Musical Journeys

Musical Journeys We’ve reached that very strange part of the academic year when the normal timetable has been so amended and re-amended it’s hard to work out which day of the week it is!  School exams have increased stress levels and reduced energy, and because of Exams, Trips, and Induction Days, few ensembles have the same pupils from week to week.  But this is what always happens in late June, so I dip into my bag of strategies. There is no point in attempting public concerts when a different lot of pupils is missing each week, so we go for informal playtogethers, using things with flexible instrumentation - like Folk Stringfest and Classic Stringfest - and revisiting books like Superduets 1, Superduets 2, and Dance Duets en masse. A big single instrument group often enjoys the challenge of playing through the whole of Bags of Tunes or Bags of Folk or Bags of American Folk in one go.

But the big ritual of the year is ‘Musical Journeys’. For those not already in groups, we pool several next-door lesson times. Pupils choose what they like from absolutely every stage of playing, and this often includes going right back to beginner favourites from Superstart. I am always amused by the number of times ‘Awkward Moments’ is chosen (as it’s basically just a scale), and ‘All mixed up’ (which is a disguised exercise in going from high 2 to low 2). It really is a ritual: one teenage pupil simply has to play ‘Monsieur Arbeau’s Sword Dance’ (although she learned it many, many years ago), and another must finish with ‘Ode to Joy’. Younger pupils usually insist on starting with ‘Eeney Meeney Miney Mo’ from Bags of Fun, and they usually want ‘Four snails lining up for a race’ and ‘Frogs having a high jump competition’ too.

Older teenagers also find it deeply reassuring to revisit their younger days, although it is often through rose-tinted spectacles.  “Oh, we always loved this!” they exclaim about pieces you know they inched through, bar by bar, with many a loud complaint. My oldest quartet (approaching the end of their time at school), still insists on playing through Quartetstart 1 and Quartetstart 2 at the end of every summer term, although normal fare includes Sibelius, Mozart, and Beethoven. Partly it’s because they enjoy the nostalgia, but they also recognise that there’s something special about playing simple pieces really well. “How did we take so long to learn this?” they marvel, as they notice that a movement they spent “forever” trying to master as nine-year olds lasts a mere forty five seconds! This is such an important lesson for life: all the hard work put in at the early stages pays off in the end, when the best kind of music making has the wonderful ability to give you a warm glow, sending you away feeling simultaneously relaxed and energised.

Part of the fun of planning for a Musical Journey session is getting pupils to contribute pictures to decorate a souvenir playlist. (I always carry coloured pencils and a small Art Pad in my bag to hand out in ‘spare hanging around moments’). Raina’s beautiful drawing is so evocative you can hear the music swirling along!