Ode to Joy

What makes a good melody? This is a question Year 8 have been trying to answer by looking at a range of different, well known melodies, including the theme tune from The Apprentice (otherwise known as ‘Dance of the Knights’ by Prokofiev). The students teased out the musical features of this melody as well as the theme from Swan Lake and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, by analysing the rhythm, movement by step or by leap, use of repetition and overall structure. After watching an excellent flashmob performance of this in Sabadell plaza, Catalonia, they all learnt to play the Ode to Joy melody.

You can watch the fruits of their labour below (and it’s worth knowing that only two of the students performing in this short clip are having formal piano lessons):

Take a chance – Aleatory music

Year 9 were faced with the musical uncertainties of interpreting an aleatory score where key decisions affecting timbre, harmony and pitches are left up to the performer. Here’s the score they were all working on:
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They came up with widely differing versions of the piece and definitely put their own stamp on it. Every one had a distinct character and was musically convincing in its own way. You can listen to a sample of their work below:

Look, no instruments…

Year 9’s entree this term into the world of experimental music is well underway. They have been listening to various pieces which challenge their assumptions about what music is, how it is created and where is is performed, including Stockhausen’s Helicopter Quartet (for conventional string quartet, except that each player is sitting in a helicopter which takes off and flies around). Their composing brief was to create a piece of music without using any conventional instruments and with the focus being on rhythm, texture, timbre and structure.

Here are some of their creations:



Senior Showcase double bill

Our Senior Showcase this term was a double bill of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Roald Dahl’s The Witches, interspersed with music carefully chosen to fit the ‘magical’ theme. All students in Years 7-9 were involved whilst Year 10 students  provided much of the musical support. Two Year 10 students also devised the choreography for the dance and rehearsed it with the Year 7 dance team. You can listen to a few musical highlights below –  more to follow. In the meantime here are:

‘That’s Life’ sung by our very own Frank Sinatra in Year 7

‘I put a spell on you’, sung by a quartet of girls from Years 7 and 8

‘Another one bites the dust’, performed by our Year 10 Band

Come and Play

It was great to see so much enthusiasm for our Come and Play morning when juniors and lower seniors had the chance to get up close and personal to a range of musical instruments. We were immensely grateful to some of our instrumental teachers who kindly gave up their morning to put our students through their paces on flute, violin, trombone, trumpet and tenor horn. A lot of natural talent was unearthed by their expertise and coaching so we look forward very much to some of this bearing fruit. You can view some pictures from the morning below:

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Rapping with Year 9

Year 9 have been taking an in-depth look at rap and discovering how complicated it actually is to pull off one that really works. There are several important factors that need to be taken into consideration, including:

  • the backing and how it interacts with the text
  • the vocal delivery enunciation
  • the flow – understanding the rhythms and rhymes in the text

The students have worked hard on this and you can here come of the fruits of their labours. The first one uses as its text Puck’s final speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the students said they were inspired by the example of MC Hammer that we listened to in class. The second uses a poem by Maya Angelou, ‘Life doesn’t frighten me at all’.

Stormy Weather in Year 8

Year 8 have completed their first composition assignment in their Programme Music topic – a piece of music inspired by a storm. As well as listening to the storm movement in Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, they also listened to Cloudburst by contemporary composer Eric Whitacre which includes a choir as well as finger snaps and claps to recreate rain. When this piece was performed in the BBC Proms last summer in involved audience participation in this too to great effect.

Here is a taste of Year 8’s storm music:

 

Macbeth meets music

Next term Year 9 will be taking a look at rap and trying their hand at writing their own. By way of an introduction they have spent the last few lessons examining the relationship between words and music and the impact that the latter can have on atmosphere and meaning. Their brief was to choose one of two extracts from Macbeth and come up with music to accompany the reading of the extract that would set the scene, track the text and enhance the atmosphere. Interestingly, all except one group chose to use a predominantly string sound for their music and the general consensus was that it conveyed an appropriately dark mood.

You can listen to three examples of their work here. Two were composed on GarageBand and one was performed live on the piano.

Encounters with Indonesian music

Year 7 were put through their paces this week when they learnt how to play traditional Indonesian music in a workshop at Cambridge University Music Faculty. The gamelan, as it is called, refers to the whole group of instruments, rather like our word ‘orchestra’. Gamelan comprises a range of different sized gongs, metallophones and drums; the latter are played with the hands whilst the gongs and metallophones are struck with mallets.
Much of the music is based on pentatonic scales and is learned orally rather than being notated. This meant our Year 7 students had to remember the patterns of notes they were taught and listen to everyone else in the group really carefully in order to stay in time.
Here are a few photos and clips of them in action:
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