Friday, 17 April 2009

Music for Shakespeare Week

Next week I'll be helping a couple of Year 1 classes make some music to enhance a Shakespearian forest scene. When I was first introduced to Shakespeare, at the age of 14, I remember my English teacher being very enthusiastic but the rest of us finding it hard going. The language was a bit of a barrier. We would try to read the play, The Merchant of Venice, out loud in class but the jokes all needed explaining and the insults were like being sworn at in Mandarin by someone with no expression and a speech impediment. But in the end I 'got' Shakespeare and he has given me a great deal of pleasure since.

Over coffee yesterday a friend of mine, head-teacher at a rural primary school, and I discussed the merits of Shakespeare Week for five and six year olds. He needs to decide whether Shakespeare or Darwin, celebrating his 200th birthday this year, would best suit suit his children. I can't help thinking that Darwin is easier to understand, the theory easy to illustrate. Little boys really go for dinosaurs for a start. Even in Norfolk, UK, we have the occasional Darwin denier but that's no barrier to teaching the theory. We happily teach children about a whole variety of religions without claiming to believe in them all so why not science? I'm not sure what sort of musical accompaniment would suit but there are plenty of 'survival of the fittest' parallels in the music industry.

But I digress. Music for Shakespeare. The play selected is A Midsummer Night's Dream, presumably for its fairies and woodland scenery rather for its drug-induced hallucinations or bedroom-farce plot-line. Come to think of it I'm not sure how five-year-olds will cope with the play-within-a-play in the last act. However, there's a job to be done. Fairies frolic in the woods and Athenians stumble around in the dark. I'll steer the children towards tinkly bells, rustling leaves, creatures of the night and perhaps a mysterious whole tone scale played on pre-selected chime bars. I'm sure they'll have a great deal of fun, whatever they think the play is about. What the Bard himself would make of it is anyone's guess but I promise to give you my own, less literary, impressions when all the playing is done.

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