Category Archives: Blog

Hungarian Study Tour – First Thing Music Report

“It was a very interesting and disparate group that assembled ready to catch the bus every morning of the week. People from Singapore, Russia, Philadelphia… not just UK acolytes by any means, but all of them with a passion for the strengths of Kodaly-based music teaching. My tour companion was Susan Robertson, the Manager of Tees Valley Music Service, who was curious as I was about what we might learn.

There was certainly some excellent and impressive teaching, starting for me on the Monday morning, with the Kindergarten teacher whose 45 minute session we observed with twenty 3-5 year old children. The children were drawn into the songs and games – they were able to play in other ways if they wanted to – in the play kitchen; at the tables with craft equipment (paper, glue, textiles etc.); in the den; on the carpet with soft toys etc, but nearly all the time, the children were unable to resist the attraction of the inclusive musical games. Sometimes the teacher  used a puppet to create a narrative; sometimes the children recognised the songs and wanted to play the games they knew went with them. Forty-five minutes can be a long time to sustain the voluntary interest of 3 year old children, but there was no pressure involved to keep most of the group engaged for most of the time. The atmosphere was relaxed but lively.

During a group conversation with the teacher after the session, over coffee and various tasty snacks, we learned that this teacher had had daily singing input during her training on leading music with young children, and had to be able to demonstrate both singing and instrumental ability in order to gain the post as a Kindergarten teacher, as well as a thorough grounding in child development and pedagogy.

In the afternoon, Helga Dietrich ( a well-known exponent of Kodaly practice in the Early Years in Hungary), presented a workshop, drawing elements of best practice from her own vast experience, and true to Kodaly methods, getting us to experience them for ourselves.

This was then followed by a stunning demonstration of the power of musical leadership to create an atmosphere of fun, drama, finesse and precision around very young children, (roughly 0-3 yrs). The musical co-operation of the adults in the group was impressively driven by Vicktoria Gal, but the joyous smiles on all the faces of the participants belied the concentration. For the children there was bouncing, a tickling, a sense of beat coming out of the singing narratives, squealing anticipation of their favourite bits of familiar songs etc, but in the parents there was such a group focus it was spell-binding – music making at its most social, but precise – obviously deeply satisfying for all concerned. It was interesting to note that, apart from the Hungarian lute-like Cobza occasionally used by Viktoria to create atmosphere or introduce a song, there were no other instruments handed out to the group – the focus was entirely on the music created by their voices and bodies. No time wasted on clutter!

Over the following days, we were treated to observations of music lessons from 1st Grade, (6 yrs) to 9th grade, (14 yrs). It was fascinating to see how the progression worked itself out, from the introduction of simple rhythms over a steady beat, and a developing sense of pitch from higher/lower, right through to sight-reading Bach and Vivaldi in solfa at impressive speeds, and sight-singing duets from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas on request – something that degree level students might struggle with here!

What was common to nearly all the sessions was the enormous sense of fun and group involvement. Every child seemed to have confidence in their own voice, and their own ability to work round a challenge, (from describing the pattern of a melody in the air while listening with their eyes closed, to writing up aspects of musical notation on the class whiteboard), through the support of the musical group environment. There was usually a sense of a story, an emotional context in which the singing music would be introduced, whether by trying to find the puppet heroine somewhere in the classroom first, or through the teacher describing what their Mum used to sing to them when they were afraid of the dark…it was always a social sharing and interactive process – not really feeling like a subject being studied as such.

Having said that, the progressive accumulation of theoretical knowledge gained through this approach meant that children seemed as able to read music as they were to read words on the page, and to increasingly understand the devices being used to make the music express what it did – beats and rhythms, melody shape, certainly, but also shades of dynamic colour, altering mode by changing mode etc. – the sort of thing that English music students might only encounter in secondary school, and by then probably without being able to ‘read’ the language.

So, what lessons can be learned from this – what aspects of the musical approach in these Hungarian schools could be made relevant to English schools?

At the very least, a child could attend a general primary school that would offer two 45 minute music session per week. Then there are ‘singing schools’ and also schools with a maths specialism and schools with a science specialism if one wanted to attend a singing school, there would be 4 weekly music sessions, plus one extra-curricular activities such as being in a choir, or instrumental lessons, but a child would need to audition in order to get a place. The state education would remain free, (except in the case of instrumental lesson, which involve a nominal charge of £20 for the year). Children in the 1st Grade are making these choices – much younger than such options are offered to English children. Parents who had attended singing schools themselves tend to aim for the same for their children, not only in the hope that the children would become pr4ofessional musicians, (only a tiny percentage of students went on to do this), but because of the percieved overall benefits for child development. (Not unlike the ambition some parents have to get their children into grammar schools in the UK.

Kodaly himself founded two of these schools – the Kodaly Schools in Budapest, and in Kecskemet.

However, reports were that the access to this kind of specialism is shrinking. Where there 167 singing schools a few years ago, now those numbers have nearly halved, and the trainees aren’t coming through.

If the benefits are so plain to the observer in the classroom, then why is this decline happening? Is music the only part of the curriculum to be suffereing in this way? Is this part of a wider focus on STEM subjects across Europe? Or is it down to budget restrictions? At this point, let’s look at the UK again:

In 2011, Feversham Primary in Bradford was 3.2 percentage points behind the national average in English and 2.4 points behind the national average in maths. This year 74% of pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, against a national average of 53%.

The Minister of State for School Standards, Nick Gibb, has just written to congratulate them on becoming part of the top 2% performi9ng schools in the country. A large part of what has turned the school around is the introduction of 4 hours curriculum time a week for music, plus an optional extra two hours for extra-curricular musical activity. The music is being led by Kodaly-enthusiast Jimmy Rotherham, backed up by a committed leadership team.

This sounds very like what is currently accessible in the Hungarian education system, particularly in specialist schools, but which seems to be under threat. Can we afford to ignore the evidence, both in Hungary and in the UK.

There is much to think about, especially in the context of the joint Education Endowment Foundation and Royal Society of Arts funding for Thirst Thing Music, aiming to investigate the impact of daily musical activity in Year One, based on a Kodaly approach. With the input from top practitioners, like the BKA’s Zoe Greenhalgh and Lucinda Geoghegan, teamed with open-minded support and keen interest from Tees Valley Music Service, can we help to put much back where it belongs – arguably right at the centre of child development, if not general human social cohesion? Will we then see a rise in UK schools of the confidence, focus, creativity and playful group cooperation that I witnessed in those Hungarian schools?

It’s certainly worth our best shot!”

– Lindsay Ibbotson, 01/05/18

 

Why Do Pianos Have 88 Keys?

A standard piano has 88 keys: 52 white and 36 black. But who decided this number would be the standard? And perhaps most importantly, why?

To answer both these questions we must look to the past. To when the first piano was invented, by Bartolomeo Cristofori around the year 1700.  The Italian instrument technician decided it was time to update the restrictive harpsichord, the ancient ancestor of the piano, in favour of a new keyboard instrument which would be equipped with a hammer mechanism.

After Cristofori’s invention, composers started writing more and more music for the newly named ‘pianoforte’ instrument. But the instrument’s four-octave range (retaining the 66 keys from the harpischord) was limiting, with composers being confined to writing music that stuck within the four octave range. As a result, piano manufactuers designed new pianos with more keys, so that composers like Haydn and Mozart could write more interesting material with a wider range.

By the time composers such as Chopin and Liszt were righting music in the mid 1800s, pianos had up to seven octaves. But it wasn’t until the late 1880s before piano manufacturer Steinway created the 88-key piano. Other manufacturers followed suit, adding slight variations and enhancements but Steinway’s model has been the standard ever since.

Picture of Steinway's Grand Piano

Steinway’s Grand Piano from 1935

An 88-key piano has seven octaves plus three lower notes (B, B flat and A) below the bottom C. It has 52 white keys and 36 black keys (sharps and flats), with each octave made up of seven white keys and five black keys.

So, (you may be asking) why did manufactures stop at 88 keys? Well, today’s composers usually write piano music that fits within the range of an 88 key model. Most piano makers also accept this as the limit as anything outside of this range is considered too high or low for the human ear. There are however exceptions, for instance a Stuart and Sons piano held a staggering 102 keys. These pianos are rare and, unsurprisingly, are very expensive with valuations reaching as much as $300,000 USD (£226,000).

 

TVYO 50th Anniversary Tour – UPDATE

It’s the announcement you’ve all been waiting for! Tees Valley Music Service are absolutely delighted and very excited to be able to officially launch our special tour for next July (Monday 8th – Sunday 14th July 2019) to New York City, USA. The centerpiece of the tour is a full-length performance at the world-famous Carnegie Hall on Thursday 11th July 2019. This most definitely falls into the category of “once-in-a-lifetime” for the Orchestra and its members.

Not only that, but we have been able to secure a fantastic price for a full-length 5-night tour, so we will be able to experience the sights and sounds of the city that never sleeps. The hotel that’s been booked is right in the heart of Manhattan, none other than Times Square itself! TVYO have never toured outside mainland Europe so this tour will really be something special.

A welcome letter, detailing essential information regarding cost, dates and a payment plan, has been sent out to all existing members of the Youth Orchestra. We plan to extend the offer of enrollment onto this tour to past members of TVYO as this tour will take place in the Orchestra’s 50th year.

We have worked hard and obtained substantial research in an effort to provide our musicians with the lowest cost possible so that the tour is open to every member of the Orchestra and we feel confident that the price of the tour reflects this. The cost is £1295 in total, based on having a viable and well-balanced orchestra to produce a suitable standard that the venue demands. to ensure we reach this standard, a compulsory rehearsal weekend will take place beforehand.

TVMS hope to take everyone in the Orchestra so in order to secure a place we need the form that’s attached to the letter all TVYO members have been given to be returned to TVMS by Wednesday 6th June at the very latest. In order for the tour to go ahead it is necessary for members to make a firm commitment now by sending a non-returnable deposit (unless the tour has to be cancelled) of £150 made payable to “Stockton Borough Council” along with the form. Tour payments will be broken into 6 monthly installments of £143 to be paid on the 15th of each month starting in July 2018 with the final installment of £144 to be made on the 15th February 2019. To discuss a different payment schedule in exceptional circumstances contact TVMS.

TVYO performing at the Royal Opera House.

TVYO have performed both nationally and internationally in prestigious concert venues.

If you have not received the official letter and your’re a member of TVYO please contact Nicholas Nowicki.

This is a fantastic opportunity for TVYO to experience what it’s like to perform at the very highest and most prestigious level whilst being cultural tourists and ambassadors for the region.

More information on this tour will be made available in the coming months so stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages and on our this website for further updates.

  

National Youth Orchestra 2019 – Audition Now!

The world’s greatest orchestra of teenagers is recruiting committed musicians from across the country to audition to be part of the National Youth Orchestra (NYO) in 2019 and take their music making to the highest level.

Teenagers performing in NYO

‘NYO is just awesome. All of it. The people, the concerts, the passion and the joy and excitement of the courses’ – Laurence, Trombone, NYO

The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain comprises of 164 musicians aged 13-19 years old, from a variety of backgrounds and from every corner of the UK. They welcome applications from teenage musicians who play to Grade 8 distinction or equivalent standards, have a passion for orchestral music, a taste for adventure and great team spirit.

NYO are also recruiting teenage composers for a year of immersion in orchestral and creative opportunities, and teenage pianists to develop their orchestral keyboard playing.

Auditions are FREE, located across the country and bursaries are available to cover the full cost of being in NYO, including travel to auditions. The audition experience is positive, friendly and constructive and all auditionees  will receive a workshop and written feedback. Audition candidates will also have the opportunity to become a young music leader and share their skills with other committed musicians through NYO Inspire – offering breakthrough orchestral experiences to teenagers of all backgrounds.

Logo of National Youth Orchestra

The National Youth Orchestra are looking for new members.

Being part of NYO is a fantastic opportunity for young musicians to take their music making to the highest level. They will work with world-class tutors and conductors, play in the UK’s greatest concert halls and forge lifelong friendships with like-minded musicians.

Visit the National Youth Orchestra website to learn more about auditions, bursaries and advice from NYO musicians and tutors.

NYO is especially looking for talented young musicians in the North East of England to take part in the orchestra so if you are considering auditioning for the Youth Orchestra visit the website now!

 

Rita Ora To Headline New Music Festival In Middlesbrough

Rita Ora is set to headline a brand new festival taking place in Middlesbrough’s Stewart Park this summer! The singer will take to the stage on Friday 24th August at the Endeavour Festival.

Rita Ora

Rita Ora will front-line a major music event in Middlesbrough later this year.

The Endeavour Festival is being brought to Middlesbrough by South East Live (SEL) – a five year old events management company, which specialises in large scale events such as live open air concerts, music festivals and food and drink events. Since its founding, SEL have hosted events that have included big name acts like Madness, Louisa Johnson and Chas and Dave. Louisa Johnson herself is also expected to perform at the Endeavour Festival.

The company have hinted that if the Endeavour Festival is successful, it could prove to be an annual event.

Mick Thompson, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive Member for Culture and Communities said: “We’re delighted by the news about about the Rita Ora concert in Stewart Park has now been made public and we hope this is an event people can get excited about”.

Speaking of Middlesbrough Council’s commitment of strengthening local communities, Mr Thompson said: “We [Middlesbrough Council] have big ambitions to bring city-scale events to Middlesbrough and are pleased that the organisers are thinking of this as somewhere they want to bring a concert with artists of the calibre of Rita Ora. We have already seen some big events on Centre Square and we want to do more to make this kind of occasion a regular occurrence in Middlesbrough.”

Stewart Park has been used as a live music venue in the past, including for Victoria Beckham’s performance in 2000 where 60,000 people attended the event to promote her then upcoming single Out of Your Mind with Dane Bowers. Other years saw Peter Andre and Rihanna perform.

Tickets for the festival will go on sale on Thursday 12th April and will be priced from £35. To buy tickets and for more information visit the Endeavour Festival website.

10 Reasons To Play A Musical Instrument

Learning to play a musical instrument has so many benefits – whether it’s building your confidence, enhancing your memory or widening your social circle.

  1. Playing an instrument makes you smarter. Several studies have shown a correlation between musical training and academic success. Learning to play an instrument stimulates the brain, improving functions like memory and abstract reasoning skills, which are essential for maths and science. 

   2. Playing an instrument gives you a sense of achievement. Playing and succeeding at a                  musical instrument gives you a huge sense of achievement, especially after the months                      of hard work and dedication needed to succeed.

   3. Playing an instrument gives you more confidence. As a child’s musical ability improves,                 they are likely to play to a few audiences, starting with their music teachers and                                   parents before progressing onto fellow pupils and concert audiences. Playing in                                   public can help children feel confident and proud about playing an instrument,                                       especially when applauded by their audience.

   4. Playing an instrument increases discipline and time management skills.  Learning                      music takes time and effort which helps children understand that if they want to be                               good at something, they’ll need to stay committed and organise their time                                              effectively.

   5. Playing an instrument makes you more creative. Practising and perfecting a piece of                      music you’ve been playing for months fuels the creative part of your brain which makes                        room for self-expression. This allows for the performer to put their own stamp on                                  a piece, to inject some of their personality into the music. After all, there’s a                                          reason classical artists win awards for their performances.

   6. Playing an instrument improves your social life. Joining a musical ensemble at any age                 encourages you to develop relationships with like-minded individuals. IT also builds                             skills in leadership and team building.

   7. Playing an instrument relieves stress. Music keeps you calm. It has a unique effect on                    our emotions and has even been proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure.                                  Studies have found that listening to music can have a tremendously relaxing effect                               on our minds and bodies.

   8. Playing an instrument improves patience. Learning to play an instrument takes time                       and effort. Major improvements in ability are rarely seen until the first few months of                             hard work have passed. There are no shortcuts to learning an instrument. 

   9. Playing an instrument improves memory. Researchers have found that learning to play                  a musical instrument can enhance verbal memory, spatial reasoning and literacy skills.                        Playing an instrument makes you use both sides of your brain, which strengthens                                 memory power.

   10. Playing an instrument is fun. Above everything else, what matters most is that it’s                            enjoyable for the player. While other hobbies such as watching TV and reading books                          are passive, playing music actively engages and stimulates the brain, making you                                 feel happy!

Source: Classical FM