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A week of inspiration with “Decoda” interactive performances

“Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue” (Plato, Greek Philosopher, 428/27 – 348/47 BC).

This is exactly what I felt the last week when we did two music educational performances in primary schools in Newham: reaching the soul of children who were full of desire to learn and absorb every aspect of the music we were offering them. Four chamber ensembles from the Guildhall School (a wind quintet, a trombone quartet, a string quartet and a saxophone quartet) created these performances after a very creative and imaginative preparation through workshops and coaching with the wonderful Decoda, a quintet who came all the way from New York to work with us, in a project organized perfectly by the Barbican and the Guildhall School.

The project lasted for a week: firstly we attended performances of theDecoda at primary schools and in Milton Court watching them delivering with vibrant energy and great inspiration all their musical material to their audience.

The next days we started working with them intensively in order to create our own interactive performances and with lots of excitement (“80% of what you teach is who you are!” as the Decoda told us in order to project our personalities in our performances!).

When the preparation finished and all the scripts were ready, the only thing we had in our minds was the responses of the children to our performances. And, when we actually went to the schools, this was the most memorable moment: I can’t forget the excitement in the children’s eyes, their faces full of desire for music creativity. We tried to offer them a variety of learning different rhythms, pulses and melodies through music activities and through our playing. Antique Hungarian Dances by the Hungarian composer Ferenc Farkas for my quintet, showed to the young students (7-10 years old) how the rhythmic energy of the pieces is changed by adding more notes in a pulse or by adding rhythmic layers behind the main melody and how this affects the characters, the moods and the emotions which music transfers. We resulted having a class of children clapping 3’s, tapping 6’s and singing “two friends went to the dance!” (words that we had added in the dances)! As Owen, the violin player of Decoda said, watching them from the back, the children were pumping from excitement during the whole performance and so were we. There is nothing more rewarding than this.

Even when we stopped the activities and let them just listen to our piece, I was watching them getting thrilled because they were recognizing inside the piece the musical material which they had just learnt from us, the rhythms and the melodies presented in a different way through the piece. “Oh, this is the three-beat, this is the oboe tune!” -and all this, with the honest way that a child looks at the music, with true love and authenticity. It prompted many of us to re-discover the innocence of childhood and remember why we loved music in the first place, as our horn player said afterwards. In the final meeting with the musicians and the coordinators we were very glad to discuss how we can use these energetic ways in order to communicate with a great variety of audiences in different concerts, as delivering the music message and engaging the audience was the goal of the project.

For all these reasons, this was a wonderful and unique experience for us, and it made me think how much I would like to follow this path in the future. We sincerely thank the Guildhall School for giving us this amazing opportunity, the fantastic Barbican team which truly supported us all the way through the project, the schools at Newham and the inspiring and very enthusiastic Decoda ensemble for preciously helping us to create and thoroughly enjoy this experience.

“So, you make all this music with your breathing?!!” a child asked in the end of our performance! Yes, we do make all this music with our breathing, but a breathing which was inspired by the sparkling eyes of this incredible audience!

Maria Papathanasiou, an article published by the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in March 2014

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