Firstly - what a beautiful and peaceful setting. I had heard of Aldeburgh for ages, and remember studying Britten’s St. Nicholas at school. So i always had the image of not only a successful composer in critical and commercial terms, but one who also wanted to address a need to share a great combination of things: a chance for deep learning and inspiration, in a beautiful location ( the venue being Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, Suffolk, UK). So – after a great introductory meet with Colin Virr , to outline all of the great things that the AYM have achieved plus the visions for the future – we began. Diving straight into some wonderful exercises (both physical and musical) with leader Eugene Skeef - this begun to hone and focus the group energy quickly. This wonderful teaming of vocalists Marcina Arnold , Deborah Jordan , Eugene and myself – improvised a tune , and each of us contributed music or a musical game involving lyric creation, or meditative vocalising. I then performed a duo with one of the students ,which was a joy, before we retired for lunch.
During lunch i ran into a former teacher at my Uni – Tim Steiner - who was leading the more experienced ensemble in another part of Snape Maltings. This looked like a great band with an eclectic line up (from Harp, to multiple guitars, horns and laptops). Great to find out that we will all get a chance to hear them – on our last day. After lunch we continued with more , this time based around the development of a song using a (hastily sourced!) chord sequence , that in turn had derived from a musical chairs game (christened ‘you gotta be fast’ by Marcina) . Then we split into groups, with each going off to develop their own version. The afternoon finished with a sequenced performance of each of these versions. There was only a little time for them to develop these , and they did a fantastic job, with distinct differences in each. This is a truly inspiring place – and it can never be said enough, how lucky these youngs artists are to be present here.
Our particular group of inductees ,joined the more experienced ensemble for a amazing warm up exercise. This was in a different part of the complex, which has a variety of halls – all of them full of character. Eugene and Tim Steiner lead a wordless’ follow the leader’ set of physical instructions with this combined group of now over 50 young musicians . Sharpening our collective cohesion, removing morning cobwebs and promoting trust (clapping in interlocking groups of 7 and 5 metre gets you there quickly!).
We came back to resume developing the ‘Fast’ tune from yesterday, encouraging all to bring the spirit of jumping in to improvise – to get more relaxation, commitment and projection to happen. Doubly testing as this was mostly done vocally – ( not the prime instrument for most present). I then performed The Glimpse and took some questions - how did it develop, why etc, as an introduction to the lh only talk (to happen later). It was great to derive the meaning of the piece without being explicit . Then Deborah performed a song – ‘Pure’ with me. I know all the pianos have extraordinary tales to tell – I do need to find out one day which ones Britten found particularly pleasing etc as it was a real honour playing each one!
Lunch and several Hepworth sculpture photos later (see one included), we returned to a bespoke yoga routine led by Marcina. Clear explanations of the desired effect of each position were given, and we had a v.chilled and flexible class as a result! We then were gifted a beginner intro to Kathak, via a raga scale and two different tihai, and the beautiful hand counting system. After a further break – we again split into two groups …led by Marcina, and myself and Debbie. We worked hard on a version of a tune of mine (Stargazer) … And have the information needed for a version that I am sure we can assemble tomorrow. A lot of great stuff imparted today !
Each day the progression has been palpable. We started today with a great section from Deb Jordan on the chakras, their function and their corresponding colours and pitches. This was in some depth, and led towards some fantastically committed improvising over these very tones (by choice of the students). There was definitely a collective growth today, and once the connection was made to the very real effects these choices of notes have – we definitely moved onto a new page as a unit. I really enjoyed contributing some playing to this (given the special vibe that already had evolved). There was a great collective chat discussing what had taken place during this (felt like a few people were starting on the path to finding a voice, or at least adopting a comfortable stance to allow this to start to come through more freely). We were building up a great list of amazing artists that they should all check out , and I got to chat a little about my favourite references to Bruce Lee ( his tv interview mention of the unconditional conditional, and the conditional unconditional – and its direct relationship to solid/liquid , set/improvised areas).
After lunch there was another groove set up by Eugene, to encourage more time keeping responsibility. There was perhaps a couple of post lunch energy lulls during this, and then we began to do a series of question and answer sessions that got ever more illuminating.
We then split into groups – led by Eugene, Deb and Marcina , and myself. Lots of questions followed- on aspirations, career paths, future of uk jazz etc, when is a composition finished etc , and more.
We returned to find Eugene’s group deeply grooving on another fantastic rhythm in 5. There had already been a great energy centred on this activity. As all the groups returned – they simply joined in. No cues, no instruction, no shyness – all in! Wonderful to end the music making with the whole group either singing, clapping or playing. Another brief q and a , from the completely re- assembled group, more generally along the lines of ‘favourite tune/gig/tour experience etc’. (of which there are too many to mention even over 4 days!)
We started the morning with more exercises, including some trading (improvised conversation) – wonderful to hear inhibitions being lost via on the spot creativity! Our question and answer sessions had become more fine tuned and inclusive the longer they had gone on, and a good spread of people had contributed to this. We also worked on the tune Marcina had initiated, and am sure a version of it will emerge …. (watch this space) . After this and lunch (which had been really great throughout), we attended the older students ensemble performance. There is so much great talent here , and many of whom have already gigged/toured etc. This was also the very first AYM streamed event, and consisted of a mix of music by Tim Steiner, Jan Hendrickse, Jonathan Harvey, the theme tune from Hawai 5-0, some soundpainting, and more!
Many many goodbyes later – we looked at the board covered in inspirational names (from music, dance, spoken/written words through to the culinary arts). That alone was a nice tribute to the quality of interaction that had taken place over these few days . Great to chat to a few parents as well.
Can i thank – master teacher Eugene Skeef, Marcina Arnold, Deborah Jordan, visionary Colin Virr, Melissa Mathews and all of the staff at AYM . Can i thank – all of the gifted, humble, and knowledge hungry young artists who made it down. You are extremely lucky to attend this unique type of school. We need far more of them. We would love to return!!!
(photo above – Jan Hendrickse, me, Eugene Skeef, Deborah Jordan, Marcina Arnold, Tim Steiner)