Tag Archives: Resources

From Our Street to Yours: Taking the Band Online

It was participating in an online music session for pre-schoolers which turned around Brian ‘Strat’ Strating and Lyndal Chambers’ thinking about playing and delivering instrumental music online.

“We were invited, us and our grandchildren, to participate in a family session for Drummond Street by Amanda Testro, and it was really interesting. We learned a lot being participants in that group. The fun thing was seeing all the little screens of people doing the same thing or people doing the actions to a song in their own remote locations. We all started off together and then slowly the kids began rambling around the lounge room, you know it’s kind of really interesting and fun to see everyone doing the same thing in different places and we learnt from that experience that things with actions work much better than trying to play music.”

There’s no getting away from it, the communal aspect of instrumental music making online can be dissatisfying for a number of reasons: you don’t have your external speakers cranked up; you don’t own external speakers, your own instrument sounds way louder than what’s coming into your room so there’s no hope of playing along with the facilitator because you’re struggling to actually hear the music itself.  And then there’s the unavoidable reality that in real life sessions, everybody’s bits go together to create a tune and while one person on their own might fumble and stumble over their part or lose the beat, it is everybody playing together in real time that makes everything work and is beautiful.

So how can we make the most of collective instrumental music-making opportunities during these times of physical distancing?  After all, they’re a great vehicle for checking in and hearing how everyone’s doing.

As highly experienced community music facilitators and musicians, this quandary is something Lyndal and Strat have spent many hours contemplating and experimenting with since COVID put an end to most of their other commitments – and income – overnight.

“As a practitioner delivering music online, you need to think about ‘how do I make it work, what’s the reason for doing community music online, and then if you decide to do it, how do I make it successful? Because, you know, if somebody really wants to learn a tune, they can sit in front of a video on YouTube, they can learn the tune slowly and repeat it as many times as they like.” But this isn’t fun, nor is it what brings it to life. We get together in groups because we want to be with other people.

Playing with the pre-schoolers led Lyndal to realise how dancing and responding to action songs works well online because it doesn’t matter if you’re hearing the tunes with lag, you can still do the actions. “At one point, Amanda said ‘go on kids go into the kitchen find your pots and pans’ and they all ran off eagerly to go and get their pots and wooden spoons, and so I ran off and got this big pan and wooden spoon! And when I went to play along, my pans were soooo loud, I couldn’t hear a thing from the computer! We learnt that not only can you not play in real time, you can’t even hear what’s going on unless you have some decent external speakers set up on your computer.”

What both Lyndal and Strat enjoyed most was the social aspect of participating in something in this way. “Our grandkids, all three of them – and one is only 18 months old – are in Blackwood and we are in Inverloch, and we are all watching Amanda’s show and we can all see each other!”

So the main purpose of all being online together is to maintain that social connection which we all need and seek out, and music is still that common thread.

“In our physical groups, music-making is a vehicle for us getting together and we can all play together which is just not possible with the technology that we have. At least not without phenomenal expertise and state of the art equipment. The reality we’re stuck with is we’re not going to be able to play real time music together in virtually any online context anytime soon because there’s such huge variability in everyone’s situation. There are barriers such as internet speeds, internet cabling. And some people don’t have a good, functioning computer with a good camera and good audio, some people don’t have internet at all, and some people are too old to wrestle with technology.”

The takeaway from their experience of online participatory music making has shown Lyndal and Strat the importance of identifying a clear purpose at the start of the online session, articulating this as a group and agreeing on an expectation of what everyone is trying to achieve together. “It’s the same as those values we use when we are face to face.”

Lyndal and Strat were recently invited by Aaron Silver to do a Virtual Bush Dance for the Turramurra community. “When we started trying to work out how to do it, we figured that we needed to actually get up and moving ourselves to get other people off their bums, so we did a practise, and videoed ourselves calling the dance and playing the music simultaneously, and it was hilarious.

“The bush dance worked really well but it took a lot of preparation. We had a dry run with around ten people before the session and discussed which settings were needed on Zoom, what settings people should change, and all the technical stuff. Even this was an opportunity for fun and reconnection, we were all laughing and talking to each other, so the social thing was happening even then. This small group of testers were able to say whether or not they could hear if Lyndal danced away from the computer, or when they stood away from their own computer.”

“When it came down to the actual event we were dancing and moving around at the same time as everyone else, we could still see the concert view on our computer and there was everybody dancing in their living rooms. Mark Jackson took a video of himself and Jane with us in the background on the telly and it was so hilarious, so funny!”

As part of Grantville Online (CMVic Music Camp 2020), Strat and Lyndal will be re-visiting this approach and facilitating a Virtual Street Band Parade! The tune is available and can be downloaded ahead of camp so that anyone preparing to play in the virtual street band will be familiar with it. Lyndal and Strat would like more than anything for this workshop to be about letting go, healing and having fun.

“We want it to be a lively thing, a joyful experience! We want it to be ridiculous, a coming-together and dressing up; a fooling around opportunity, a joyful, love-filled safe place!”

“We’ve recorded a multi-track tune ourselves so that there are lots of parts. On the day, we’ll press ‘play’ and everyone will be able to hear the pre-recorded piece of street band music which they’ve also been learning and it will have the counting, and everybody can play along on mute, or sing, or dance or even just mime! And they won’t just be playing on their own, they will actually be playing and singing along to a full band sound in their lounge room, bedroom or study or wherever they might be, or even outside on the veranda! Our aim is to light up the screen with participation.”

DSC_1569
The Virtual Street Band Parade will be about dressing up, getting together and having fun!

In considering the transitioning of their leadership skills into the virtual space, Lyndal is reflective about the challenges of maintaining diversity and inclusion.

“Thinking about the values, this idea of ‘from one to many’ is not my ideal for community music making, I think that’s a real stumbling block for me. In a real-life situation, there may be a nominal leader or a leadership team, and you’re allowing everybody’s voice to contribute ideas to the circle and they feel invested. When you have an online platform there’s one person is sitting in front of the computer directing the actions and everyone’s speakers are on mute, its completely the antithesis of the kind of ideal for me of a democratic community music group…”

Strat agrees, “I think it’s impossible in the online setting, so yeah that’s a great challenge, and the other thing is the thinking that if your normal session goes for an hour, have an hour online. You absolutely cannot! With the bush dance, we would usually go through something like that twelve times, whereas online we went through it just three. The elements that are most important are dancing and movement and linking up and having a great time.”

“Enabling people to do their own dressing up and their own dancing allows them to participate as much or as little as they can, or want to or feel able to, while still contributing. And if we can record it, which I know is possible, there will be this amazing collage of everyone doing their own thing in their own way and interpreting it somehow in a way that’s personal to them.”

“And, because you’ll be muted if you have always wanted to play the trumpet in a street band but don’t actually play the trumpet – now’s the time! If you’ve got a trumpet, pick it up and be able to play without any bum notes, straight off the bat!  This one of the advantages of the virtual street band; anything goes. There are no limits!”

“Oh my gosh” says Lyndal, “The No Limits Street Band…

Grantville Online (CMVic Music Camp 2020) runs May 29-30. It’s a free event and registrations are now open!  To register for the Virtual Street Band Parade, click here.

Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria in conversation with Lyndal Chambers and Brian Strating.

Serenading Adela: Community street opera celebrates choral activism & the Australian anti-conscription movement

One hundred years ago, Australians voted not once but twice against conscription, on October 28th 1916 and again on 20 December 1917 in referendums called by the Prime minister, Billy Hughes. The referendums bitterly divided the nation, with pro-conscription and anti-conscription campaigners spreading their messages in speeches, songs, huge public meetings, articles, and rallies.

An ardent advocate for peace at this time was a young woman named Adela Pankhurst. Adela was banished to Australia by her mother, the famous suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, who as a supporter of Britain’s role in WW1 was vehemently and unforgivingly opposed to the views of her daughter.

Dispatched on a one-way ticket down under, Adela continued her work as an activist and leader in the anti-conscription movement. As 1917 drew to a close, she was arrested following a women’s anti-war march in Melbourne and sent to Pentridge Prison in Coburg.  On the evening of January 7, 1918, a group of Adela’s supporters met together outside of the women’s prison to serenade her over the walls.

According to newspaper reports from the time, the group ‘from 40 to 60 persons, understood to be Socialists, and a majority of them women’ sang together in a bid to raise Adela’s spirits and to pledge their solidarity and support. Singing Solidarity for Ever, The Red Flag and We’ll keep Australia Free,  “salvos of cheers repeated again and again and the whole gathering at a given signal joined in a coo-ee…” By the time the police arrived, the mob had grown to around 300.

newspaper-clipping-pankhurst-serenade
Source: Brunswick Coburg Anti-Conscription Centenary

To commemorate the centenary of this event, singers and community musicians will again take their voices and music to the street in January as part of Serenading Adela, a street opera written to tell the story of the widespread campaign for peace so under-represented in commemorations of the period,  with specific focus on the moving story of the singing mob who serenaded Adela that night.

On January 72018,  a one off performance of Serenading Adela will begin with a musical march through Coburg, culminating in a mass sing and performance outside Pentridge Prison: a musical echo and re-enactment of a moment in time as well as a testament to the life, courage and inspiring legacy of Adela, anti-war activism and the anti-conscription movement in Australia.

unnamed-1Community choirs, individual singers and instrumentalists everywhere are invited to join the mass choir or street band and be a part of Serenading Adela. Participation is free, anyone is welcome and no prior singing experience is needed. (See end of article for registration info.)

The project is an outcome of the work of the Brunswick Coburg Anti-Conscription Centenary, formed in the Northern suburbs a couple of years ago to record, remember and commemorate the successful anti-conscription campaigns of WW1.

“We’re writing this to tell the story of Adela, in solidarity with Adela but also to encourage people in these times to use singing as a form of protest…choral activism, just as they did 100 years ago.”

With funding from Creative Victoria a small team have been organising and planning January’s event, including Community Music Activist Jeannie Marsh who is the artistic director, Brunswick based Nancy Atkin, Emily Hayes, Dave Evans, and singer/actor Lisa-Marie Parker (playing Adela).

In writing for Adela, Jeannie has read articles written by women who were vehement in their opposition to conscription and the Great War, and has also spent a swathe of time acquainting herself further with the character of Adela Pankhurst, scouring antique books and researching to give a depth to the musical portrayal of her character:

“She was a fearless ball of energy and apparently a riveting public speaker who drew people to her. There are records of 30,000 people turning up to peace rallies held on the banks of the Yarra… Adela was brought up in this radical family but then expelled by Emmeline from the suffragette family for being too radical. On moving to Melbourne, Adela was taken under the wing of Vida Goldstein and embraced by her pacifist tribe. This street opera is dedicated to singing the story of Adela’s life, and the story of these activists, and keeping it alive.”

Last year as a prelude to the street opera, Community Choir leader and composer, Stephen Taberner, wrote a hauntingly beautiful choral song called ‘Ghosts don’t Lie’. The song was inspired by two workshops held in 2016 for local people in Brunswick and Coburg to share memories of the way wars and conscription have impacted and reverberated through the lives and course of their families and its lasting effects.

Ghosts Don’t lie is comprised of four verses each telling a different story. The song was premiered at the Boite Singers Festival in January 2017 where it was hailed as beautiful and moving work, and will now form a component of Serenading Adela.

Rehearsals for the main choir will start at 3pm on Sunday 3rd September led by Jeannie Marsh, and Brunswick Rogues choir leader Emily Hayes or, for anyone pressed for time there’s the option of waiting until December and joining as a member of the ‘Unruly Mob’. The Victorian Trade Union Choir are already committed to the project, as well as the fifty people who formed the Serenading Adela Choir to sing Ghosts Don’t Lie.

In Serenading Adela the past will be palpable and spines will tingle as words and recollections of one hundred years previous are sung into the ether of Brunswick and Coburg by community music activists in celebration of the legacy of Adela Pankhurst and her comrades, and with ongoing hope for peace in the world.

Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria with Jeannie Marsh.

  • TAKE PART in Serenading Adela by making a (free) booking here 
  • For information about rehearsals for Serenading Adela, click here
  • Click here for Ghosts don’t lie: resources to help learn the song written by Stephen Taberner.

 

 

 

 

 

Sing out and take a stand against domestic violence

White ribbon

Back in April, an invitation was sent to community choirs to unite and sing up at a ‘pioneering choral event’ called You’re the Voice, an element of the 2017 Queensland Music Festival dedicated to highlighting the persistent problem of domestic violence across Australia and building awareness in a bid to ‘turn the tide’ and support positive change.

youre_the_voice
image from Queensland Music Festival 2017

The project, directed by Dr Jonathan Welch, has received high profile support* from singers including Archie Roach, Kate Ceberano, and Katie Noonan, who is also the festival’s artistic director.

On July 29, 2500 community singers participating in You’re the Voice will congregate in Brisbane, joined by other community choirs and singing groups from around the country via live stream and social media, to deliver their powerful message, singing John Farnham’s song of the same name.

Closer to home and in response to news of the project, Vivienne Colegrove, a singer songwriter from the community music network here in Victoria got in touch, offering to share a song she had written about domestic violence with any other community singing groups and choirs wishing to address the issue, also:

Hi CMVic folk,
following on from your post on FB re Katie Noonan’s call for choirs to sing out against domestic violence, I have a song that I am happy for choirs to use if they wish (just to acknowledge me as the composer obviously!) Here is a (strictly rehearsal-only quality) mp3 recording and pdf score for choir facilitators – please feel free to pass on to anyone who may wish to use it. Free to a good home!
Warm regards – Vivienne Colegrove

‘White Ribbon Anthem’ by Vivienne Colegrove

It’s time to sing out it’s time to speak out
It’s time to shout out we’re making change
We stand together we stand united
It’s time to sing out we’re making change

No more silence about the violence
No more looking the other way
Join our chorus Sing together
Sing as one voice we’re making change

Safe for women safe for children
Safe for men of any age
Safe for my mother safe for my brother
Safe for each other let’s turn the page

(chorus)

Make it change now we’re making change now
Change is what we say and do
Let’s make change now let’s do change right now
Change is me and change is you

(chorus) x 2

Vivienne says “I was inspired to write this song because I feel excited about the power of singing together as a community to bring about the positive changes we want in our world. Music, and especially singing, is such an inspiring, unifying way to invite transformation and change. I have a vision of hundreds, thousands of voices lifted together in song as a heartfelt invitation to create a safe world together for us all.”

Vivienne’s words echo those of Katie Noonan who, when speaking of the potentially transformative power of You’re the Voice said,  “We can sing together for those whose voices have been silenced by fear… I believe that art and music have the power for significant change and that musicians and art have a responsibility to respond to, and reflect on, our society and the things we can do to create change.”

Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria with massive thanks to Vivienne Colegrove.

Download the lyrics to White Ribbon here & the mp3 of White Ribbon here 

*Archie Roach, Troy Cassar-Daley, Montaigne, Katie Noonan, Kate Ceberano and Isaiah  have collaborated to re-record ‘You’re the Voice’ as a charity single to raise funds to support young people who are victims of domestic violence. To purchase the single, click here. (All proceeds will be donated to DVConnect.)

References:

Support Services for anyone living with Domestic and Family abuse:

 

The Countdown to Count Us In, is on!

Do you know any school aged children? Do you teach school aged children? If you love a chance to sing with your fledgling and older song birds whilst advocating for the value of music and music education in all schools, this year’s Music: Count Us In program might be just the ticket. On Thursday November 2nd at 12.30pm AEDT, more than half a million children across the country will put down their pens to sing up in ‘a celebration of music and music education.’

MA illustrations final selection-educationMusic: Count Us In (MCUI) is a free program conceived and run by Music Australia to celebrate and advocate for music in Australian schools. Now in its eleventh year, it’s a way for students and teachers to develop their skills as they learn and rehearse a specially written song over several months to be sung at the same time on the same day. Music Australia describe it as ‘the song that stops a nation’ and last year it engaged over 600,000 children from more than 2,500 schools.

While it is recognised that exposure to music in schools enhances student engagement and wellbeing, improves learning and promotes personal and social development, less than a quarter of government schools across Australia are currently able to provide a comprehensive music education.

The MCUI program is one way for children of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to access free music education and delivers professional music development and learning resources directly to classroom teachers. This year the professional development sessions will be streamed live for greater outreach to teachers in remote, rural and regional areas.

And there’s more good news. Research based on the participation of schools in previous years indicates that involvement in the program leads to greater recognition of the benefit of music education, within those schools.

 “Generalist teachers develop increased confidence and skills, and specialist teachers use the program as an opportunity to bring the whole school together to celebrate music. Participating in Music: Count Us In is also a great way for schools to engage with their local community, seek local media coverage, advocate directly to their Government representatives and create opportunities to showcase talented and dedicated students and teachers. More students might put their hands up to join existing choirs and music ensembles, Principals might decide to allocate more time and resources to music, teachers might offer more regular music classes per week ….There are so many ways to bring more music into students lives. Music: Count Us In is just the beginning!” Music Australia

A new song is written each year by a selection of school children in collaboration with a ‘music mentor’. This year, the music mentor is singer songwriter  Taylor Henderson who will be working with five students from Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria together with the MCUI program ambassador John Foreman OAM. The song and the teaching resources pack will be good to go in July.

MCUI is open to all schools from early childhood through to high school, in both the government and private sectors. If you are interested in registering or if you’d like to encourage somebody else to, more information can be found here.

The more kids who take part, the more powerful the message to the powers that be about the value and importance of a decent music education for all school aged children.

Deb Carveth: online editor for Community Music Victoria

Ideas for Community Music Group Leaders, from Belinda McArdle

150812singingldrshipSeveral community music makers and group leaders gathered at Commonground for peer exchange last weekend. I arrived late and left early and am in no position to summarise the weekend but I write to contribute to the network the ideas that captured my attention while there, in the hope they may be useful to others.

Having facilitated many CMVic weekends over the last ten years it was refreshing to be a participant and to be so warmly welcomed, encouraged, supported, inspired, challenged and heard.

It was wonderful to step away from my own busy life to engage in the wider discussion of values and music making even if only for 5 hours. I left with soup in my being, songs recorded on my phone, a copy of Jane Coker’s fabulous new resource ‘Just Sing’, some plans to song swap on line, fabulous group exercises and warm ups and some hearty food for thought.

The afternoon workshop, mutually devised and well facilitated by Strat and Aaron, challenged us to check in with our values and the notion of inclusivity.

Various exercises drew out philosophical arguments, practical tips and everything in between.

I summarise here what I remember, having handed in my notes to CMVic. The topic was what can we as music making leaders/an organisation keep doing, stop doing and start doing in relation to inclusivity.

include in our leadership our own passion for music making. We may think this is implicit, but all of a sudden notice we have been putting admin before playing, we have been playing it safe in our leadership and not taking risks or simply not playing enough ourselves. So, my ideas and resolutions on this topic are:

  • to ensure I am singing and playing for fun outside of my leadership
  • try some more impro games
  • keep including my own original material as well as a courageous cross section and allow my excitement to grow and be shared

Implicitly and explicitly create a culture of belonging. We value welcoming people to our groups and we discussed the value of every member feeling they are a welcomer and part of the hospitality. We discussed allowing people to opportunity to leave or to feed back when a group isn’t the right vibe for them. We talked about remembering to speak openly about WHY we are welcoming from time to time and we touched on feeling we belong ourselves. So, my take on this for my own practise is:

  • to continue to welcome newcomers individually and ask them to share with me after how welcome they felt
  • to continue to foster a culture of belonging by asking people to welcome people around them at the start of the session
  • ensure I feel included by sharing with the group that I would prefer not to leave alone in the dark at nights and ask them to share staying back with me.

Of course the discussion was richer and broader but they were my standard tips personally. Other big and little resolutions I took away were:

  • I purchased a copy of Search and Reflect by John Stevens based on the workshop Jane Coker delivered
  • I will be gathering my group at start/after session with either a hum or a clapping exercises
  • I used to ask participants to bring their instrument on last week of term and then run 3 chord song so it was accessible and interesting in a different way. I need to start that again.
  • Go to more CMVic events
  • Use the microphone in Facebook Messenger to send little voice files to other leaders and receive them back.
  • Contribute more to the blog/wider discussion so I can hear what others are doing and be reminded of our very important differences that keep us interesting.

I enjoy sharing what I have and know and think and am open to emails from other leaders and the exchange of ideas, songs and challenges. Conctact: Belinda@acabellas.net.au http://www.acabellas.net.au

Belinda McArdle

Learning to play music and deal with hearing loss: Part Two

hearinglosspart2

**This is the second part  of Shirley’s story. Read as she explains the strategies and methods she has adopted to compensate for her hearing loss, which have enabled her to continue learning and playing  music.  It’s an inspiring read and a testimony to sheer determination. Read part one here.

By Shirley Allott

I watched others playing harps, read harp books, looked online, and practiced and got used to the sound and vibrations.  I also found a harp teacher who helped me to understand harp technique, playing chords, and rhythm.

I wanted to play music with others but I found sessions difficult as it is difficult for me to recognise and distinguish pitch. There were only occasionally other harps I could watch at the sessions I went to, so I needed to find other strategies. I could read music but I understood very little music theory. I needed to know how chords worked so I read and studied everything I could in books and online and I learnt how to play chords and I learnt which chords are used in each key and how these are played on guitar so I could watch the guitars. I came to recognise changes in vibration and tone within chord changes.

I found out about Community Music Victoria not long after I started playing the harp and this has really been helpful. Through Community Music Victoria, (CMVic) I learnt new ways of learning music and I gained confidence. I met so many people with different skills and experiences.

Rhythm has always been difficult for me.   Before I started going to CMVic events I tried using a metronome for rhythm and I tried an app on my iPad with a flashing light. Both needed concentration and I couldn’t play while trying to hear a tick or watch a flashing light.

Shirley and her harp at Treetops 2015
Shirley and her harp at Treetops 2015

At CMVic events I realised I needed to feel rhythm. Marimbas were so helpful. I didn’t play one, but I realised I could feel rhythm as well as pitch through their vibration. I love having marimbas, drums or a double bass at a music gathering because I can feel the beat so well.

I have found that learning tunes can be a challenge as I learn by eye, and the feel of the tune, but not by ear.  Music notation for me is easiest but it is not always available.

Through going to CMVic events I have learnt there are other ways of writing down a tune – letters or a chord list on a piece of paper or on a white or black board. Sometimes another person writes down an outline of a tune and I copy it.

Technology is also helpful. I can photograph a tune on a board and I can make a film clip of finger movements on a harp with my iPad.  I can later play it back, slow the film down and watch as strings are plucked.  I can also record a tune with an app which will give me an outline of the notation.   Once I know how a tune goes and have played it a few times, I can play it without any notation, but not always as it is usually played.

I continue to watch others and feel vibration and rhythm and if I know what is in the music, I can adjust what I do.

I am also learning to record a tune on my iPhone or iPad and play it back using my hearing loop which delivers the sound directly to my hearing aids. I am still exploring what I can do with this technology. I have a streamer with my new hearing aids but I still need to explore the possibilities with this. I have recently completed therapeutic harp training with international harp therapy campus in the USA. I researched the harp and palliative care after my mother’s death and I found the international harp therapy campus with Christina Tourin. I learnt that as well as having a clear tone, the vibration of the harp is important in therapy.

If you are experiencing hearing loss Deafness Forum of Australia has a useful list of contacts, organisations and resources which may be of use to you.

Why I love Marimbas

Great instruments for community music-making

by Heather McLaughlin

MARIMBA

I have been a keen fan of homemade marimbas since the very first community-built instrument was made in Australia, at a family music conference in Melbourne in 1991. As I now come to the end of my teaching career in schools, I’ve realised that the absolute favourite part of my job in recent years has been getting kids and adults playing marimbas (often along with xylophone and other melodic percussion). I also really enjoy helping people to make marimbas, and a one-day working bee with a group of families can result in an instrument that will last for years. For adults in the community they are a perfect step into playing music in groups. (One of my most satisfying workshop sessions was getting some novice 90 year old men playing marimbas.)

In the early 1990s, Jon Madin and Andy Rigby began what is now an international movement by adapting the marimba-making model Andy had learnt about in Botswana. Ever since then, playing marimbas, encouraging others to play them, and making them with school and community groups has been a big part of my life.

Some of the instruments I have been using in schools recently were made in the early 1990s and are still going strong – with perhaps a few bars replaced over that time, and a bit of re-tuning every few years.

What’s so magical about Marimbas?

  • Lots of things!  They are so big, you can make them yourself, they are made of lovely wood, they can be played by anyone, they always sound good, and you can play with your friends! Someone can play just a two note bass and others can add in other patterns and it will sound good. Or you can play more complicated things like the “Can Can” which is great fun. All levels, all ages.
  • I just love the sound of a room full of marimbas booming away, whether it’s school kids or top-level musicians or a mix of all ages or beginner adults.
  • Anyone can sound good on a marimba within ten minutes.
  • With carefully selected pieces, even a new group of players can sound terrific in fifteen.
  • Marimba playing = Immediate gratification!

In schools    PPSperf2012

As a foundation to a classroom set of xylophones and other percussion, they have now become common in music programmes, especially in the Australian states where music specialists are regular members of staff in primary schools (Victoria, Queensland etc). Ideally they are the Jon Madin design and have been made by parents and children at the same school, for feelings of ownership and empowerment.

Carl Orff, a German composer and music educator, inspired an approach to learning music that encouraged playing  and singing as a group, integrating music and movement or dance, and used instruments that were easy to play.

The set of instruments used in an Orff-inspired music programme is called the ‘instrumentarium’ and usually consists of ‘melodic percussion’ or barred instruments:  xylophones (wooden bars), glockenspiels (the little high-pitched metal ones), and metallophones (larger, lower-pitched metal ones), Percussion instruments such as drums and wood blocks, and recorders, are also part of the ‘Orff Instrumentarium’. Marimbas are an ideal addition to this collection, and are common in primary schools around Victoria. One of the enormous bass marimbas added in gives great ‘oomph’ to the music and is always popular with students.

The Victorian Orff Schulwerk Association (VOSA) runs lots of workshops and other events for teachers and other adults interested in music and/or working with children. Carl Orff also emphasized improvisation, and marimbas and percussion.

Marimbas:90yr oldMarimba

  • sound great, look impressive
  • are really satisfying to build (for $300 or less)
  • are perfect for schools and community music-making
  • improvising is easy, with a visual aspect
  • are good for people with varied musical background
  • can be used for quick group music
  • are a non-threatening introduction to instrumental music
  • are ideal for social interaction.

The large size and physical nature of the marimbas make them appealing, especially to older students and adults, and they give a good bass to the other instruments.

Ideas that work

Many of the musical pieces Jon Madin and others have developed over the last twenty years have a quite simple bass line – often only a few notes – and use similar ideas to those developed by composer and music educator Carl Orff after his interest in African and Indonesian traditional music:

  • repeated patterns or ostinatiHeatherClose-upMarimba
  • segments that are visually and aurally separate
  • sometimes removal of some of the notes to make patterns easier
  • familiar tunes (from the Pachelbel Canon to Hell and Toe)
  • catchy rhythms can emphasise the percussive nature of marimbas
  • a small number of notes
  • avoiding big jumps
  • songs which tell players which letters to use

By combining a simple bass with a middle part which is not too difficult, and perhaps a more complex top part or melody which is fairly quick to learn, groups of novice musicians can be led to group music-making that is immediately satisfying.

Jon Madin’s “Boris the Bassman” has been a great favourite for 20 years because it incorporates these elements.

Community Marimba Playing

There are regular events where you can play marimbas.  Weekends such as Community Music Victoria’s Treetops Music Camp, Turramurra Bush Music Camp, Roses Gap/Charnwood Folk Camp, and the monthly playing sessions in West Heidelberg (HeidyMarimba) all offer opportunities for everyone to try these instruments.

You’ll see them at some festivals. Look out for Jon Madin and his marimbas (plus all those other surprising instruments such as Musical Bikes and DingBoxes). Andy Rigby may be there with some marimbas as well as harps or flutes of various types. The annual Melbourne Wood Show has a stand where you can see an instrument being made, and try them out. In Geelong, and at the Port Fairy Folk Festival, you may see the Tate Street Primary group playing. Maybe your local primary school has a couple.

Marimbas are all around, especially in Victoria – hooray!

Want to know more? Want to play? Want to make one? Contact CMVic or like Marimba Victoria on Facebook

Resources

Jon Madin: Make Your Own Marimbas ; Jon Madin: Marimba Music 1 etc. (Four books/CDs of pieces and songs);

Walt Hampton Hot Marimba

Gerard van der Geer Marimbamania

Andy Rigby Marimba!

Click here for Jon Madin’s website

Video clips:

Joseph Bromley with ukes and marimbas in Wangaratta, Spanish Harlem

Dani Rocca’s session at CMVic Tune Up 2012 – “Banuwa”

Jon Madin’s “Rocking Dogs” – NSW Small Schools Marimba group

2012 Tune Up  session with Heather McLaughlin

Joseph Bromley with Morricone at Treetops: