As a musician and workshop leader with an understanding of music as a process, a state of mind, and a tool for growth, I believe that focussing too much on the ‘final product’ of a project can sometimes be counter-productive. However, the #DM20 Commission, a composition written by and for deaf and hard of hearing adults and children, would be judged on it’s final product alone, and to be meaningful would need to use themes, musical material and musical intent generated by the participants themselves. Therefore, both the means and the end of the workshops needed to be original, engaging, and reflect the personalities of the participants.
The first step to success was to make sure the participants could make beautiful sounds quickly. There is, in my opinion, no better family of instruments suited to this task than tuned percussion – marimba, balafon, vibraphone etc. Fortunately, Drake Music’s Associate Musician Jenni Parkinson is a marimba specialist, and brought some of her collection into our improvised workshop space- the Drake Music London office.
These beautiful instruments were augmented with percussion, Tibetan singing bowls, a couple of iPads, and a bit of kit that was new to all of us, the Subpac, best described as a vibrating rucksack that turns sounds into vibrations; it wouldn’t be Drake Music without some assistive technology!
Our morning session saw the DM offices vibrate with the energy and musicality of eight five-to-nine year olds and their families. My aim with this group was threefold. First, to create melodic and rhythmic motifs, and more abstract textures, generated through games, exploration, and cross-arts exercises that could be developed by myself or the afternoon group of deaf adults. Secondly, to develop the participants’ capacity to solo, and to mine these solos for moments of genius that could be re-contextualised in the final piece. Thirdly, to explore the participants’ identity as deaf children and perhaps write some lyrics based on this identity.
We began with a series of games around a table- passing vibratory messages through the table itself, and by pressing on each others’ backs as we vocalised.
Later, we split into two groups, with one group developing melodies using balafons, the other developing solos with everyone’s favourite iPad app, Bebot.
The discussion about ‘what it means to be deaf’ was successful in that we had a great discussion amongst adults about the ins and outs of bringing up a deaf child, and got some great snippets of insight from the young people, but as one participant’s parent stated ‘my child doesn’t know what it means to be deaf yet’.
The afternoon session, with some exceptionally talented adult deaf musicians, was an altogether different kettle of fish. Three of the four participants were musicians in their own right – Mikko Karhu, vocalist and producer, has recently released a fantastic experimental-electro solo album, Gauzes. MC Geezer and DJ Inigo are regular features of the well-known Deaf Rave club nights. Our fourth participant, Sorcha Hannon, as well as being profoundly deaf, has the much sought-after combination of being both hugely creative and rhythmically flawless.
We got to know each other, as people and musicians, through the medium of balafon playing, and then split up to develop the seeds of lyrics, melodies and rhythms that had been sown in the morning, before bringing it all together and recording right up until the final whistle blew. My favourite two parts of the afternoon session were when Mikko used a lyrical seed from Alex, one of our child musicians, to create a brilliant verse (you will know which one it is when you hear the final piece), and when Sorcha and Jenni recorded their marimba parts over DJ Inigo’s drumbeat using the subpac and headphones respectively to monitor the drums. Possibly a world first…
I will, at this point, stop typing because Ivan, the filmmaker, has just sent me through the final version of the music/video, and you will be able to hear and see for yourself the fruits of our endeavour in just a few days. Look out for it on the DM website…