Borrowing an idea developed by drama teachers in the 1960s, he organised pupils into groups of four or five children to bounce ideas off each other and to improvise, and to explore the gamut of sounds, not just musical notes. He encouraged pupils to think and reason as composers; they.could use their imaginations to create a piece of music that meant something special to them. It could be programmatic, such as a ‘stormy day’, or musically abstract, such as a gradual crescendo followed by a gradual diminuendo.* If pupils had instrumental or vocal skills they would use them, but they might find their inspiration in knocking a desk with a ruler.
Or tapping the feet …
Taking things a step further (no pun intended), ‘found objects’ can produce interesting sounds, even recognisable tunes, as proved by Wendy Mae Chambers with her Car Horn Organ, not that I find much to enjoy in traffic noise. I half-expected Bradford Reed’s Motivational Music for Pedestrians to inspire me, with the sound of footsteps on pavements, but no, what he produces is manufactured electronically.
If music is to have personality, to reflect the composer, then surely tangible objects are more of a ‘real’ reflection of one’s soul. Rows of wine glasses containing different levels of water can be a harp (04) or even a violin. Add a musical saw and you’ve got the beginnings of a band.
Too difficult? Then why not let Tran Quang Hai teach you how to play the spoons? (video)
Capturing sounds and incorporating them into music is nothing new. In 1962/3, the Cascades had a worldwide hit with Rhythm of the Rain. It’s only logical to incorporate other rhythms of nature, the metronomes of life, such as waves.
If you want to make a living from music, you’ll probably need a musical instrument; we can’t all be Bobby McFerrin and multi-track our voice to record (Rhythm of) The Train. Many musicians start their careers busking, so if that’s your choice, you’ll need something portable, such as a tape player providing a backing track. But please don’t stand at my front gate and sing a dangdut song over a loud backing track: I hate karaoke.
If you were to have the sound of an English village in the summer with church bells ringing and birds singing I’d be more than happy, but you might have to pay the guitarist. (In Bridget St. John’s case, it was John Martyn.)
The key is to use whatever is around you, be part of the environment. In Indonesia, bamboo is plentiful. So much so that much of the indigenous music is played on bamboo instruments.
01. Needle Drop
02. John Paynter & Peter Aston – Sea Tower
03. Wendy Mae Chambers – New York, New York
04. Robert Tiso – Hungarian Dance No. 5 (Brahms)
05. Robert Tiso & Felice Pantone – The Swan (fr. Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals)
06. The Cascades – Rhythm of the Rain
07. My Fun & John Ira Ebersole – Churning Surf
08. Bobby McFerrin – The Train
09. Bridget St. John – Ask Me No Questions (excerpt)
10. Children’s Bamboo Band fr. Tanah Toraja, Sulawesi
Finally, as Hans Christian Anderson said, “Where words fail, music speaks.”
*Footnote. I wonder if David Bedford’s Nurses Song With Elephants (1970) owes something to John Paynter’s influence. In one of the happenstances of life, I met David Bedford in 1967. His girlfriend at the time was the teacher in the classroom next to mine in the primary school which was my first teaching post.