A successful workshop on how to lead... a successful workshop!

ELSPETH PIGGOTT (SOPRANO)

Being now over halfway through our Fellowship year, it is perhaps surprising that we had not, thus far, seen either Greg Beardsell or Dominic Peckham - central characters in the NYCGB universe - in action. We therefore were eagerly anticipating doing so ever since we saw that we would be observing Greg lead one of the many fantastic schools’ workshops run by NYCGB around the country. After early starts for all except for Rob, who we met coming out of his Bridgwater B&B smugly eating a bacon sandwich, we were a little subdued entering the Arts Centre. However, neither our fatigue nor the kids’ tendency toward nonchalance were a match for Greg’s enthusiasm and unwavering expectation of focus from everyone present.

Launching straight in with a warm-up based on 'Mrs O'Leary's Cow' he interspersed the singing with relevant music theory questions, keeping everyone on their toes and inviting participation. For example, after asking us to sing the notes in the first phrase short and the second smooth he asked what the technical terms for these were. As well as giving plenty of praise he also demanded a high standard, asking for accuracy in tuning, diction and timing. Rather than simply feeding the children everything, he subtly moulded relationship between them so that what could so easily have been a situation of giver and receiver, in which the kids would have the power to accept or not, skiklfully became an interaction in which the children’s drive to participate became engaged. There was no parley, no time surrendered to chat, no chance to get bored. The sessions were run with the smooth ease of a well-practiced craftsman, and as soon as one exercise was done with, the message received, it was on to the next, engaging a completely different side of the children’s musicality. In one he turned a rhythmic theory lesson into a clapping game; in another he invited the fellows to sing, calling on their listening skills; and another had them singing their favourite pop songs while we held up the numbers on the pentatonic scale each note referred to (the tonic/ root = 1, supertonic = 2 etc).

Each ‘lesson’ was absorbing and fun, but more than this Greg made sure to relate the activity to the world outside the room, and make it relevant to their lives. By teaching them that a mash-up of pop songs, exchanging one for another they knew better with ease, and demonstrating how they were all based on the pentatonic scale, he gave them a fundamental tool with which to start writing their own music. Through Emily Sandé’s Heaven, he taught them about syncopation, explaining how dance music utilises this technique to make you move your body on the strong beats of the bars in correspondence to the offbeats.

All in all, it was one of the most informative and interesting days of the year so far, and the single best example I have ever been given of how to teach music. And just in time, as only a week later we are going to be asked to do exactly this without help or supervision!