Week 4: Elephant Flashmob

Week 4: Elephant Flashmob

We got off to a slow start today as I had a technical hitch but thankfully, we got started eventually. I think the nature of this type of work means that technical issues present themselves frequently and you just have to stay cool, calm and collected in order to resolve them. First, you need to figure out if it’s you or the server side! Anyway, I managed to get the train back on the tracks.

So, in the last session, we had started on the theme of Hotland animals. In the meantime, the children had been on a visit to the zoo, with homework from me: to record audio, video and images of their visit. Unfortunately the weather on the day of the visit was not very nice so a lot of the animals were hiding away. However, the children (as I’ve said before) have fantastic memories and spent some time recounting what they saw and heard.

The focus of today was the elephant: what they sound like, what they do, what poses they use. I had gathered some photos of elephants so we had a good chat about the various antics of elephants. The children knew a lot of interesting facts about elephants too. I had sent Mrs. English some templates of elephants so that the children could have a cut-out standing animal on their desk. So, they spent a bit of time colouring in their own elephants. We spent a good bit of time creating new lyrics for ‘If you’re an elephant and you know it, …….’ With some very funny results.

Next we discussed Flashmobs: a sudden gathering of people to perform something. We needed to create instructions for the Elephant Flashmob so used the previous activities to come up with ideas:

‘If you’re an elephant and you know it, have a drink’ – bend down and use your trunk to have a drink from a puddle

‘If you’re an elephant and you know it, eat a leaf’ – reach up with your trunk and eat a leaf from a tree

‘If you’re an elephant and you know it, make a brrrr!’ – lift up your trunk and roar!

The instructions for the Flashmob were to:

  1. Quietly walk out to the playground
  2. When Mrs English says ‘Go’, do an action and sound

So, today was the first outing for the Elephant Band and the debut of their first public performance!

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Week 6 – performing animal characters

Today was the final session with the children. Over the 6 sessions, we have been focussing on creating sounds and music in order to develop small performance pieces.

In doing that, we have spent time making images, instruments and various items in order to stimulate sound-making and lyric creation for songs. We have also used these methods to come up with ways to use our bodies in performance and created actions for characters. Continuing to work with the theme of Hotland animals, we focussed on some more animals today: the cheetah, the tarantula, the parrot and the hyena. Quite a variety of animals! And lots of interesting images, sounds and actions produced.

In the second part of the session, we talked more about performance and the importance of a costume to help the performer ‘become’ the character they are playing. We focussed on making masks to help us become the characters and the children worked on their chosen animal. What a variety there was: anacondas, rhinos, tigers, elephants….The children created beautiful masks and wore them for a final Animal Flashmob. The rules of today’s Flashmob were more general and we tried to work with actions that all animals do, such as take a drink or make a sound. As it was raining, the children went into the school hall and performed their Flashmob.

So, it’s been a busy number of weeks: making instruments, listening to new sounds, composing lyrics and performing songs. And even more exciting: creating new Flashmob ideas and performing them!

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Week 5: Hear the crocodiles roar!

No technical problems today, which was nice.

Today, we did more work on Hotland animals, their physicality and sounds they make. It was the turn of the giraffe and crocodile today. We started off by looking at photographs of giraffes and trying to think of the sounds they make. It turns out that we think giraffes are rather quiet – they eat quietly, walk quietly and don’t really shout that much. The children spent a bit of time creating a cutout of a giraffe to place on their desks and to start thinking about what the giraffe looks like. Then we came up with new lyrics and actions for ‘If you’re a giraffe and you know it….’

If you’re a giraffe and you know it, eat a leaf

If you’re a giraffe and you know it, take a drink

If you’re a giraffe and you know it, stick in the mud

This gave us some new ideas for a Giraffe Flashmob, with more instructions this time compared to the Elephant Flashmob. The giraffes were walking on sand as they made their way to the playground, laughing, giving each other hugs, getting stuck in the mud and walking back through the mud to get back to class.

After our exploration of the giraffe, we moved on to look at a more scary creature, the crocodile. Again, we looked at photographs of crocodiles and explored what they might do, where they live and the sounds they make. We had a singing session at the end for the crocodiles, which included a crocodile chasing Fionnuala around the screen! These crocodiles are very hungry and soon had to go on lunch. Phew!

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Week 3: Guitars and rocking out!

Today we spent some time refreshing what we had looked at and listened to last week. I’m constantly amazed and impressed by how much the children remember! And of more interest to me are the little details that they have taken away from the sessions. As the person who initiates the ideas for the session, I have my own intentions about what they will take away and often, to my delight, find that small details pass me by. As we were reviewing last week’s session, the children had a clear memory of the audio they had listened to. Very impressive!

The idea of online collaboration and sharing is certainly a new experience for a lot of us. The software brings with it challenges for the creative collaboration and new ways to think about creating. It is a different experience to being physically in the classroom and being able to pick up on the cues and body language of the group. I thought it would be useful to spend a bit of time looking at the Elluminate software and see if there were ways we could play with the collaboration. It is interesting to see if there are other ways for us to communicate using the tools and to see if new forms of ways of giving feedback emerge. For instance, we found today that using the ‘wand’ tool to point at something is very useful.  The children, of course, are very well-versed on digital technologies and it seemed automatic to them to use this tool. I think I had to get used to thinking that way. Reflecting on this after the session, I think it’s mainly because I’m alone in my studio, looking into the screen and not getting the physical cues.

We also had a short discussion on writing a blog. Mrs. English provided a very good explanation: a diary that is online so everyone can see it. We looked at some of the other schools’ blogs and I think the children enjoyed seeing what their peers are creating.

In the second part of the session, after the morning break, we started working on making guitars but using the theme of Hotlands animals, which is something the class are looking at. As stimulus, I shared an image of a jungle scene and played a soundscape that I had created, which contained animal sounds and was intended to evoke a rainforest theme. I asked the children to listen to the piece and identify sounds as well as to select an animal from the visual scene and try to imagine what the animal was doing. The children had wonderful ideas about the various antics of the animals (documented in the class blog). The children then set about drawing images of the scenes they imagined and writing a title for the scene. These images were used to decorate the guitars. While the children are making things, I find that I’m waiting with excitement to see what they have made. I had lots of short visits from the individual children, coming up to the webcam to show me their guitar. At the end of the session, we created a new version of the well-known song ‘If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands’ by replacing some of the words: ‘If you’re a monkey and you know it, sing and dance’. Great fun: lots of guitar-playing, singing and dancing children!

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Week 2 – take a walk and what do we hear

In preparation for today’s class, the children were asked to bring in materials to make instruments (paper plates, boxes and things that could be used as decoration). Today was our first day to use the Elluminate software so we were trying to keep things pretty simple to start. We spent a good bit of time chatting and getting used to the idea that we were going to be using a tiny video window to see each other. Also, we spent time testing how sound translated over the software. I showed the children my studio and played some of the instruments I have, ranging from a really quiet shaker to my piano. As it turned out, the children could not hear the quiet shaker at all. So, we are all trying to get used to how sound is being communicated across this new medium.

Last week we spent time listening to sounds inside and outside the classroom but today’s task was to go and find them. Unfortunately, it was a really stormy day and raining in both Dublin and Warrenpoint, so this activity was kept short. The children and Mrs. English went on a walk through the school with their recording device and collected sounds. When they got back to class, Mrs. English emailed the sound file to me so I could listen more closely. The children then spent time telling me about the things they heard on their walk. There were lots of sounds on the recording that I could recognise (birds, footsteps, whispering, wind) but there was one sound that sounded like a jack hammer. The children and I listened back to the recording, in our own venues, to try to identify it more closely. It turns out that it was the hand drier! So, we had a good chat about how some sounds are easy to identify but others are not so easy and often sound like a variety of things. We had looked at this last week, when we explored ‘performing’ our heartbeats, so it was nice to see it crop up again. We can use this in a very creative way and hopefully will get a chance to create some interesting soundscapes in the coming weeks.

The recording served as a lovely way to focus on the sounds outside of the room and as a way to start our next exercise: to make a shaker. We began by choosing a sound from the recording and drawing that in order to decorate our shakers. The children made beautiful shakers as the first instrument in their own personal instrument bank.

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Week 1: Visit to Dromore Road PS – music-making and exploring sound

Well the sun was shining today as I travelled from Dublin to the Dromore Road Primary School. My class are a combination of P2 and P3 so there is a variety of ages, ranging from 5 to 7 year olds. And what a lovely group I am working with.

We spent a lot of time chatting at the start and getting to know each other. Over the course of our collaboration, we will be exploring sound and music in every way possible – listening, composing, making instruments, performing – using different materials and ways to do so. Using the software may or may not prove to help or hinder our process but I’m certainly a little apprehensive about how sound can translate across the medium. It will be interesting to explore the way it translates. With that in mind, I thought it would be really good to visit in person and spend time introducing some ways of listening and talking about sound. This introduction will hopefully serve to present techniques that might be used when I’m not physically in the classroom.

So, we first looked at the ways our bodies can make sound. We spent a bit of time with our fingers in our ears, listening to our heartbeat, pulse and the blood flowing around our body. Then we tried to copy the sound using words and sounds we can make with our mouths.

Ba-dom, ba-dom, ba-dom.

Bom, bom, bom.

[There were some squeaks too!]

Everybody got an opportunity to perform the sound that their heartbeat makes. Some heartbeats are WAY louder than others. And the different sounds are both funny and really interesting. We split up into 2 groups and performed our heartbeats, which was great fun.

Then we started trying out other sounds that can be made using our mouths.


(…….and many more ensued).

And then onto our hands and feet talked about how we can clap and stamp our feet. At this point, we started looking at performing as a large group and how we might use our clapping and stamping to keep us all making the same sound at the same time. This can be really challenging once a lot of people start playing together. It’s really important to understand the role of the conductor and to listen. Everyone was really great at counting 1,2,3,4 and staying together. By now we had built up quite a collection of possible sounds that we can make. We divided into 4 groups and each group chose a particular sound. We used the count [1,2,3,4] to keep us all together and took turns at playing as a group or doing solo performances.

For our next activity, it was time to take a well-deserved rest and a good opportunity to focus on listening. It was a good time to start moving away from the body sounds and listen carefully to what was in the room. This practice is great for calming the mind and gathering energy. While the children had their eyes closed (most of them!), I did a performance using a sweeping brush and any other objects that I could find in the room. The children were well able to identify the objects I had used and where they were in the room. We also spent time listening carefully for any sounds that were outside the room. So, our palette of sounds was steadily growing and growing over the morning.

The school has a lovely big bank of instruments that were sitting waiting to be played. So, we then moved onto trying out our performance techniques using instruments. We broke into 4 groups again and had a triangle group, a drum group, a guido group and a shaker group. This time we all took turns at doing a short solo.

So, today we covered a lot of musical language and spent a lot of time making music. See you all on Britain’s Got Talent!!

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