Monday, 24 May 2010

Songwriting with young children - part two

In the post before last I talked about writing songs with children that are to be played by children. In this instance the children are aged between 7 and 11 years old. The words were extracted from the children by a writer, of poetry rather than songs, as part of a project aimed at improving literacy. It was my task to set this words to music with the undertaking that I should not alter the words of the children. My first attempt, Anansi Likes a Challenge, is appended to the previous post. While I was pleased to have squeezed in all the words, I was concerned that it would not be an easy song for a vocalist to deliver. This has proved to be the case as, in the interests of fairness, and of not overburdening young minds with too many lines to learn, the part of Anansi is played by no fewer than five children, four of whom sing the song in unison.

Many subsequent lyrics arrived in blank verse with lines of irregular length and no implied pulse. Some I sent back to the overworked playwright and others I tampered with myself, not just to make them role off the tongue but to make them easier to remember. (I don't know about you, gentle reader, but I like my singers to have the words in their heads rather than on pieces of paper.) I did, however, try to remain true to the ideas and images produced by the children.

In rehearsal the biggest challenge was moving from one section to another. As the show is to be performed outside, and because the school has several large xylophones and glockenspiels, I opted for mallet percussion as the mainstay of the accompaniment. The orchestra has, for the most part, got the hang of changing from the verse pattern to the chorus pattern and back. However, they are still getting used to following the singer if s/he changes too early or too late. What they can't cope with is a singer who is lacks any rhythmic sensibility and is blissfully unaware of the pulse followed by the band. And, as do I, they struggle to follow a singer they can't hear.

Below are two songs I demo'd up for the show. Mr Lonely will be sung by two children, as the character who plays its singer feels the need for some support. Potion Hunters' Song is sung by most of the children in Year 3 (aged 7 and 8) and uses just three notes, two of which are C, throughout the piece.

&<span class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_3">lt</span>;a <span class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_4">href</span>="">Mr Lonely by Jonathan Lambert&<span class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_5">lt</span>;/a>
&<span class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_6">lt</span>;a <span class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_7">href</span>="">Potion Hunters' Song by Jonathan Lambert&<span class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_8">lt</span>;/a>

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