Tag Archives: children

Advent calendar: 13

(So I’ve missed a few – I’ll fill in the gaps next year!)

Today, I’ve made a tutorial video for a piece that you might recognise from Greg Lake’s moody Christmas hit, ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’. It’s called ‘Troika’ and was written by the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev and is in his ballet ‘Lieutenant Kije’. This easy piano arrangement was done by the prolific composer and arranger Pauline Hall and is one of the 2016 Preliminary exam piano pieces set by the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

Troika is the Russian word for three-of-a-kind and here depicts a team of three horses pulling a sleigh.


Advent calendar: 8

I was out in Howth yesterday, visiting my sister and her family. I had great fun with my wee niece and was given the honour of reading her a bedtime story. We had ‘The Night Before Christmas’ and then ‘The Nutcracker’.

So, for today’s Advent calendar, here’s Clement Clarke Moore’s evocative telling of ‘A Visit From St. Nicholas’…

Click on ‘ADVENT 2015’ at the top of this post (above the title) to see the previous posts I’ve done.

Tonight with Craig Doyle

On Saturday I was on Craig Doyle’s show, singing with James McMorrow. My fellow backing singers were Jill Deering and Peter Ryan and I did some tambourine, too. We sang a track from James’s album called ‘This Old Dark Machine’ and, unusually for telly, did it completely live and acoustic.

Here’s a link to the lyrics of the song, on James’s website…

It was a great thrill to be part of the show. It’s recorded on Wednesdays and we were shown to a dressing room (with a nice big box of jelly beans to munch on), and had a lovely runner guy who took our dinner order and got us whatever we wanted. We were all too nice to ask for a while, but then I ventured a request for a Diet Coke (rock’n’roll, eh?). Doubtless the guys were summoning all sorts of debauchery after I left and they got a bit more bold 😉

Here’s the clip (the song starts at 03m13s…):

Thankfully the TV people taped our bit first, as I had to rush off to play piano for my girls choir at Loreto Senior Primary in Crumlin. They were doing their Spring show and I had two choirs to play for: the 88-strong group that had taken part in the Hallelujah Chorus project (massed school choirs get together each year to do a concert with a full orchestra), and the younger ‘school choir’. The 88 did an Abba medley and the school choir did two songs I’d been working on with them this term – ‘Colors Of The Wind’ from Pocahontas by the amazing Alan Menken (look him up and marvel at his body of work) and ‘The Peanut Vendor’, a Cuban song about a dude who sells peanuts. I got there with minutes to spare before I was meant to be on…I think the poor head teacher was a little emotionally frayed by the whole experience! Of course, I breeze in with not a bother on me 🙂

Here’s the Abba medley:

And here’s ‘The Peanut Vendor’:

Yo Gabba Gabba

Came across this funny article (via Twitter) about children’s programmes on Nickelodeon Jr. Now, I don’t have kids but I do work with little ones sometimes. The guy who wrote the article rates the shows’ songs and music, too, which I found interesting. His descriptions led me to check out Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! on YouTube…

I liked the slightly unexpected melody in the chorus and the harmonies. There’s an effect on the voice, too, that’s like when you add upper harmonics to an organ sound – a breathy doubling at the octave.

At the end of the article is another treat – Yo Gabba Gabba. He includes a YouTube clip from this show of a song called Party In My Tummy. Now I know catchy and *this* is catchy!

Wonderful music site for kids and grown-ups!

I found this site via @laputean on Twitter.  It’s by a Dutch guy called Paul van Coeverden and, being entirely based in Flash, doesn’t need a lot of computer power.  He doesn’t shy away from using music that might be considered difficult, in fact the first animation I watched was of a teddy bear and was set to a piano piece by Arnold Schoenberg, the architect of the atonal movement.

There’s a fun game where you choose which track a train should travel on, matching the landscape it will pass through to the music you’re hearing (an overture by Rossini).

I can’t wait to explore it more.  It looks ideal for musically curious kids but don’t let that stop you from checking it out yourself 🙂

For another all-age treat, have a look at the animations on YouTube by Dimitriya.  They are, again, very much set to the music and so provide lots of fascination as the viewer ‘sees’ the music on the screen.

Babies are brilliant

A fascinating video (about fifteen minutes long) of psychologist Alison Gopnik talking about how babies are the best learning machines in the universe.  I have been working with very young children quite a bit over the past few years (through music) and, while it was never hard to appreciate that they are amazing beings, I never quite made the leaps that Ms Gopnik lead me to consider:

  • She points out the importance of experimentation, that babies are little scientists.  Why do so many children give up at music?  Is it because they aren’t given the chance to experiment (…with the guidance of someone who understands music)?  I don’t think people need to be ‘musicians’ to play musically with their kids but there’s a discomfort associated with music play that isn’t there if it’s colour play or shapes or building blocks.  How can I, as someone who understands music, best help children experiment with musical sounds and rhythm?
  • Experimenting isn’t telling somebody something!  We all learn loads of stuff at school but the vast majority of it, I’d say, we don’t really understand.  We know about gravity not because we learned about it in school but because we played with it as children.  By the time we get to school our experimentation has to be more efficient – the best teachers are always the ones who lead you to the answer, who let you experiment (materially or mentally); importantly (and efficiently), they guide you.
  • Yes, when we start school, we have to practice skills to get to be as good as possible, be that writing, typing, drawing, singing, long division or shooting baskets (i.e. “hoops”).  Ms Gopnik reveals the staggering notion that children are the best masters of counter-factual reasoning: they aren’t merely learning to understand what is, they are learning to imagine what could be.  How can music play encourage and broaden a child’s imagination?

A method that’s often used when playing with children, from the earliest smiling, is mirroring.  A friend of mine who works a lot with autistic children showed me the great effectiveness of this as a means of self-expression for the children he saw every week.  I have a little fifteen month old cousin who lives next door and the other day he was over with his Mum and I produced some tuned hand bells to play with.  Initially I gave him one (a ‘B’) then, after a few minutes of him getting used to it (showing it to everyone, ringing it constantly, pausing to taste it of course…), I got another (a ‘G’).  So we were making a nice, harmonious major third sound (I told him this, but I don’t know if it meant anything…).  We played for a good while with the bells – a high point being when he had the G and B and I had the A and C.  He would ring, I would copy and this – because of the choice of notes – sounded good.  We started experimenting and I followed his lead, setting the bells in front of me as he had done.  He chose one, I did the same.  He took one of mine, I took one of his, etc…  Great fun 🙂

My overqualified brain had to go and ruin things, of course, by introducing too many more bells (some were desk bells that are struck with the palm, not rung, and these confused the issue) until the cacophony became too overwhelming.  When I gave him a little glockenspiel it was just too abstracted and he couldn’t ‘see’ the individual notes as clearly as he’d been able to with the hand bells.  The mistake was in presenting too many possibilities.  Too many toys.  Like in House when he sends the team off to test for everything and they potter off glumly to the lab to face a night of haystack-needling.

Tadhg and I playing with bells
Tadhg and I playing with bells (photo by Jenny Wilson - click to visit her Flickr photostream)
Experimenting with bells
Experimenting with bells (photo by Jenny Wilson - click to visit her Flickr photostream)

Can’t wait to play some more – you should try it!

Some cute cards from kids last week

I did a project with a group of school kids last week in Offaly.  We wrote a song about the Pied Piper, ‘The Bargain’, which turned out rather nicely, ending with lots of angry faces and fist-waving!  I’m pleased with the middle section (“the rats were drowned…”) which has a bit of The Divine Comedy about it.  I taught it to the school choir I work with, too.

The mayor and piper, a bargain they made
“A fortune in guilders – five figures we’ll pay!
Get rid of the rats, they’re a plague on our heads.
They’re the curse of our town – play your pipe ’til they’re dead!”

He led the rats to the river bank
And he played his pipe ’til the last one sank
The rats were drowned, the town was free,
The piper returned to collect his fee…

“Dear Mayor,” said Piper, “a bargain we made.
A fortune in guilders you promised to pay…”
The hideous, flatulent, double-faced mayor
Said “Here’s fifty guilders – we feel that is fair.”

“You are a loser and I am a winner,
I am a saint and you are a sinner.
This is not the end!
This is not the end!
I will have revenge!
I will have revenge!”

We also did raps – here’s the one I did with my group:

Let me tell you ’bout those rats
Some of them were fat, some of them were thin
Some of them were tawny, some lived in a bin
One of them – he was bigger than a cat
Now what do you think of that?!
Another one – hmmmm, he didn’t look so good
And the smell of him was pretty rancid, too.
Let me try to explain
This smell was insane
Now that I think of it I’m in pain
This odour brought tears to my eyelids
Imagine a sandwich left years ‘fore you find it
Under the fridge or behind a chair
Ugh! I bet you’re glad you weren’t there!

Great fun!  When we’d done our final performance on the Friday, they presented each of us with a little bundle of thank you cards – very sweet 🙂

Children’s music workshop at Rare Diseases Day

I really enjoyed working with the children at the Mansion House today 🙂 We had quite a range of ages in the group of about a dozen kids and we had great fun making music together. We did some rhythm work, gradually building up from a simple clap to a brand new composition, the exclusive performance of which was witnessed by a group of lucky visitors to the Rare Disease Day event.

We composed a poem together, which we named ‘Spiel’, and which was inspired in part by the lovely room where we were working:


music twenty Lord Mayor nothing big space
tail’s gone Oisin dolly
pingy picture window mirror clapping RHYTHM

James Joyce would’ve been proud! We chanted the words in a specific rhythm, adding percussion instruments, chime bars, and my guitar to the mix.

Afterwards a few children and adults gathered around the very nice Petrof grand piano and did a little bit of playing, watching the hammers move and seeing how the pedal changed the way the dampers acted on the strings.

A delightful group of children and a lovely morning all round 🙂

Irish Times article

Pictured at Our Lady's Hospital, Crumlin was cellist Grainne Hope, Jonathan Wilson as Tchaikovsky, Amy Jordan and flautist Julie Maisel. Photographs: Jason Clarke Photography

In tune with children’s spirits

Sylvia Thompson

DAVID NOONAN (15) happily plays the chime bars alongside children of all ages who sing and tap their bells to Christmas songs. The teenager in Transition Year in Ard Scoil La Salle in Raheny, Dublin came down from his ward in Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin a little annoyed but it didn’t take long for him to cheer up. “Music is always a distraction for me. The workshop calmed me down. It was very enjoyable,” says Noonan, who plays the guitar, drums and piano when he’s at home. Amy Ferguson’s mother, Veronica, also enjoyed the music workshop led by cellist Grainne Hope and flautist Julie Maisel. Amy, who turns five this week, had a heart transplant two years ago. “We’re just happy that she’s here. We nearly lost her,” says her mother. “She loves singing and dancing and I love music myself.”

One of the striking aspects of this new series of music workshops in children’s hospitals is how the children of different ages are relaxed by the encounter with real classical musical instruments and the musicians. “You never know who will come so it’s important that we reach all children through the stories, the music we play and the songs we sing together,” says Grainne Hope.

Our Lady’s Hospital is one of three Dublin hospitals – the National Children’s Hospital in Tallaght and the Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street are the others – that will host Kids Classics music workshops over the next year.”Seventy per cent of the children who come into hospital have long-term illnesses such as genetic disorders, heart conditions or cancer which require ongoing care,” says Geraldine Regan, director of nursing at Our Lady’s Hospital.

“Because they will spend a significant proportion of their lives in hospital, we have to embrace a holistic approach to the child and look after their personal, social and even spiritual development as well as their physical and medical needs.”Children learn how to interact with the world through play and music is a large element of that,” she adds. “It lifts their spirits at a time when they are faced with many daunting situations such as operations, tests, X-rays and other procedures.”

The Kids Classics series of workshops will be held once a month in each hospital from now until December 2009.

Each workshop will explore a different composer. The workshop The Irish Times witnessed was called Tchaikovsky’s Christmas Party and during it Tchaikovsky (Jonathan Wilson) read the story of the Nutcracker while Maisel and Hope performed excerpts from it. “Later, we will have Beethoven’s Bad Hair Day and a day in the life of Mozart,” explains Hope. The series is funded by the Learn and Explore Department at the National Concert Hall (NCH). “Our aim is to bring music to every corner of Ireland so we would like to develop this programme further,” explains Katie Wink, the Learn and Explore manager at the NCH.Other outreach programmes run by the NCH include Up the Tempo in which musicians run composition workshops in schools. The National Chamber Choir also recently held music and singing workshops in nursing homes and the Coolmine Therapeutic Community.

The musicians themselves also enjoy the contact with people outside of traditional performance venues. “Playing music is such a human interaction and something very special happens in places like this,” says Jonathan Wilson who played guitar and doubled as Tchaikovsky for the workshop. “I was particularly struck by one girl in the group who was blind and yet had the best rhythm of all the children when we played and sang together,” he adds. According to Maisel, “There are plenty of studies that emphasise the benefit of music and then, we never know what impact the workshops might have. Some of the children might be encouraged to learn to play a musical instrument after participating.”

One recent study struck a chord for Regan. “Dr Dan Penny from the Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital spoke at our foundation day last month,” she explains. “And, he quoted a study of children with cardiac conditions whose social development was delayed due to the lack of play in their lives.” She continues, “Children in hospitals see the grim side of life. They are very good at coping in difficult situations but it is studies like this one that emphasise how important it is for us to give them access to opportunities to play and learn,” she says.

“In this environment of containing costs, you have to look at new ways of doing things and this partnership with the National Concert Hall allows us to look at the social development of children in a cost-effective way,” she adds.