Sonic Possibilities - Remembering the art of play
I came to the Germination project with great enthusiasm, armed with my clarinet and voice with a decade of classical training under my belt which proved to be more of an obstacle than any kind of useful tool at the very beginning. One hour into the first play day session, I found myself throwing a large pink button across the bare floors of the ex-department store that is PRIMEYARC, down reverberant staircases and quietly tapping pipes and chairs, in a pure state of listening and exploration. This moment alone was transformational.
I felt like my inner child was released and could finally explore and play, that I could see all of the sonic possibilities of the world through the eyes of a young child. I felt liberated. But it wasn’t easy, on the first day I had to learn to let go of inhibitions and how to be silly, authentic and uninhibited with a group of people I had only just met. It made me realise that to truly engage in non-verbal play with young children you have to let your guard down and connect very quickly.
Many of the exercises of the play days featured complicité, non-verbal ensemble work. Learning how to mirror and extend physical gestures and follow the sound play of leaders, practising by leading and following. We experimented with ‘micro-songs’ which can be a mixture of physical, gestural and vocalised miniature sequences, they can often emerge as games and can consist of a simple yawn with some eye contact. I had experienced this with children in the past but lacked the clarity or definition of what it was and how it can be used as a creative seed with young children and engage with their play. When I entered the nursery setting for my play sessions I used my new-found knowledge of these ‘micro-songs’ to create an interplay between the music of my clarinet and the children's physical movements. The result was a dance and musical improvised piece for “14 children and clarinet” featuring disco dancing and rolling around on the floor - a good job I had already practised playing my clarinet lying down with my feet in the air.
Once the children realised what they were able to influence and control my clarinet playing, they pushed everything to the boundaries in joyful dance and life. There was a rhythm and flow to the session that felt utterly fluid. And I just let go and played the notes. I had children coming up to me and saying ‘play the music like this’ and then they would sing or move in a totally new way. And then I had to cook up something musically new. I found that when working with a group of young children it was all about embracing the present moment and being completely aware of what was being offered, and trying to respond to everything from the new ensemble. It was about discovering a new state of high awareness.
The dynamic exercises led by the Magic Acorns team were about being aware of the ensemble, miniature movements, vocalisations and tuning into the physical and sonic embodiments of other human beings. Young children are still developing their linguistic skills so by refining my ability to tap into the non-verbal communication of young children, I felt like I had developed a new superpower to work with.
Another outcome of the Germination project was having absolute confidence in being open to everything that happens in the moment. I would never have been brave enough to walk into a nursery setting with only my clarinet and no structured songs or back-up activities to call upon. But it showed me that if my focus is entirely on what of offered by young children, that it is always unimaginably fruitful and that I can share the moment in a dance of following, imitating, leading, turn-taking, shaping and copying to create a magical unique one-off experience full of energy and musicality. If I am completely aware and sharing the moment then all I have to do is play the notes.