and partly improvised. I include a lot of exercises that build a strong working relationship between the members of the group, concentrating on rhythm. Improvisation is often considered to be a terrifying prospect by classically-trained musicians, and is approached in a way that is non-confrontational and musically rewarding.
This work IS NOT:
– rooted in a specific musical style.
– training classical musicians to become jazz musicians
– training performers to become teachers
This work IS:
– perfect for application in a variety of educational contexts
– Stimulating and hard work
– For the open-minded
– All about music.