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A Bubble of an Idea

Mar 24, 2021

Where Play a Story began

"Art is not a thing, it is a way."  - Elbert Hubbard 

A few years ago my youngest daughter Josephine (then 4 Yrs old) was home with me, drawing in another room. I needed a moment to myself to breathe after a few busy weeks of school holidays. I turned on my favourite sound track and disappeared for a while. It was ‘The Mission’ sound track by Ennio Morricone. For a few glorious moments I let the music take me soaring over the breath-taking Iguassu Falls.

Soon I became aware that Josephine had joined me. There were tears down her face. She told me that she loved the music, but it made her cry. I was in awe that a 4 yr old was instinctively aware of the deep emotional journey implied by this music. I wondered what emotional context she was creating for herself.

We cuddled up on the couch and continued to listen to the music. I asked her what she thought was happening in the music. She began to describe a butterfly who was lost in the forest. As the music ebbed and flowed and inevitably changed moods, she suddenly burst into excitement saying that the butterfly had found her Mummy! What a story.

This moment was the beginning of my search to understand how musicians (young, old, beginners, advanced) might explore and discover their own musical personality. Story seemed to be the key.

How students play their story

Why “Play a Story". Young children learn how to listen to a story through the music; to listen to how the music makes them feel. They are learning to use their words to describe this feeling (creatively making up words if the right ones don't yet exist). Children often relate to how it makes their body feel; jumpy, sleepy, giggly, floaty. They physically feel the music. Intuitively. Sometimes with their arms, their faces, their eyes. This is a crucial part of the lesson. Children learn to develop a sensitivity and an awareness of their feelings. They learn to trust how they feel.

Then we scoop all these great words up and play them straight onto the piano, playing the very feelings that they have described.

Using a motif as a framework in which to tell their story, they experiment and improvise across the entire piano, gaining immediate satisfaction with the sounds that they are creating.

This instant feeling of success is made possible as each motif is designed to capture the nuance of that scene in just a few notes. Each scene takes them through a carefully designed curriculum, giving them key theoretical concepts that they will continue to develop throughout their learning. Theory lessons embedded within an entire culture of storytelling. Living, breathing, tangible theory!

As part of a "Play a Story" lesson, we also love “Play a Picture". Here, where the sky really is the limit, students create their own music for their own picture, just like Josephine did all those years ago, but this time the student is the music-maker and story-teller.

Play a Story also caters for 'grown-up' musicians. How motivating it is to create a spontaneous musical sound track along to a short movie clip. Students use the motif as a framework. Each new movie theme develops skills and adds a library of musical resources. The movie draws them into the scene, the mood, an emotional context, inspiring them to express themselves right in the moment. Layering musical textures, dynamic subtleties, musical space. It’s very liberating and empowering. Using a movie as our inspirational vehicle, we are able to shift our conscious thinking from 'what to play' to 'how to play'.

The results

I speak of results loosely, because musicianship cannot always be quantified in terms of a final product. It is a journey of self-discovery. It includes pauses to rest, stretches for running, and moments of sheer glory!

Students experience what it is to play in the moment, to play with emotional maturity, to play with authenticity. They develop a profound understanding of their own unique musicality. They know what it is to be inspired, to feel, to respond and through playing their music, evoke that response in others. They will own a deep personal connection with music for the rest of their lives because they have become part of it's enchantment.

These are musicians who play other composer's stories with the same passion that they play their own, imbuing them with all the care and sensitivity that they instil into their own story-playing. In doing so, they honour every musician’s unique contribution to the musical world.

Perhaps in these moments you have had a brief glimpse into my heart towards a world of authentic musical self-expression. I am on my own journey and I love it.