Workshop led by Peter Sheppard Skaerved and Malene Sheppard Skaerved

Schools and arts award

On 12 November 2012 Peter Sheppard Skaerved and Malene Sheppard Skaerved led two workshops: the first at Dover College and the second at Church of England Primary School. These were very different environments, but each equally inspiring in their own ways.

The Dover College Workshop focused on the links between composition, storytelling and performance. About 12 students, aged between 16-18, from a variety of backgrounds, took part. About half came from Dover, one from Margate, one from Canterbury. The rest came from, respectively Hong Kong, Mexico City, Venice, and Brazil. We were very grateful for the welcome and collaboration of the head of music, Paul Young BA, who took an active part in the workshop, as participant, rather than as a teacher. This is key, as a real impediment to young adults thinking creatively is too pedagogical and approach. The students were very vocal about how good it was to do something like this, outside the constraints of curriculum based activity.

We started by introducing the idea of travel – arriving and moving through Dover, either ‘taking in’ the place or bringing their own experiences. We talked of Paganini, Andersen, of nature, introducing voices from the past, still present in story and music. Malene stresed how myth lets us remember the past as a warning and guide of what might come.

Two strands emerged in the session-one of materials (stretching from raw musical materials, to the “Stoff” of storytelling), through to structure. The students proved very ready to improvise, and excited to go out of their ‘comfort zone’ – that is, into the language of contemporary classical music, where there is a permeable divide between what might be defined as music/as story, and what might be seen as noise. It proved unexpectedly useful that there were a number of guitarists in the room, offering the opportunity to explore delicacy of timbre, of line, of colour.

An interesting narrative of travel emerged: it turned out that one of the violinists was playing a violin by the emigre luthier Vicenzo Panormo (1734–1813) (The girl had been given her violin by her grandfather). Although born in Sicily, Panormo worked in Paris until the Revolution, before fleeing across the channel, to end up as a Soho-based maker. The story of this violin, its maker, and the ‘synching point’ of Dover in the story, proved wonderfully fertile.

At the end, after they had loved the sounds and the piece that they had made, one student said: ‘But would an audience want to listen to this type of composition?’ This allowed us to discuss the role of the artist: to look at the world and sometimes say what no one wants to hear – truthful, honest and spontaneous.

After this workshop we climbed the hill to St Mary’s Primary School, just beneath the headquarters of DAD! The staff were extremely welcoming, and asked that we see two sets of children – one group aged 5-6, the other the year above. Each group consisted of twenty children (roughly) with two or three staff.

The French link, established earlier in the day, continued, as on the wall of the assembly hall of this modern school, was a board recording a gift to the school from Napoleon III, who had visited Dover in 1855.

These workshops turned out to be very physical – Malene introduced the idea of story telling with music, the simple associations of feelings and description with sound and music. Initially the teachers were clearly concerned that we might want the children to be less responsive, but their charming (exceptionally polite) and spontaneous reactions became freeer as the classes went on. The most wonderful example of this was when the children heard Pietro Locatelli’s ‘il laberinto armonico, facilius adius, difficilus exius’. Their response to the gradients and swells of this bubbling piece was exactly graduated laughter, like the pealing of tiny bells, exactly matching the musical shapes. We encouraged them to move with the music, and the workshops turned into an unexpected expressive dance class. However, there was also small miracle. There was one shy girl, who began the class almost silent, but given the chance to interact with the violin at close quarters, found her voice, and spoke more and more. Afterwards, the teachers stressed that this was a child who never spoke, and that this had been a major breakthrough for her.

All in all, an inspiring day, from which we learnt a huge amount.” (Peter Sheppard Skaerved)

Click here to listen to a soundscape recorded at the sessions.