This blog will explore some of the themes that came out of The Nest project, for me, in September & October 2023 in Great Yarmouth.
The whole project was a joyful, immersive experience, and I feel like I learnt a huge amount about engaging with children under 3 years old and their families. The project followed several days in July with Helena and Jorge from Companhia de Música Teatral, and will be followed by online movement sessions. I hadn’t done much work with early years before this project, which I undertook as part of a trainee scheme with Magic Acorns.
One of the main ideas and themes that came out of the project, for me, which was slightly unexpected, was feeling less like ‘a musician taking part in an early years workshop’ and much more about finding and following games that were emerging. I also feel I learnt through the three weeks a lot about following the child, which I think is essential, and I think through both these themes there emerges ideas about entering the child’s world. I reflected on how for the child, the different practices that were involved in the experiences (music, movement, sound art, visual arts) weren’t separate - the child, I think, experiences them as, perhaps, just being creative in the world, and perhaps as a facilitator (‘making something easy’), we follow that experience.
I found Magic Acorns’ approach to early years practice fascinating. In the sensory space that we created at the Magic Acorns' building on Stonecutters Way, I think the immersive environment that we made lent itself really well to groupings and smaller ecologies. I came away from the project feeling that I don’t think these kind of small group experiences would happen in a ‘session’ centred around one leader. Although later in the project we talked about whether this approach was too much for the child’s experience, and also around the role in these workshops for the parents, I think this unique approach means that there is time and space for experiences to emerge - like a parent and child making a melody together by putting chimes in an apparently arbitrary order, or for intimate one-to-one (or more) sensory experiences with a baby who might be only weeks old. I also felt that this was a positive thing to come out of having quite a large group of artists involved - it facilitated these smaller ecologies, which could also include time for parents to socialise in a space where perhaps their role as a parent was different, because there were enough artists to engage with the children. I also learnt that, especially with this number of artists, it was much more important to leave space for the child, and to follow their lead, rather than putting in too many provocations.
The three weeks we spent together felt varied and informative - from following children into the dunes to conch-offs and more. I have come away with several questions - after a child’s fascination with the accordion (“I like it!”), how do I translate this into a continuing relationship as a facilitator? How is a workshop different to a playground or a school, and what is our role as an artist? I think my main learning from the project has been about stepping back and following the game and the child.
Chris Dowding is a trumpeter, composer and workshop leader based in Norwich.
As a workshop leader, he has worked with Spitalfields Music, Dartington and more recently with the Norwich-based charity Musical Keys, as well as recent projects in Wayland HM Prison with the octet holding hands and a project at Angel Road Infant School with the duo The Tree and the Bell.
Chris performs around the UK with groups including Natural Causes, Rude 2.0 (with the trombonist Annie Whitehead) and The Brass Monkeys . He leads the Moonrise Trio and also has several solo projects. He has been commissioned by Durham Brass Festival (a piece for solo brass instrument with looping app on mobile phone) and by Norfolk and Norwich Festival (the ‘Critical Time’ project with holding hands, co-led with saxophonist Rob Milne).
Recent projects have included a second ‘Homecoming’ installation at Raveningham Sculpture Trail with Norwich-based artist Laure Van Minden, and setting up the micro-label CDMJ Records.