School Workshops

Schubert Ensemble Workshop

Alongside the concerts in St. John's Kirk, in 2012-13 we began another exciting activity, taking visiting musicians into local schools.

That season, Anemos Arts Ensemble worked with wind and brass students from St. John's Academy. Then the Schubert Ensemble (pictured above) visited Kilgraston School playing to an enthusiastic audience of nearly one hundred pupils.

In The Pipeline

For this special season of PCM’s 400th Concert, a series of exciting music workshops has been planned, with some ground-breaking features:

  • a focus on wind playing
  • a village hall event for the whole community
  • three performances of Peter and the Wolf

The programme is:

  • 6 & 7 October 2016 - Dutch wind ensemble Anemos perform Peter and the Wolf at Ochil Tower Steiner School, at Forgandenny Village Hall and at Auchterarder Community Campus
  • 27 October 2016 - High school workshop by Phoenix Wind Trio
  • 21 March 2017 - Masterclass by the Ter-Berg/Nicholson Flute and Piano Duo, winners of the Tunnell Award
  • TBC - Primary school workshop by Cameo Clarinets

“That was Awful!”

The 2015/16 season’s last two PCM workshops took place on 24th February, given by Glasgow-based wind ensemble, Cameo Clarinet Quartet.

In the morning at Rattray Primary School, Blairgowrie, the first session saw the Quartet playing with and coaching the school’s own wind players, before being joined in the second session for a concert for all in years 4-7. In the afternoon, at Robert Douglas Memorial Primary School, Scone, the opening session was with the school’s class for children on the autistic spectrum and the final concert had the Assembly Hall packed wall to wall with junior school pupils.

Each session, small and large, was a well-judged mix of short pieces (from Piazzolla to The Pink Panther) and games and exercises – “feel the floor vibrate when I play my lowest note”; “come and conduct”; “close your eyes and imagine….”. There was a great sense of involvement and appreciation throughout. The only heart-stopping moment came in the special needs session when an excited voice was heard to say “That was Awful!” A member of staff quickly translated this as “Awfully Good”.

Head counting was difficult but it was estimated that the double workshop reached approximately 340 children, including 23 young players from the two schools. Thanks to instrument teacher Fran Pybus and senior staff of the schools.

Watch Out For The Kinross Septet

Perth Chamber Music’s second workshop took the renowned Brodsky Quartet to Kinross High School on 12th November 2015. The school has an impressive number of string ensembles. In the first two sessions of the morning, the Brodskys worked separately with a quartet and a quintet, and then together with a septet. The already high standard of playing allowed them to experiment and to concentrate together on detail.

After the interval, the third session was a full-blooded recital. It opened with the septet playing Grieg’s Elegiac Melody “Spring” and demonstrating everything they had learnt from the masterclass. The Brodskys then took over. After pieces by Borodin and Mendelssohn, they brought the workshop to an end and the audience to its feet with a demonic arrangement of Paganini’s last Caprice.

It was cellist Jacky Thomas who pointed out the real significance of the workshop. 43 years ago, the Brodsky Quartet had started as a school ensemble. So watch out for the Kinross Septet!

Flying Start to the Workshops

On 6th October our 2015/16 season of school workshops got off to the best possible start with The Schubert Ensemble’s only visit to Scotland this year. Over 65 enthusiastic pupils from Perth’s North Inch Campus participated.

Part One for the primary classes consisted of a lively discussion built around hearing music excerpts of romantic and contemporary music. The audience was challenged to identify playing techniques and the subtle ways the Quartet communicated. After that, it was the audience’s turn. Their questions continued even after the interval bell, and as they filed out came the coup de grace – “why do you frown at the start of the piece and smile at the end?”!

Part Two for the older string and piano players was a fascinating examination of an arrangement by Judith Weir of an old folk melody. The dissection showed the simple but effective use of instrumentation, rhythm, harmony, ornamentation and dynamics to hold the listeners’ attention.

This was a workshop that covered a lot of ground in a short time … just like the Schubert Ensemble, who told us they had given over 1,000 concerts in 40 countries.

Grand Finale

The last two school workshops this season (2014-15) were held in Perth early in March.

On 9 March international musicians violinist Chloe Hanslip and pianist Danny Driver gave a Mega-masterclass to ten pupils from Milnathort Primary, Kinross High, Perth Grammar, Perth High and St.John’s Academy. Each played their chosen piece, then the audience of pupils, parents and instrument teachers listened closely as positives were praised and technical tips shared on how to phrase passages, vary vibrato or blend with an accompanist or an orchestra. Progress was immediately evident. The workshop had its lighter moments. Bang on cue in the middle of an Irish Idyll the school bell rang, sounding just like a bagpipe note!

Chloe Hanslip put her finger on the key to successful music-making when she told one of the younger players, “You sounded as if you were really enjoying it!!”

Two days later, the final school workshop in 2014-15 took place when Cameo Clarinets visited Fairview School for children with special needs. There were three lively sessions for primary and younger and older secondary pupils. All were rumbustious occasions, full of fun and with maximum participation.

The Quartet had plenty of activities to engage their audiences. There were chances to ‘feel’ the bass clarinet’s bottom note, to touch the instruments and their keys, to guess what animal or film was being described, to close eyes and listen, or to join in with the school’s own percussion instruments.

The highlight of all three sessions was when children came forward to conduct the ensemble. 100 Pipers an’ A’ was a funereal lament one moment and a furious reel the next! At the end, Head Teacher Fiona Gillespie thanked the Quartet for a great afternoon.

Perth Chamber Music acknowledges the support of The Thompson Trust, Enterprise Music Scotland and Perth and Kinross Council in organising the workshops. A new season of events is being planned for the autumn.

Who says Mondays are dull?

Kaleidoscope Saxophone Quartet opened their January 2015 tour of Scotland with a Monday morning workshop for 35 wind players at Kinross High School. Over the two hours the London based group played excerpts of Grieg, Piazzolla and Duke Ellington, interspersed with knowledgeable questions and discussion of “growling”, slap tonguing, the Blues Scale and an impressive demonstration of circular breathing that drew great applause!

The group got everyone to their feet in a big circle for a testing rhythmic “Pass the Parcel”. Great fun and it all showed what skills and multi-tasking professional performers need to have.

Principal Teacher Paul Rosie thanked Kaleidoscope and wished them well for their evening concert in Perth and the rest of their tour.

Contrasts at Crieff

On 12 November 2014 the Atalanta Piano Quartet presented an absorbing workshop to 23 of Crieff High School’s senior music students. It was built around excerpts of quartets by Beethoven, Schumann and Faure. But the mysterious world of Martin Butler’s Sequenza Notturna most captured the imagination of the very perceptive audience. Its contrast of sound effects and its use of harmonics and the mute led to a lively discussion, and contrasts were also vividly demonstrated and discussed when Atalanta juxtaposed the scherzos of the Schumann and the Faure quartets.

For this workshop, Perth Chamber Music combined forces with colleagues in Strathearn Music Society. The next workshops sponsored by Enterprise Music Scotland and the Thomson Trust take place early in January in Kinross and Perth.

Why are there only four instruments in a quartet? (1)

This was just one of many questions fired at the Castalian String Quartet by children at Viewlands Primary School on 9th October 2014. The 40-strong audience wanted to know:

  • How did you start playing?
  • What inspired you?
  • Where did you all meet?
  • What is a typical day for you?
  • What is the weirdest place you’ve ever played in? (2)

In return, the Quartet challenged the children to listen to all the different moods created, and the different techniques required, by excerpts of Schubert, Ravel and Mozart. Just as the Quartet had responded brilliantly to their questions, so, too, the children entered fully into the discussion.

Only a persistent telephone over the school tannoy brought the workshop towards its close. Regional Co-ordinator of music, Allan Young, called for an enthusiastic vote of thanks.

Working hard, the Castalians were able to include a second workshop during their visit. This was at Kilgraston School. They offered a master-class on Eine Kleine Nachtmusik to 5 promising string pupils and then gave a performance to over 100 pupils. The response was enthusiastic!

Answers:

  1. Because the four instruments are the perfect combination!
  2. A Japanese prison and a Mongolian Village orphanage!

Highland Gig

The last of Perth Chamber Music’s 2013 – 14 school workshops took place on 17th February 2014 when the McKenzie Sawers Saxophone Duo visited Breadalbane Academy in Aberfeldy. Set in the heart of Highland Perthshire, the school has a fine tradition of wind playing, well demonstrated during the afternoon’s event. Twenty saxophonists, clarinettists and flautists attended the workshop which took the form of a masterclass for four of the school’s senior saxophonists.

The tuition was adroitly handled by Sue McKenzie and Ingrid Sawers. First a chance for each soloist to perform chosen pieces, then discussion and work on three or four different points:

  • how to prepare to perform
  • how to tune up
  • how to indicate a speed and nail the opening
  • how to handle nerves
  • and a host of technical tips on improvisation, dealing with notorious notes and difficult fingering, and even the pitfalls of buying an instrument.

The workshop finished with open questions which continued long after the school bell had rung!

Progress, of both technique and interpretation, was evident during the afternoon. This momentum was carried forward the next day when a party from the school, led by Principal Teacher Gordon Murch, made the long journey to Sue and Ingrid’s inspirational recital in St John’s Kirk, Perth.

High Winds in Perth

On 28th January 2014 Perth High School was the venue of an exciting music workshop for around fifty young wind players. The afternoon event was led by the Scottish Reed Trio, one of Scotland’s finest wind ensembles.

Oboist Catherine Earnshaw, clarinettist Fran Pybus and bassoonist Heather Kent performed a wide range of music from baroque to contemporary, to demonstrate what their instruments could achieve. Between the pieces they explained how the instruments had developed technically and how the music had also changed from compositions for occasions to pieces written with particular instruments and ensembles in mind. They played pieces in different ways to show how embellishments and dynamics could change them dramatically. The audience responded with searching questions (‘What does blowing a reed feel like?’) and knowledgeable comments (‘That was a tierce de Picardie!’)

On behalf of the school Philip Alexander, instrument instructor, and Allan Young, Regional Director of Music, thanked the Scottish Reed Trio for the workshop. The workshop was organised by local music charity Perth Chamber Music with generous support by Enterprise Music Scotland and the Thomson Charitable Trust.

St Petersburg meets Milnathort

Wednesday 2nd October 2013 was a big day in Milnathort. The mighty St Petersburg String Quartet has played all over the world, “everywhere except Africa and the North and South Poles”. One of Russia’s finest groups of musicians, it came to present a workshop at Milnathort Primary School.

St. Petersburg String Quartet Workshop

The primary school itself boasts a talented young quartet. Three of its pupils, violinists Ola, Audrey and Lily and cellist Lorna from Kinross High School played fearlessly for the Russian maestros in front of other string players from Milnathort and Kinross Primary Schools. In the masterclass they were coached in the finer points of ensemble playing by the leader Alla Aranovskaya:

  • How to make the perfect start
  • Identifying the most important “voice” at any one time
  • Thinking of the rise and fall of the music
  • Conveying the different moods of pieces, like sunny and gloomy days

The girls were quick to respond and by the end the difference in the playing was clear.

The workshop was then joined by the other 200 pupils from the school. Welcomed by the head teacher, the St Petersburg Quartet then played movements by Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Shostakovitch and Benjamin Britten. “Shostakovitch at Milnathort! Who would have thought it?” was one comment. Not easy listening. But the whole school did listen, riveted for the second half of the workshop, and then had the chance to fire a host of questions at the quartet:

  • Q: How old is your violin?
    A: Nearly three hundred years old [gasps]
  • Q: How do you know what to play?
    A: [More gasps when the black page of music was held up]
  • Q: Why did you start playing?
    A: Because my mum pushed me [laughs]
  • Q: How much do you practise? (This from a mum in the audience)
    A: Six hours every day [amazement]
  • Q: What country have you liked playing in most?
    A: Scotland [loud cheers]

Some questions had to go unanswered, for time ran out. Sharon Doyle, the school’s string teacher, thanked the musicians on behalf of the school. On the way out, there were umpteen more thank yous, and a last word from one boy, “That Was Awesome!”

With financial support from Enterprise Music Scotland and local trust funding, the workshop was organised by Allan Young, Director of Music for the region, and by local charity, Perth Chamber Music, whose next concert on 6th November stars violinist Jennifer Pike and pianist Tom Poster. Children free!