shetland odyssey

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mid yell

Mid-Yell Junior High


Wednesday 29 March 2006

With Stuart, Evgeny, Marcus and Claire stuck on Fair Isle due to the fog (which meant the islander plane could not land to pick us up), Helen bravely took on the job of leading Wednesday morning's workshops alone. She had arrived by ferry from Aberdeen on the Monday, having driven her full concert harp up north the day before. The first part of the following account is written by Helen.

Primary Workshop

This followed a similar pattern to the Cullivoe day but only ran between 9.30 and 12.30. This time I had 50 rather than 25 children.

9.30-9.50 - Inroductions

I explained that CHROMA was to play in an opera - Odysseus Unwound - in Shetland later in the year, and asked them how much they knew about what an opera is. Then moved on to explain the harp.

I began with the basics - number of strings etc and then played La Source and asked them to think of the water running down the mountain. When I finished I asked whether they had noticed the differences in the middle of the piece (it becomes faster, louder and more waterfall-like). I then explained more about the harp, the meaning of the coloured strings, pedals, different woods, how I transport the instrument and finished up playing the more flamboyant Fire Dance.

9.50-10.20 - Warm Up Games

I used the same games as with the Burravoe/Cullivoe/Out Skerries primaries, however this time I had 50 children. Music teacher Julie Johnson helped me to extend the clapping games, setting off rhythms and claps in the opposite directions so that the whole group had to concentrate all of the time.

10.20 - 10.40 - Break

10.40 - 11 - Recapped story of Cyclops. Explained the story of Scylla and
Charybdis and also the Sirens. Covered the fact that sometimes
hard choices have to be made in life. Next I taught the Odysseus Chorus to the children.

11 - 12.00 - The group was split into four groups by music teacher Julie Johnson.

Their task was to invent a monster, imagine how Odysseus would have dealt with it, make up a rhyme and also think about how the monster moved.

Julie and I went from group to group helping the children with their task.

12 - 12.15 - Performed monsters to each other

The results of these were very imaginative. All had worked out a great rhyme. Some of them performed as a mime and then said the rhyme. Other groups chanted the rhyme as they pretended to be the monster. Some groups had more than one person being the monster and others had lots of people pretending to be the monster independently of each other. All had a drum with which to chant to and all also made good use of cymbals etc. to indicate when something had happened in their story.

12.15-12.20 - recap chorus and Odysseus chant
12.20-12.30 - put it all together

This worked in a similar way to Cullivoe. We began with the Odysseus Chant, added the drum beat and then alternated between monster rhymes and the Odysseus chorus. Ending again with the chant crescendoing to ff.

Senior Workshop - S1 and S2

1.35 - 1.55 - Introductions

1.55-2.10 - Gave them an introduction to the story of the Odyssey. Covered Penelope, Cyclops and Circe. Covered Circe in detail, and explained that Poseidon was Polyphemus’ father, and that he was angry. Ran through how they all arrived at Aeaea, the crew were turned into pigs, Eurylochus was sent back to Odysseus. Hermes arrived with some Moly, Odysseus conquered Circe and they lived on the island in luxury for a year.

Went through their poems. Had picked a few out earlier to discuss.

Luxury and man made objects

Made them think how different objects were luxurious to different people and how family and friends were luxury to others, so time with Circe would be hard for those people.

There was a poem purely about cars.

This I used to show that the same luxury can have many different faces to different people. Some want fast, others want comfortable and still more are more interested in the colour. (All the boys wanted fast cars!)

Moved on to a nice prose piece which ended with the line - What is luxury to you?

What do they think is luxury, how it wouldn’t be luxury for some of them to have been on Circe’s island. Quite a lot of them decided that the luxury that they would want would be a harp!

2.10 - 2.30 - Warm Up Games

Name Game plus action - repeated by everybody.
Pass the Clap and Rhythm
Football Chants and dynamics. Set the rhythms off against each other.
Had them doing different dynamics. Then starting on different beats of the bar so that they kept different rhythms going against each other.

2.30 - break - Stuart, Evgeny, Marcus and Claire arrive (straight from Fair Isle, via islander plane and ferry)

Session 2: by Stuart King

During our forced absence from mainland Shetland Helen, our harpist, had been holding the fort single-handedly and having a fine time making monsters and music with the children from on Yell from Cullivoe, Burravoe and the tiny island of Out Skerries.

By the time we landed on the Shetland mainland and drove north taking the ferry to Yell it was early-afternoon. Helen had already taken a workshop with a very large group of 52 primary school children at Mid Yell school in the morning and had begun introductions to the older children after lunch when we arrived. Helen briefed us as to what she had done with this group in the first session so that I could carry on for the remaining part of the day.

The first part of the session was taken up with brief introductions of ourselves and our instruments. There was some initial shyness at answering our questions even though the children were really quite knowledgeable about what instruments we were showing them and how they worked. This shyness is common amongst children of this age (10-12), where being seen to be clever or have the answers is not cool. Once we got going however this reticence soon melted away.

As this session was going to be quite short it was important to get straight down to business. I explained what we were going to do for the rest of the day; create a short piece of music together with an introduction using elements identifiable uniquely with Mid Yell School Shetland and the story of Circe. The second section would involve some of the children reading out their creative writing work, which had been prepared in advance, about their thoughts on living in a land of luxury. Finally there would be a groove and chorus rap finale, which I would teach them.

Before we began, I quickly explained how we could generate notation from the name of their school Mid Yell Shetland (D – E – Eb – Bnatural – Enatural – A – D) or indeed they could work out their own names. I also introduced the motifs that we could use in our composition based on the Circe story from the Odyssey, namely Circe herself (C – C – E) and the isle of Aeaea (A – E – A – E – A).

It was time to begin and we handed out carefully selected percussion to each child; chime bars tuned to the notes generated by their school name and other samba band percussion for the finale. There was some trepidation by the teachers that mayhem would ensue but thankfully the children conducted themselves immaculately.

Standing in a big circle we began with rhythmic coordination practice. Each child played their percussion instrument in time to a beat. Then we practised playing exactly together as a group using a karate chop visual cue, which was swiftly mastered by everyone. We then tried creating an introduction to our composition using the ‘numbers from one to eight’ technique so successful in Fair Isle. This worked very well with a larger group as well and had a particularly unique sound with the mixture of percussion available and the dissonances created by the generated notation.

Once everyone had settled into playing only on their two numbers of choice, I introduced the concept of following signals for increasing and decreasing the volume. They followed this brilliantly, which meant that we could move seamlessly into the spoken section with a gentle accompaniment provided by both CHROMA players and some of the children.

We spent some time listening to the four children read out aloud their writings about ‘luxury’, which had been chosen at random from the excellent selection of work prepared in advance. With encouragement they all spoke well, clearly and without too much shyness. Each poem captured the character of the individual nicely and they had all obviously thought carefully about the subject matter, indeed some of their ideas were really thought-provoking.

The next section of the composition was the groove and samba-rhythm part. This began with our horn player Evgeny introducing a groove based on the Aeaea  notation, which created a very useful tonic-dominant bass line. Added to this Marcus and Helen on violin and harp improvising with the implied tonality of A minor once the Circe derived notation was added in to the mix. Three children were selected as ‘beat-keepers’ and allocated deep drums and djembes.

Between them they each came up with a different rhythm that together kept a very funky, and more importantly, steady beat going. In turn each of the other children entered the fray with their own rhythm, which could be simple or complex – the sound when everyone was in together was fantastic. I introduced the idea of selecting some players as soloists who would carry on playing when I indicated to the others to stop, thus highlighting interesting mini-ensembles within the group as a whole. The children quickly picked up on the signals and gestures necessary to bring people back in, stop temporarily and listen to soloists, play louder or softer and thus become a small percussion orchestra.

The final section to go through before piecing everything together was to go through the ‘Circe Rap’ that I had prepared for them in advance. As in Fair Isle this took the form of a call and response chorus and nicely brought in elements from the original story of the witch Circe turning Odysseus’ men into pigs and keeping them in captive luxury for more than a year.

CIRCE’S RAP – by Stuart King

On the isle
Of Aeaea
Lives a witch
Who many fear
Her loathsome spells
Turn men to pigs
Who gorge themselves
On wine and figs
Held captive so
They cannot flee
Back to their homes
Across the sea
So do beware
And hear our plea
Sail past the isle
Of Circe!


songs used during Yell workshops

Odysseus Song

Odysseus the warrior was a long, long way from home,
For twenty years he wandered with his men all alone,
Whilst trying to get back to the place where they belong,
They had some strange adventures which made their journey long.

Poor Odysseus, will he make it home?
Poor Odysseus, you never hear him moan,
Poor Odysseus, upon the seas alone,
Poor Odysseus when will he make it home.

The cyclops Polyphemus nearly ate his entire crew,
A Witch’s magic almost fooled our hero too.
Charybdis the great whirlpool almost drowned Odysseus’ men,
And Scylla with her grasping claws gulped down another ten.

Stuart playing the tune of the Odyssey Song can be heard here. (the first time Stuart's piano playing has been seen in public!)

Sailors’ Life.

It’s a sailors’ life, (salute)
and it’s really very tough, ( point to bicep)
Winds that cut like a knife (cutting the palm of hand)
when the sea is very rough, (sea motion with hand)
When you’re pulling up the rigging, (pull up the rigging)
And the sea-salt it is stinging, (rub eyes)
Then you wished you’d never signed up for a Sailors’ Life! (salute)