Rutherford Summer Club 2016

Margaret Archibald recalls some highlights of her day at Rutherford School where she and harpist Alexander Thomas were contributing music workshops designed to explore this year’s summer club theme of “Water”. 

It really is astonishing how much stuff I manage to take for one day of workshops!

Setting up the gear 20160801_125738.jpg

It was 1st August, there was no school-run traffic, and I arrived at Rutherford School with more than an hour and a half to spare to set up for a full day of workshops with harpist Alexander Thomas. This was already the second week of the school’s Summer Club, and we would spend the day working with five different groups of children all with profound and multiple learning difficulties. Somehow the time flew by as I unpacked lots of small percussion suitable for the school’s holiday project “water”, raided the music therapy percussion trolley, created a watery décor with water-blue silks and colourful umbrellas, and laid out the props and percussion ready in appropriate batches to be used for successive music items.

Alex and Winnie the Pooh 20160801_125624

Alexander Thomas arrived early too, having allowed plenty of time to drive from Dalston with his harp, the very special instrument chosen to be a new experience for the children. We were conscious that summer club should be fun and engaging, and we hoped that the chance to hear a harp and to feel its vibrations would be a thrilling experience for these wheelchair-bound children. We also wanted the support staff to have fun too, and the ratio of staff to children was mostly 1:1 so it was important that everyone was having a good time. Manoeuvring the wheelchairs really close to the harp was rather tricky, and we needed to be very careful not to damage the harp’s pedal box, but nearly every child was able to get close enough to be able to reach out with staff help and touch the pillar of the harp, feeling the strong vibrations flowing through as Alex played. One little girl, whose head we were told is nearly always down on her chest, lifted her head to gaze at Alex and his harp, and at the end of the workshop during our goodbye song she waved us her farewell.

Alex seen through the strings 20160801_130922

A favourite piece at each session was “Mists”, a dreamy and evocative piece for harp and clarinet that we elaborated with the sound of rainsticks, wind chimes and a thunder drum. First we explored the sounds that could be made with the percussion instruments, and then staff helped the children orchestrate the piece with imaginative, atmospheric sound effects. The opportunity to take part by adding additional percussion sounds and visual props to the music was noted by several members of staff as especially enjoyable for everyone, and by the end of each session we had added ‘seaweed’ (green plastic bag strips tied to coat hangers!), a plastic diver, ocean drums, pebble bag scrunchers, sea shells in a bucket, frog guiros, seed pod rattles and castanets to the list of atmospheric additions to enhance a deep ocean-scape, a pirates’ hornpipe, and the song of boatmen heaving on their oars as they pulled a heavy cargo up the river. Finally we invited a free choice of percussion so that everyone could join in our final goodbye song playing their favourite instrument.

As Alex and I were packing up our gear and gradually returning the school room to its former state, we reflected on how lucky we were to be able to play such lovely music, and to share it with these very special children who cannot share their thoughts in words but whose responses mean so much.

John’s Project – Part 2

John Morris, to whose memory we dedicated our July 2016 “Conversation Pieces – Words and Music uniting the Generations”, gave many hours of administrative time during his retirement years to the Croydon Performing Arts Festival. He was a passionate advocate of the Festival’s Asian Music section, and I think he would have been especially delighted that the second phase of our memorial project this year featured a 14 year old veena player, Malathy Nithiyananthan.

Veena IMG_3501 colour edit

Malathy was able to come and play just at our last performance at Woodcote Grove House, and we were all thrilled to see this large and beautiful instrument at close quarters as she carried it round the room to show everyone before playing a beautiful raga-inspired piece.

Our other two young musicians for the full two-day project on 19 and 20 July were 15 year old Carol Leader who played flute in the ensembles and a Chopin Nocturne as piano soloist, and 16 year old Joseph Mackley, who played mostly alto saxophone in our programme but who also played his French horn, played a piano solo, and truly enchanted everyone when he sang “Some Enchanted Evening”.

19 20 July Joe and Ian FullSizeRender colour edit

Ian Fasham, just emerged from an intensive run of Garsington Opera, was able to join Margaret Archibald to lead the rehearsals and to give a sonorous bass to the ensemble numbers flexibly scored for flute, clarinet, saxophone or horn, and trombone. Given this line-up we needed to create some of our own arrangements and to make imaginative use of pre-existing ones. We put in a solid three-hour rehearsal at Red Court Nursing Home, where we were offered free use of a spare lounge all morning to prepare for our concert there that same afternoon. By the time we were eating our picnic under a garden sunshade we had come up with a programme ranging from a Marenzio Madrigal and a Monteverdi Canzonetta to favourites from the West End, film and TV.

We had picked two of the hottest days of the year for these concerts, and after a short rehearsal and morning concert next day at Beth Ezra Trust we were once again grateful for the offer of a shady patch in the garden to eat our picnic. Then it was just a short drive round the corner to Woodcote Grove House, where a few residents from Orford House across the lawn were able to join us in the elegant lounge for the last concert of the series.

19 20 July tutti FullSizeRender colour edit

“I had hoped that the project would be fun and different”, wrote Carol, “and it certainly was! As well as playing music, I particularly enjoyed talking to the elderly residents at the 3 care homes to learn about them and their story”. Joe had offered us a wide selection of choices from his repertoire and we particularly wanted him to share two of the most popular items. Later Joe wrote “Your choice of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ and ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ provided great joy and ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ put big smiles on everyone’s face. My expectations were exceeded as we made them happier than I had anticipated. Talking to the residents following our concerts was a wonderful opportunity to find out what they enjoyed and hear about the very interesting and varied lives that they have had. It was a very enjoyable two days and it really made people happy”.

Thanks to the generosity of John’s many friends, over the four days of our project two separate groups of young musicians from the Croydon Performing Arts Festival have rehearsed with their professional colleagues and performed alongside them in six of Croydon’s care centres for older people, and we very much hope that this year’s collaborative project will be the first of many.

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