Reflecting on a colourful music experience
Music Teacher, Glenburnie Primary School and Yahl Primary School
My name is Laura Small and I am a primary school music teacher in South Australia. I was privileged to be able to work with Musica Viva for one week during Term 3, 2021 to deliver the Colours of Home program in the Limestone Coast. Coming on board with this project was a fantastic opportunity for me both personally and professionally for numerous reasons. Celia Craig and Caspar Hawksley are both immensely talented musicians, and the repertoire that they have prepared for Colours of Home is an outstanding collection of musical works that provide students insight into the connections between colours, feelings, and sounds. Additionally, Celia and Caspar’s performance allows students to connect with the somewhat abstract concept of Chromesthesia, and to begin to understand the fascinating processes that unfold in Celia’s mind while listening to or performing a piece of music.
My role in the program was to deliver a series of learning activities that were specifically designed by Musica Viva educators to allow students to explore the connections between sounds, colours, and emotions. Throughout the week I worked with students from 8 different primary schools across the Limestone Coast and found consistently that students really enjoyed watching Celia and Caspar’s performance. Despite visiting a vast range of schools in very different contexts, at all schools we discovered that students were excited to see live music performance. The important work that Musica Viva does is so evident when you see students engage with music. Their passion is raw and palpable, and students are able to form instant connections and express what they are thinking and feeling as music is performed. Watching so many students be exposed to new styles of music and instrumentations was a real highlight for me throughout the week.
To then be able to follow up these performances with workshops and activities was great. Students thrived with the opportunity to delve deeper into the concepts discussed and to share their own thoughts and opinions. All the activities that we did throughout the week had an emphasis on drawing and colouring in, which was a fantastic link from performing arts to visual arts and served to engage students and remove any reservations they had. What really excited me was seeing students take the colours and pictures they had drawn and convert these into making sounds and music. Creating music from art is in no way a new concept, but is such a powerful way to encourage students to draw connections, examine emotions, and create spontaneously.
This week spent travelling around with Musica Viva was filled with positive experiences and connections. Some students had never heard of an oboe before, so seeing their curiosity and wonder at learning about a new instrument was very rewarding. Other students connected so strongly with the links made between sound and feelings, or sound and colours, and were able to begin to create these links themselves. All students were comfortable sharing their reactions to different sounds and music, and were able to articulate why they liked, or didn’t like, what they were hearing. We had students work together to create soundscapes based on each other’s drawings, which created a sense of ownership and empowerment. We had students discuss and even debate why they felt a certain colour represented a certain emotion. We even discovered one student that almost certainly has chromesthesia and had never before met someone who understood and experienced colour and sound like she does. These experiences were so rewarding and will stay with me for a long time.
Spending a week with Musica Viva delivering the Colours of Home program affirmed to me the importance and power of music education. It is about far more than every student being able to read and play music. On a more fundamental level, music education is about all students being able to engage with and appreciate music in their lives. This is something that Musica Viva are doing so incredibly well.
South Australia State Manager, Musica Viva Australia
During September, I had the absolute pleasure of accompanying Celia Craig and Caspar Hawksley to Mt Gambier, where they performed a 35 minute segment from their brand new Musica Viva In Schools performance ,“Colours of Home”, in 8 primary schools over 5 days. Also joining us was an outstanding classroom music teacher (and musician), Laura Small, from Mt Gambier.
Celia is an internationally acclaimed oboe player with many years of experience playing all over the world and Caspar is a gifted young jazz guitarist and recent Elder Conservatorium graduate and together it is clear that they are learning a lot from each other. Their performance is a wonderful and fascinating presentation of improvisation, colours and emotions - painting stories of places, people and landscapes through music. The fascination shown by the students for the music made by these two musicians and unusual pairing of instruments was very clear. In most of their performances there were times where I could have heard a pin drop.
The concept of the program is built around Celia’s Chromesthesia, a condition where she sees colours and feels strong emotions when she plays and hears music. I was very curious to see how students would relate to this idea and how Laura would engage the students in the accompanying classroom activities. I was thrilled to see how engaged the students were with the activities. In each school, students were encouraged to think about how certain music could convey a colour and emotion. They created colour wheels by listening to music and drawing the colours and textures that they heard in the music and then they interpreted their colour wheels into voice and body percussion. They also drew their favourite places or landscapes and then turned them into percussion pieces and soundscapes.
The interactive performances and classroom activities were deeply engaging and immersive and the students really enjoyed the pairing of music and visual art. They also really embraced Celia’s Chromesthesia as a fascinating kind of super-power. I was very privileged to witness MacKenzie, a year 4 student from St Martin’s Lutheran School come to understand that she also experiences music in the same way as Celia. She explained to the class the colours she saw while Colours of Home played a piece of music called “Acquiesce” and to our amazement, Celia revealed that they were the exact same colours that she sees when she performs the piece. We understand that MacKenzie’s mum and the school were previously unaware that MacKenzie experiences music in this way.
I was also thrilled to see how much professional development occurred over a week for the musicians and for Laura. It’s clear that they all learned a great deal about different approaches to performing and teaching music for different student groups and year levels. By Thursday, it was clear that they had all refined how they were engaging with the students, to the point where I was informed that 3 students they had worked with for the day, who normally were unable to stay engaged in their learning for a full day, had remained engaged across the day, without any need for assistance.
I loved the imagination shown by all the students and adults across the week and am super-excited to see this program roll out in schools across Australia.