Composer Alex Shapiro on Connection, Being in the Moment & Wellbeing

Musicians...are so lucky to have the ability to create their own inner peace.

Including 5 activities for conductors and students on being in the moment, being more expressive using acting and reflecting on competition.

This post is from the #rehearsalhomealone series on activities for ensemble students who are #stuckathome due to COVID-19.

Alex Shapiro writes fascinating music that spans everything from whale songs (she can see them from her house!) to electronic music and pieces of paper. You might have conducted or heard of her awesome band piece, PaperCut, where the band uses paper as percussion instruments by scrunching, rolling, tearing etc. (See below for a cool student at home activity using this!).

What We Discussed

1.06 - On competition and excellence

3.51 - 2 Tips on getting in the moment

8.14 - Connection vs. Competition

8.52 - Giving great energy when there isn’t a live audience

10.09 - We make music to communicate

10.51 - Using tech to get better at performing

12.56 - Be like a film actor

13.29 - How being in ensemble is acting in front of a green screen

15.39 - How Music is like a puzzle

21.05 - Being kind to each other in a time of uncertainty

23.37 - How to find something around you of value & meaning

24.55 - How to inhale and find beauty

26.10 - How music can improve your mental health

PD Activities for Conductors

1. Being in the moment

1 Find a quiet space where you won't be interrupted. Put on a recording of a piece you enjoy. Close your eyes and move to the music. No conducting gestures, no beat patterns! Be connected to the music and see where it takes you. Experiment with moving with different parts of your body.

2. Being an actor

Watch this short excerpt of actor Danny Kaye conducting the New York Philharmonic with his front to the audience. How would your version of 'what the audience sees' go? Have a go at acting the skit yourself while the music is playing. If it feels weird, just try imitating Danny's facial expressions!

3. Reflection Questions

Consider the following questions about Competition and Music:

- What does competition mean to you in relation to music making?
- What value does competing bring to your students individually and as a group? 
- What does it take away from your students individually and as a group?
- How much time do you spend working preparing for competitions vs. other performances? 
- What does this communicate to your ensemble?

Student Activities

1. Being in the moment

Find a quiet space where you won't be interrupted. Put on a recording of a piece you enjoy. Close your eyes and move to the music. Don't try to conduct, just move. Be connected to the music and see where it takes you. Experiment with moving with different parts of your body. If you're feeling weird - use your hand to trace the up and down of the melody or try making faces to reflect the feeling of the music.

2. Hot, Angry, Sleepy, Excited Cross Buns

Using the piece 'Hot Cross Buns' video record yourself playing it in these 3 different ways. Notice how it feels to play in these different ways.

1. As if you were really angry!

2. Sleepy, like you just woke up from a nap

3. Excitedly, like you're just about to eat a delicious hot cross bun, cake or cookie!

Watch the video. How did you communicate the different feelings? Body language? Tempo? Sound quality? Articulation?

3. DIY Paper Music

No instruments required!

Watch this video of Alex's piece PaperCut and how the band makes sounds with paper. (There are other versions with cooler effects but this one you can really hear the paper).

Make a 16-bar/measure piece that uses only sounds made with pieces of paper. How many different sounds can you make? (Try scrunching, tearing, rubbing, folding, changing speed).

Record a video (or audio) of you performing the piece either as one track, or with mulitple tracks using ACapella app (video) or Audacity (audio).

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