One of the newer ensembles in the Musica Viva In Schools family, Timmy and the Breakfast Band focuses around a perfectly normal school boy named Timmy who hears music in his head - all the time!

The brainchild of Rachel Johnston, Trent Arkleysmith and Gareth Bjaaland (Timmy), these brilliant musicians use an array of instruments such as the mandolin, musical saw, drums, banjo, cello and even acrobatics in this highly engaging performance. Students will discover how music can influence their own actions, thoughts and emotions through this energetic and unusual pairing of music making and circus.

We caught up with Rachel this week to learn more about the experience of this performance for the students and the musicians, their favourite experiences performing on the road, how they adapted their show during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, and much more.

Tell us about your performance. What can teachers and students expect, and what is your favourite part of the show?

Our show is all about a rather unusual young boy’s adventures in discovering the music inside his own head, the music around him, and how he can create his own musical super-soundtrack to help him face a very familiar challenge... getting ready for school in the morning! 

While all three of us are musicians, in this story Gareth is wearing his Acrobat hat, so audiences get to see a lot of amazing tumbling, juggling and general looniness as “Timmy” interacts with our music while attempting to get to the bus on time. One of my favourite aspects of this show is how we musicians get to play around with the live action, and take cues from the audience as to how much they want us to try to mess Timmy up- or soothe him after a frazzling experience! We never get tired of performing this show as it’s different with every group of kids, and we never know how far they will push us to go!

Can you tell us about your/your ensemble's history with Musica Viva In Schools?

We started working on this show way back in 2018, just a few weekend workshops to start with, building an idea out of what we thought would be fun and worthwhile concepts for a kids show. We knew we wanted it to be about the links between music and our emotions, about the ways kids can learn to be more aware of how music makes them feel, and how to empower themselves by using music to actively direct their emotions. The format of a silent film, like an old Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, appealed to us because we wanted to pull out as much of the talking so the audience is focused more on the action and the music. After several get-togethers with players and MVIS staff, we settled on a semi-narrated form and started live shows in 2019. 2020 saw some new developments for an online version, which was enormous fun, but we are looking forward to getting back into schools again this year. Viva 2021!

Outside of MVIS, what does the ensemble get up to musically?

Trent and I perform together as a duo called “Two If By Sea” with house concerts, festivals, recordings and gigs of all varieties keeping us on our toes- or is that the two toddlers? I also teach cello and chamber music privately, and do the occasional classical gig to keep in touch with my roots.

2020 was a difficult year. What did you do to keep creative and musical?

The main difference for us in 2020 was the tragic lack of festivals! It was really hard to navigate that emptiness both professionally and personally when it’s been at the core of your life for such a long time. We did find that we were still at least as busy as usual, but it was often via internet which meant learning to embrace a whole new environment and a new set of skills!

On the up side, I think it opened everyone up to opportunities that would have previously been seen as a bit too technically challenging- no one thinks twice about having lessons or collaborating on a composition over zoom now, and we performed this show to schools that would never have been able to swing it in the pre-online days!

Last year you took your performance digital for MVIS online. What are some of the advantages/benefits of the online experience?

For our show, going online meant actually being able to bring the musical side of things into closer focus- literally. When performing Timmy and the Breakfast Band live, we have to distance ourselves a bit from Gareth to avoid flying cereal, juggling balls, and the danger of over enthusiastic backflips, whereas online, we have our own “window” on the screen, so we can be right up close showing every nuance of how the music is affecting Timmy. 

Also, it allows teachers to provide real-time feedback via the chat function, and to put in questions/comments as they come up in the classroom. That means we can return to them after the show or during gaps in the action, and it really allows us to feel we’re engaging the kids, as we can speak to their own unique reactions as we progress through the show.

What are you most looking forward to in 2021 and beyond?

Going back into schools after such a weird time is going to be a real treat! We can’t wait to see where the kids take us with their ideas this year, and how the idea of making yourself happier with music can hopefully help them feel more confident and creative.

Learn more about Timmy and the Breakfast Band and when they are touring near you here.