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Jonathan Dods

Recitals for children

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Hello All, I wondered whether I could pick your brains?

I've been asked to play a recital specifically for children. Local schools will be invited to bring groups to hear a 45 minute programme/presentation.

I played a recital for a group of about 20 children at Christmas. I met them beforehand and showed them the instrument up close and we talked about how it worked. The recital consisted of Christmas music with tunes they might know, and a bit of talking about the organ and the music. It seems to have gone down well!

I'd be interested in ideas for repertoire, both individual pieces and longer cycles of pieces or over-arching themes (I have an arrangement of Peter and the Wolf which is a possibility). Any examples of programmes, written notes or Youtube clips, also any ideas about what to say and show between the pieces. I'll almost certainly set up some cameras so they can see me playing more clearly and so they can see inside the instrument.

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Good luck, Jonathan! I’m split between suggesting “pure” organ music, originally written to move and inspire using the organ’s unique voices, and arrangements that, dare I say, might engage the children more immediately. Tunes they recognise, such as TV and film tunes, might be a good way to start and finish. I’m a little behind what children are listening to and watching, these days, but Harry Potter and the Incredibles might go down well, or (scary thought) Frozen.

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I've used Noel Rawsthorne's Hornpipe Humoresque when demonstrating to school pupils, as well as Bach's Toccata in D minor BWV565i. Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride (arr. Thomas Trotter) could work, but it needs practice. There's also Mons Leidvin Takle whose music is available in electronic format and can be purchased online.

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Depending on their ages - do not play anything too long even if it means excerpts. If they know what is ‘going on’ then the repertoire does not have to be all pieces they know. If you gain their attention then you will have achieved much. Pieces that you can enthuse about will work whether it be a selected chunk of JSB, Messiaen’s ‘Les Bergers’ the Duruflé ‘Scherzo’ etc. Also maybe find out what they have done at school. ‘Not sure how this would work but maybe also involve some participation - ‘prepared’ semi improvisations with ostinati, drones, pentatonic (or more exotic) scales etc. The younger the are the fewer preconceived ideas they have so as long as you gain their attention most things will work!

Sounds exciting!

A

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Instead of just sitting them down to listen passively to a 'recital', would there be a possibility of inviting participation from some of them?  This might range from a scenario where you had done some preparatory work with the schools to identify those who could play simple keyboard pieces as part of the recital, to merely asking for volunteers regardless of skill level to come to the console on the day and explore the range of sounds for themselves, and thus for the remainder of the audience.  The organ has the advantage of having many quiet stops which can soften the otherwise excruciating effect of a child with no previous experience exploring the keyboard.  I've done this (and still do) with my youngest grandchildren almost from the day they were born.  I try to structure their explorations by suggesting they press the lowest and then the highest keys, using different stops both soft and loud.  I do not encourage or allow them to just bash away however - it has to be an exercise with a modicum of structure.  One of the things I do is to ask them if they can hear the topmost note of a 15th or 17th - I cannot because of age-related hearing loss.  So I ask them to tell me what these very high notes sound like to them, and sometimes they try to imitate them by singing.  The lowest notes also seem to interest them.  Then I move to the sounds of the various stops, which they select themselves but under my guidance.

Older children of junior school age or beyond might also be interested in things like synthetic tone formation using mutations.  One such demo is first to successively add mutations, particularly the 12th and 17th, to a unison tone while they continue to hold a key down, and ask them to remember the sound in their head.  Then ask them to release the note and then re-key it.  The resulting composite tone usually sounds completely different subjectively because the brain has not had the opportunity to hear in advance the constituents making up the total sound.  In my experience even some adults are surprised and fascinated by this demonstration.  You could also demonstrate the similarities and differences between such a synthetic tone (8 + 12th + 17th) and a real clarinet stop, asking them to articulate what they hear.  Still older students, probably into their teens, might also be interested in a simple explanation of how the synthetic stop is picking out the same harmonics already 'built in' to the real clarinet sound.  You could also add a 4 foot tone to the mix, and compare that to a real Cor Anglais or Oboe stop if there is one on your organ.  Even if there isn't, the difference in sound can still be instructive.  At this point the discussion is clearly leading onto how electronic synthesisers work, which might help these older children to maintain their concentration.  You could tell them that today's synthesisers use ideas first discovered by pipe organ builders hundreds of years ago.

There are lots of other possibilities.

CEP

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I hope I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, Jonathan, and don’t mean in any way to appear patronising, but get the impression you’re not a teecha. What follows is more a series of thoughts than anything else: a draft for how I might approach the same now. In these days of Bluetooth, your smartfone might play a part - with you morphing from a recording of the ‘real thing’ on that (or another device) to the same piece, but played on your fabulous instrument. Or, the other way around. You could record bits beforehand and show them on screen, to facilitate ‘viewability’.

Have some (quiet) recorded organ music (probably something they won’t know from your programme and recorded at St Michael’s) playing as they are brought in. This’ll settle them down. Later, you can ask them if they’ve heard that before: as you play a bit in real time.

Depending on the age of your audience, a variety of techniques is useful. If they’re younger primary, then your examples will need to be shorter - as AJJ says. Keep testing them: kids like to succeed. ‘What’s that ?’ ‘Flute/reed/string/mixture.’ Plenty of contrasts: loud/soft, fast/slow, old/new. And a mixture of ‘pure’ (re innate) and arrangements.

Can you borrow a pipe (more than one) to blow ?

You’ll need a written plan (one copy on the console music stand, one in your hands/shirt pocket/on the music stand from where you’ll deliver your brief talking bits) and to decide whether you’ll start quietly (Harry Potter. I’ve been at a very successful demo where the presenter kept coming back to this in various guises), or dramatically (Bach’s Toccata. This one of the BBC’s Ten Pieces. There are now 30: you might ask their teacher/s which they have ‘done’.).

They watch a lorra TV and the movies: more possibilities.

There’s no harm in showing off (e.g. elaborate pedal ‘solo’); they’ll love it and applaud vigorously. It is by such events as this that the next generation of organists (and listeners to the instrument) is ‘hooked’.

Also, and unless they’re older teenagers, they have few preconceptions and will ‘take’ the most esoteric repertoire: Ligeti, Cage (a bit of 4’33’’ ? ? Most probably won’t have ‘heard’ it before.), Messiaen is good, as so illustrative.

Drones and ostinati lead quite naturally to a Passacaglia/Chaconne (Louis Couperin ?). Could they concoct an organ rap  and perform it with you ?

As you can see: yes, yes, yes to participation and beforehand preparation ! (What Colin has just said.)

Good luck.

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I am reminded of the 1966 'organ In Sanity and Madness' in the RAH and the Miniconcerto by John McCabe for 485 penny whistles, percussion and organ.  Plastic recorders were sold beforehand to members of the audience but under David Willcock's training we were told there was not much melodic interest!  Maybe your young audience could all participate in a rhythmic way on percussion instruments.  [NB We ended with Humpty Dumpty and his False Relations (12 variations) but that required a lot more resources than would be readily available to you. ]  

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22 hours ago, John Furse said:

Messiaen is good, as so illustrative.

I once played a Year 8 class his Les langues de feu (Messe de la Pentecôte) and asked them to grade it - for how successful it was as a composition. They did this for their own work (composition & performance) all the time.

They gave it a B (good) - on a scale from A (excellent) to D (poor). One of the criticisms was that they’d like the fire to be more ‘flickery’ !

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19 hours ago, Philip J Wells said:

I am reminded of the 1966 'organ In Sanity and Madness' in the RAH and the Miniconcerto by John McCabe for 485 penny whistles, percussion and organ.  Plastic recorders were sold beforehand to members of the audience but under David Willcock's training we were told there was not much melodic interest!  Maybe your young audience could all participate in a rhythmic way on percussion instruments.  [NB We ended with Humpty Dumpty and his False Relations (12 variations) but that required a lot more resources than would be readily available to you. ]  

I have the recording of this event.  It was clearly a lot of fun!

Paul

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On 22/01/2019 at 10:28, Jonathan Dods said:

food for thought

When doing my PGCE, I was told that all the subjects in the National Curriculum but one could be delivered (a ‘trending’ word !) through Music: Food Tech. 

That this is not until June will allow even more preparation with their teachers, if you/they’re so minded, Jonathan. Some possibilities include curricular links with Maths & Science (pipe lengths, acoustics [instrumental & architectural], action, winding), language (stop names), creative writing (English: a poem or news item subsequent to the visit), Art (case, building), History, Geography, Religion (obviously).

I’m sure Colin and others will have even more ideas in this direction.

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Cross curricular links could involve you in huge amounts of time and work and this assumes that the youngsters teachers are supportive of the whole project.

You don't say how old the 'audience' is. One thing is certain that they should have some experience of listening, performing, composing and reviewing. I think my only advice would be that the, you called it a recital, should involve the youngsters in lots of exciting musical activity rather than be, just, passive listeners!

Hope it goes well.

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40 minutes ago, S_L said:

Cross curricular links could involve you in huge amounts of time and work and this assumes that the youngsters teachers are supportive of the whole project.

You don't say how old the 'audience' is. One thing is certain that they should have some experience of listening, performing, composing and reviewing. I think my only advice would be that the, you called it a recital, should involve the youngsters in lots of exciting musical activity rather than be, just, passive listeners!

Hope it goes well.

True and wise.

It's easy for me to spout my above ideas, having been retired nigh on five years ! If you were interested in the 'links', make sure that their teachers (who should be more than well-versed in this, if primary) pursue these. 

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1 hour ago, John Furse said:

True and wise.

It's easy for me to spout my above ideas, having been retired nigh on five years ! If you were interested in the 'links', make sure that their teachers (who should be more than well-versed in this, if primary) pursue these. 

Only five years!!! - A youngster!

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Here in Saffron Walden we have an annual ‘Organ outreach’ concert aimed at kids from 6-8yr olds (but adults love it too…)

 

We were able to use (with permission) the Birmingham Symphony Hall organ video - which is excellent: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=yZWZI3f61EY 

 

Our organists played various pieces including one pretending to be a tourist and while the ‘compare’ was talking, mooched up the church in disguise to the chamber organ and played a note (the kids fell about laughing) then more and did a duet with the main organ of the Hornpipe Humoresque.

 

It ended with both organists duetting on the main organ the theme of The Incredibles.

 

It is so important that young ones are shown about organs.

 

I find it heartbreaking as an organ builder that so few people are going into the craft - much of it due to the Blair government encouraging teenagers stay on at school and then on to university, when they really want to get out there, like I did. I’ve been doing this now for coming on 42 years and when I retire, who do I pass it on to?

 

Sorry for the soapbox but arrrgh.

 

P

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6 hours ago, S_L said:

I think my only advice would be that the, you called it a recital...

There's a concert organist known at least by name to everyone here who insists strongly on avoiding the word "recital" for his performances because of its stuffy connotations. While youngsters might not have any preconceptions either way, it still might be a good idea to find a more inspiring title for the event.

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Possibly not the most original name, but my local association put on the “Schools Organ Day 2014”, organised by Colin Harvey, and at the time acknowledged to have been a great success.  It was a very much a ‘hands-on’ event even in the huge space of Winchester Cathedral.  There’s a report on Google with links to photographs.  Unfortuntely the technology is beyond me but if you search “Winchester Cathedral Schools Organ Day 2014” it will appear.  The report exaggerates the size of the Cathedral organ by about 1,500 pipes!  (No one seems sure of the correct number, but I think it is around 5,500.)  The chamber organ was also used.   The children clearly loved it and some ‘had a go’.  The RCO in the person of Simon Williams also took a hand and he appears in the photographs.

‘Recital’ -v- ‘Concert’ :  In my old age I now go to these all round the country and submit reports afterwards to two friends.  One, in this country who held high office in the IAO, insists on ‘recital’ - ‘concert’ is anathema to him!  For my other friend, English by birth but now a US citizen living there, it has to be ‘concert’.  

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Interesting thoughts and ideas here. In Germany there are several compositions in print, which more or less successfully try to generate encounters for young audiences with pipe organs. They may appear as short musicals, stuff like "Peter and the Wolf" etc.

A more recent activity was started following the listing of German organ building etc. as immaterial UNESCO world heritage. A small foundation around Jäger & Brommer organ builders runs the "Königskinder" project. The name (king's children) refers to the children of the King of Instruments. This project supports organists, parishes or schools who seek to bring children into contact with pipe organs with an Orgelkoffer, an organ suitcase, which contains several materials to explore an organ and to get deeper understanding of it.

Well, more precisely said: At the end, the idea is to gain an "organ portrait" produced by the young "researchers" and incorporated into a larger database (published online). A physical portrait for display on site is beeing made, too. The idea is that schools or teachers apply for such an event, the project team will then make contact with local organs and organists suitable for that purpose resp. missing in the database of the "Deutsche Orgelstraße" (Organ Road of Germany). I think it is not impolite to say that the project is promoted by the named organ builders who may seek to gain interest for their work. Anyway, the idea may work. The Blog section of the website shows the first events. This project strengthens or initiates connection between children and instruments in their local surroundings, a quite important aspect. The website (German only) :
https://www.koenigskinder.online/

To encourage young people to PLAY organs, the leading German project is the youth organ forum based at Stade (close to Hamburg, in the Heart of the Arp Schnitger region). Even if you do not read German, the photograph showing so many teenage organists at once is quite touching:

http://www.jugendorgelforum.de/

Karl-Bernhardin Kropf

 

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On 18/01/2019 at 11:02, pwhodges said:

I have the recording of this event.  It was clearly a lot of fun!

Paul

I was there, and still have the programme (I think VH may have been there too).
But I didn't know there was a recording. Is it publicly available?

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59 minutes ago, DHM said:

I was there, and still have the programme (I think VH may have been there too).
But I didn't know there was a recording. Is it publicly available?

I wasn't there, but I did have a reel-to-reel tape of the subsequent radio broadcast of highlights from the concert (which, with the benefit of hindsight, I think was a broadcast of the tape of the LP). As Paul says, it was clearly a lot of fun.

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Yes, a vinyl LP album was issued.  I used to have it but it seems to have got lost along life's travels.  If I'm honest I found the audio quality of much of it rather poor.  For example, the narrators were badly mic'd and you had to turn the wick up to hear what they were saying, and then of course turn it down again when the music re-started.  The audience was noisy and probably well-lubricated.  Depends whether you like that sort of thing or not I guess, although I suppose it does count as a period piece now.  I wasn't there but several of my student friends were, and they said the LP wasn't able to reflect much of the occasion itself, which isn't surprising.  Some of them kept for posterity the (485?) penny whistle-type things which were handed out at the door (presumably used in McCabe's 'Miniconcerto)!

However, whether I liked it or not is beside the point.  It seems to me an excellent example of the sort of thing needed to raise the profile of the organ, partly by encouraging audience participation as some have mentioned above.

CEP

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In addition to the LP of many excerpts from the event (which I still have) some time later there was an EP issued of just The Storm (which I think I still have).  

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