L’Arche Music Session: Autumn and Back through time to work songs past

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Attention grabbing things…

My broad theme for my current term of sessions is Autumn and work songs. We have already had a few sessions and I thought it might be nice to blog a bit about what L’Arche is, how I got to the theme and what I have been up to so far.

L’Arche London is a charity based in West Norwood, South East London. I have worked for L’Arche in various ways and for various lengths of time since first leaving University many years back! I first went as a summer assistant and never seem to have really left. The charity supports adults with learning disabilities to live alone, in flats and in larger houses.

The community also runs day services, which currently centre around a garden project and a craft project. L’Arche originates from France and started in London in 1977. The community was set up to give people with learning disabilities their own home and sense of community. Previously people with learning disabilities were living in impersonal and often unpleasant institutions. The history of the day provision is also fascinating as the founders realised that people with learning disabilities wanted (and many still do) to do real work, have a job and earn money. The history of the day provision and community could be a whole heritage project and is something that I’d like to consider while some early members of the community can still share their stories.

I didn’t intend to write such a long introduction, however, L’Arche’s past helped me decide on the theme. Work is at the heart of many songs old and new. I love folk songs and folk work songs are a plenty 🙂 I thought it would be nice to explore some early songs about rural life as a starting point.

The early September sessions began with an Autumn theme and we have gradually moved into the rural and work theme. The sessions begin with an attention grabber and at the moment always include a soundscape, turn taking activity of some kind, voice warm up, songs and percussion instruments.

Autumn Theme

I will share a couple of examples of activities that have taken place in the sessions. The first attention grabber activity was shaking leaves in a large plastic box. I took the box around shaking it and offering others to shake it if they wanted. I did this before singing the welcome song. I didn’t say anything at first and just walked past each group member shaking the leaves as a way of beginning the session. When creating the autumn soundscape we also experimented with comparing the sound of a smaller sized box to shake the leaves, shuffling the leaves in a different way and with hitting the bottom of the box to mimic walking in rhythm. We hit sticks together (twigs and  clapping sticks), snapped twigs, turned rainmakers, waved big leaves and shook sycamore seed bundles. We took time to listen to each of the sounds independently before adding them and experimented with loud and quiet/fast and slow and stopped suddenly to pause and listen to the introduction of a new sound. As well as the above sounds, one of these sounds was the dropping of an acorn or two to the floor, with pauses in-between. I built up different Autumn soundscapes over a couple of weeks. There are also quite a few sounds you can find online and of course can record your own if you want to add some real life sounds.

We then developed the theme by singing a song written by Emmie Ward called ‘We’re All Walking Along… (through the woods)’, which I have used before in our Crystal Palace Park/London Wildlife Trust project. Even though there were up to 12 people with learning disabilities in the session, we took the time to sing it for everyone, while people had the opportunity in pairs to walk around the centre piece. At the end of singing a verse for someone, that person was given an acorn and could drop it into the large plastic box, which made up the centre piece. At the end I and then anyone else who wanted to – shook the box to a rhythm and heard the sound of all the acorns together.

Work Theme

I feel I have written way too much already! However, to give you a little taster of the work song sessions…. I continued the Autumn theme into the work theme. The attention grabber for the next session became the sound of pasta shaken in a box to recreate the sound of a train. This was an idea I learned from Coralie Oddy. Again you can experiment with the fast and slow/loud and quiet. The soundscape changed from travelling through the woods to taking a train and walking to work soundscape. As well as some of the Autumn sounds we also had some street sounds of bike bells and cars. Setting a regular rhythm was key here – and leaving space for others to take over and add to the rhythm. In the song part of the session we sung ‘I’ve been working on the railroad’ and concentrated on singing just part of it and everyone having a turn on the uke (instead of the banjo!) if they wanted.

The travelling back in time idea has become part of the current soundscape and you can use a tone chime of any kind to signal the going back in time. It was nice to intersperse the chime sound with the sound of the train and working on railroad. The turn taking activities (whilst singing ‘We’re all walking)  have since included dropping conkers into a bowl of water, ladling water and this week pouring corn with a measuring jug. I thought these all in some way represent time passing and link in with the autumn/rural theme. Today, I cornily said that pouring corn could be symbolic of the the grains from farming and also the grains of time!

More to follow on the work theme and in particular the knitting/weaving theme that is also part of the L’Arche history and rural history. I hope the blog entry has been of some interest and I have not pointed out the obvious.

As with all the work I am up to at the moment. I owe much of what I practice to inspiration from many people. Today’s thanks are to Emmie Ward and Coralie Oddy. Emmie is a fantastic music teacher, with many years experience of teaching people with learning disabilities. I have learned so much from observing her music sessions and working with her on the Sound Tracks and Crystal Palace Projects. Coralie Oddy, I met through attending a Jo Grace Sensory Stories workshop and we started storytelling together for the Crystal Palace Project as well as Sound Tracks.