Play on, play on…

I’ve just had a bit of a treat. A visit to Glyn Jones workshop. They say if you’re thinking of buying a dog, do the research BEFORE you go to see the puppy, because once you hold that puppy in your hands you’re lost. Glyn describes himself not as a Luthier but as a maker and repairer of Violin family instruments  http://www.vioglyn.com.  He began his journey whilst browsing in a second-hand bookshop and his engineers eye fell on a book about the art of violin making “Violin Making as it Was and Is” by polymath Edward Heron-Allen who studied under French Violin Luthier Georges Chanot at his London Workshop in 1885 in order to write the book. A particular quote in the book spoke to Glyn and he decided to have a go at making a violin.

http://www.abebooks.co.uk/book-search/title/violin-making-as-was-is/author/heron-allen/

Sometime later, a violin back recently resin-coated was hanging out on the washing line at his army quarters in Germany and caught the eye of Betty a violinist in the Detmold Chamber Orchestra http://www.detmolder-kammerorchester.de/dko.html as she cycled past. Fascinated and intreagued Betty grabbed a colleague and invited themselves round for Sunday lunch and soon became Glyns first official testers giving valuable feedback and the rest as they say, is history…

I know this because Glyn is about to give a talk to a local Women’s Institute group and has obviously been re-visiting his journey in preparation. He confessed to me that he will readily and happily talk all day about the making of instruments, his passion and pride communicating not just through his words but his work and his work-environment. I would have been quite happy to listen all day but he is a busy man.

There is something quite addictive about a craftsman’s workshop. Glyns is like the violin version of the Enchanted Toyshop, or even Ollivanders Wand-making Workshop. Underneath all the science and precision engineering is magic and enchantment: that transformative process in science that creates beauty from brutalism. In a glass fronted cabinet sit rows of bottles containing raw ingredients for making different resins. Glyn is currently experimenting with a rose-madder colour, rich and luxuriant. Hanging from the roof are his works in progress from his Vio-5 electric acoustic violin with a wonderful heart shaped bottom and five strings, to a burnished and beautiful violin waiting to go down with Glyn to the Weymouth Festival this year. On a bench are the front and back of another violin in creation and behind his wood blocks, from Slovenia and all sorts of interesting places, hand picked and maturing; waiting to be chosen and created in to a hand crafted work of art. Each piece worked by hand, no nails, no staples, just cutting, carving, shaping, smoothing, glueing, drying and the layer upon layer of resin applied. Countless hours of labour, craft, and deep satisfaction in the making of it all.

Glyn doesn’t pepper his work with talk of ‘flaming’ and ‘purflins’, he speaks simply and with quiet passion about his work, and it really is an experience to see the inner workings of instrument creation. I aspired right there and then to my daughter being able to experience the journey of owning an instrument which she had chosen the wood for, decided on the pattern, colour and tone and stage by stage had watched it come to life. The practical side of me knows that whilst she is at Grade 2, that day is a way off yet and that we’re more likely in the short term, to try for one of Glyns skillfully restored older instruments. How wonderful to be able to make music and how much more wonderful to own an instrument made for you that becomes a part of your life story as much as you become a part of it’s history.

We need music in our lives, despite the damage done by our current drearily unimaginative and short-sighted government who are removing the arts from the curriculum (again in fact, having first done so back in Margaret Thatchers day). The government educationalists talk of creating Scientists without understanding that in the right hands Science creates beauty and beauty is music: in the wrong hands Science creates nothing but pain and despair. Today, was a day of music, play on, play on.

Ambitious Introspection

In the last week of term, I wrote to the headmistress of my daughters school to thank staff and pupils for a wonderful Christmas Carol Concert we had attended the previous evening. It was a spontaneous action and I can only hope I wasn’t too effusive or came across as sycophantic. I have not seen such a well rehearsed, well put together, beautifully delivered school event for some twelve years, since my eldest was at Junior School in fact.

Throughout these twelve years I have sat through mumbled, un-ambitious, shambling, rambling, sometimes chaotic carol concerts, assemblies, awards, and performances experiencing a growing despair, disappointment, even horror that the art of presentation seemed to have become so unimportant, of so little value or interest. I offered and offered to help at my daughters primary school being of the opinion that it’s no use complaining if you’re not prepared to help with the solution, but it seemed no-one understood why my help might be needed. In fact by the time my daughter left her Primary School I had decided that I must be really disliked by the staff and that they simply didn’t want me anywhere near their performances. The closest I came was helping to costume nearly the entire cast of my daughters first full length performance in her final year (I love costumes but I hate sewing clothes, it was an act of love**).

I did also discuss it with a teacher at the school, who got very prickly about it and said it was a matter of time, which was too valuable to be wasted on rehearsals and that I should be grateful for the considerable efforts staff put in to make such events happen in the first place. I assured her I was but that I had considerable experience in working with young people in delivering performances and presentations and knew that a little well planned rehearsal, where simple things such as confidence, breathing, smiling and learning the material well enough to enjoy presenting it (anything from a song to a speech to a non verbal presence in front of an audience) could reap huge benefits for the children. Rehearsal time does impact on the timetable but impacts positively in developing engagement and confidence in public performance/presentation, a beneficial skill for everyone throughout life. I was thinking about the children, the emotional investment, the improved self-esteem – children are not stupid they know very well when they are doing something worthwhile and especially if they’ve never experienced it before, doing something ‘to be proud of’ is a feeling that can last a lifetime. The teacher was thinking of the teaching staff and the timetable.

I never did actually stand up in the school hall or the local church and shout ‘STOP!” but I came very close to it on a few occasions. After one particularly dreadful school church service, I was so shocked that when the vicar smiled at me and said “Didn’t the children do well” as I was leaving, I replied “I’d like to see the school be more ambitious for its pupils, it was a little too under-prepared for my liking, if a thing’s worth doing it’s worth doing well“ I added hastily as he frowned. He shook his head, replying “Oh I think ambition can be very harmful’. What he thought I meant by ambition, I still contemplate. I think he meant that if something doesn’t work well it’s because it was obviously too difficult, too challenging for the children but that’s why we rehearse, why we prepare our material, make sure the children know it, understand its message or story, ensure they enjoy it by giving them the skills to deliver it with confidence: like showing them how and when to breathe properly, how to open their mouths fully, use the lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue when speaking and to use their eyes – where to look. There’s a long list, for example, a smile is infectious and people will smile back and that will help settle their nerves and give them time to take a deeper breath. I thought perhaps I had become such a negative person that a symptom of this was my inability to appreciate the positives in all the mumbling thrown-away lines, the shouting choir – enthusiastic but out of harmony due to learning the songs via you-tube and therefore not all singing in the same key (not that the teacher knew which key they should be singing in).

There were the odd chinks of light, and the school encouraged lots of outside artists to come in for art, opera and music workshops, so it wasn’t all doom and gloom but the constant trickle of in-house events took its toll. I questioned in fact, the worth of my whole experience of delivering youth theatre, drama workshops, story telling, training creatives. I questioned the sense of joy that people get when they discover they can communicate effectively, find their voice; the empowerment that being confident brings. I lost my self-belief, my own confidence and my sense of self in those seven long years my daughter was at her primary school. A life-time in and around theatre has developed a very keen ‘critical eye’, people can easily mistake my comments on how something I’ve seen or experienced could be improved, have more or less impact, be quicker, smoother etc., as a sign of negativity and not as a result of many years putting on/being involved in performances, projects and events and evaluating them. It’s taken me far too long to realize that. Although other parents might have indicated they were as horrified as I was by the lack of presentation skills it wasn’t enough to stop me feeling like the worst kind of dinosaur – on the brink of extinction.

You can imagine how my letter last week was a relief to write, so it was an interesting twist of fate that on the last day of term I collected my daughter in a quiet and downcast mood. What is it? I asked, why aren’t you celebrating? It turned out there had been an Award Ceremony in the morning and all of her close friends had been nominated, some more than once and all of them had won awards. “My name wasn’t even mentioned” she said “and it made me feel sad, separate from them, as if I’m not good enough”.  Here perhaps was the negative feeling that the Vicar was referring to, the harmful effect of ambition?  I hugged her, checked she had congratulated her friends on their achievements and assured her that she was a star in my eyes and worthy of awards for her kindness and her compassion alone and whilst we, her parents couldn’t possibly know why she hadn’t been nominated for an award, if it still mattered to her, she should talk to her teacher about it next term and tell her teacher about how she felt on the last day of term and ask her what she needed to do to be nominated in the future – if that’s what she wanted. After all I mused, once you start out on a path it takes commitment and hard work to see it through to the end – nothing ‘worth having’ is easily come by. The school tracks everything from special praise and commended work and homework, to attendance via an online system – it could all come down to cold analytical algorithms and points.

So now comes the gentle conversations about striving to be a winner when we can’t all win; about taking part being as important and how in a school of 800+ pupils not everyone can be a winner (can they?).  About having the confidence in your own ability and best traits, to know that you will be recognized for them eventually. In developing a sense of personal and shared ambition. How to avoid becoming the needy girl who seeks constant affirmation and therefore is burnt across every teachers front brain when considering names for nominees but whom irritates everyone around them in their constant attention seeking – gaining only hollow victories. How to have integrity, being true to yourself. Sounds like social media, eh?

I am not individually competitive but I am also not afraid to speak out if I believe in something. Generally I am much better in giving praise than receiving it, so can you imagine my ‘panic’ that my youngest may have inherited all my worst traits and failings. For a moment I wondered if that letter I had written had been perceived as very sycophantic indeed and ill-timed in terms of the Awards – after all the Headmistress doesn’t know me at all. I will certainly think twice before I write again and do what I nearly always do, write it and then sit on it and re-write it again after a day or two.  After eight years on Twitter I should know that people can misinterpret even the simplest of phrases without context. Delivering context in 140 characters is the eternal challenge. Life is a far bigger challenge and at the close of the year what better time to consider new approaches and effecting positive change either in your external life, your headspace or just your attitude.

Merry Christmas everyone, seasons greetings to you.

** and I should thank all those passionate sewing folk on pinterest who took time to record articles like ‘how to sew harem pants in 3 easy steps’ for helping me make it through!

The Lost Treasure

Mermaid1

We all treasure different things…. from people to possessions, to memories and experiences.

About three summers ago whilst camping at Bolberry House Farm in South Devon with friends, my youngest daughter made friends with Georgia and Anna two tents along and one afternoon after a hot day on the beach we created an art gallery and all the young people there that day (with the help of Grace – Thom’s big sister) wrote the beginnings of a story entitled the Lost Treasure. I took all the bits of paper and drawings home with me, meaning to scan them and email round a pdf of their work later on. Sadly the drawings all got a little damp and soggy. This summer, whilst sorting out my desk in preparation for our annual camping trip, I re-discovered ‘The Lost Treasure’ and idled away a few days shaping them into a book via adobe photoshop and ‘book write’ a tool found on blurb.com. I had to re-imagine the various parts of the story that survived and anyone who reads it will need to write their own ending but it was great fun and I’m glad the story now has a second life.

MermaidsPurse

You can find it here:  http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/5483340-the-lost-treasure

Prawn

and there is a free ebook downloadable version for i-pads and i-phones here:   http://store.blurb.co.uk/ebooks/482932-the-lost-treasure

octopus

Feeling Failure

Children only deserve teachers who care, not teachers who get the right results by the wrong means. I continue to assert that our Secretary for Education should be allowed little or no say in how children are taught in our schools and that an Educationalist, who is constantly working in schools should be put in charge of our Education system. The politics has to go. In with real* Education and out with Westminster game playing.

*Responsive Excellent Amazing Learning

http://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/when-you-know-its-time-to-go/

little picture, big picture

Little Picture: Debra Kidd’s blogpost about her decision to leave teaching

Big Picture: Feeling failure and weighing up the future.

Lately I’ve been wanting to leave my job. This week, after a particularly depressing SLT meeting where too much time was spent discussing staffing problems, the feeling that I had lost my grip over my various roles in school settled over me like a huge black cloud. I drove home in tears, feeling that despite working 14 hour days, I was ineffective and I was failing the children in our school, and what’s more, I could not in that moment see how to improve. It’s fine to acknowledge that I need not work more, just smarter, but knowing how to do that is quite another thing altogether. I don’t. And I don’t know who can help me. Later that evening, I stumbled across Debra Kidd’s blogpost. Most of my inspiration…

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Making it Work with Artsmonkey

Humbled as I am, impressed as I may be, if you like what Charlotte has to say take some time to read more about this great project on OYAP trusts website http://www.oyap.org.uk/currentProjects.html they’ve seen yet another funding cut this year and yet they are doing all the right things for all the right reasons.

Charlotte Pearson

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On Tuesday 4th February we sat down at a table in The Courtyard in Bicester which was COVERED in glitter, ribbons, coloured card, pens, glue, stickers, each having been handed one of these books, wondering what we would be filling them with.

 

 

Juliet Brain explained that the session would take us through the practical elements of having a freelance career in the arts and, as the title suggests, how to make it work!

Task number 1? Create a double page that describes you as a creative. Now when confronted with a ton of resources it can be difficult to know where to start, especially when you’d normally describe yourself audibly, rather than visually, but we gave it our best shot!

We then moved on to a discussion about what we considered work to be. We began to think about what we wanted out of work, what it…

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We make no apology…….

An Educating Man

Regular followers of my little blog will have noticed a slight hiccup in postings of late. Thanks to a plague of various ailments, all my energies have had to be directed toward the day job, so my apologies. That’s how it would have continued if it were not for the absolute deluge – literal and literary – of the last week or so. Along with the rain (my heart goes out to all affected) has come a steady flow of education news and comment from HMCI report to Pearson’s review of international performance and the old mercury bubble of annoyance has been steadily climbing the gauge of irritation!

Have you noticed that, every time there is a news story, they wheel out a spokesperson for the DfE. It seems that this is rarely Michael Gove unless he is promoting his latest ideological claptrap. This has always happened, even under New…

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