Barrel Ballet

Written by: Mark Howe
I’m currently running a family junk percussion course at Stevenage Music Centre for MusicNet East. There are 27 people on the course made up of 8-10 adults and young people ranging in age from 4 to 12. The sessions aim to introduce a range of sound objects, rescued and conventional instruments providing an opportunity for the family members to play, learn from each other, engage with others and learn through fun and doing.

I’ve run many of these courses and it goes without saying that it’s important to establish a rapport with the group from the outset: to engage them, to make an impact, to ease the apprehension and nerves that people (particularly adults) participating in a new activity with people they don’t know can feel, to create a shared experience for the group which can aid cohesion and set the tone for a successful course. With this in mind I often begin sessions with a big blue barrel that, amongst other things, bounces, collects names, spins, roles, generally wakes and shakes it up. One of the delights is to spin the barrel on its base so that it wobble pirouettes, teeters without falling over until it comes to rest on its base. This occasion was particularly splendid on the nice wooden floor of a purpose built auditorium at Stevenage Music Centre. The first time spin really took hold, achieving maximum rotation and angle, settling in and taking its time, the barrel eased around in an anti-clockwise circle, countering its own clockwise spin, several times almost making to tumble… As I watch, I notice all those signs that one might desire or look for in an attendant group – the energy and attention focused in on this rotating object, taking in its movement, it’s subtle sound, it’s time defying dance – a rich ‘musical moment’ in its own right and helpful because as well as being an icebreaker for the group it will serve as a reference point and lead to other places – performance skills, techniques, gravity, the relationship between a player and their instrument, time, listening…and all waiting in anticipation for it to end, which it duly did, to a gentle, un-prompted, spontaneous round of applause.

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