Make a Comic
Sometimes a good story makes all the difference.
I recently had a student I’ll call “Alice” make a comic book. Alice made her comic from Hunter’s Chorus. I got her permission to share her work here because not only is it delightfully creative, it is the result of her and my working together on a difficult problem.
The problem is that it's hard to get students to play stylistically.
Hunter's Chorus is a great example of this problem. The notes themselves aren't that difficult, the rhythm is straightforward, and the key signature is simple. But getting it to have style and personality--that is a tall order.
Certainly there are some technical skills involved: playing at the frog with good finger agility, listening carefully to one's tone, getting better stop-bow articulation, etc. But even after I know a student has mastered those things I often find there is still a missing piece.
That missing piece is a good story.
Let them invent it
But here’s the thing: not just any story. I tried to talk about the energy of a hunt, of horses in a “galloping section” and so on. Alice didn’t connect to any of that pre-packaged imagery. I asked her to think of a better story, of some kind of hunt, maybe with a different animal? I suggested a bear. She went home and thought about it. The next week she had produced this exciting narrative about a bear who was attacking people and got sprayed with pepper spray.
The next step is to capture it musically.
Where in the music, I asked Alice, does the bear encounter the people? How do I know when it gets sprayed with pepper spray? And so on. She began finally to introduce real contrasts in dynamics and bow articulation, as she linked up elements in the music with her story.
Here’s the takeaway. Prior to writing the story, Alice already had the technical facility, but no real reason to use it. Alice’s stylistic efforts increased exponentially after writing the story, since now she had a purpose. Once she had that, she was able to dramatize the music, giving it the personality and flair it previously lacked.
ACTIONS FOR THE WEEK:
With the child, select music that seems to lend itself to a story.
Help the child get some basic elements started with the story. Who? What? Where? An animal character is strongly recommended.
Describing some kind of journey is helpful for matching it to the music and for introducing episodes or stages. For example, does the panda start out in a bamboo grove and head into the snowy mountains? Or is this a piece about an eagle soaring above the clouds? Is there a storm? Food needed for young ones? And so on.
Have the child draw pictures of the characters. If they like, they can put the story in boxes like a comic book. What do they say? How do they feel? Who else do they meet?
Once the comic is complete, ask your child to tell the story with music. Teach or suggest any requisite technique necessary to create variety. You can simply ask questions such as, “What part of the bow do you think is good for this part of the story? Is this a loud section or a quiet section?”
Encourage further development of both the story and the way it is played until there is good contrast, sense of drama, energy, and action.
Repeat the process with another piece, telling a different kind of story.