Guest Post: Kate DeRight on Soundbounce

I was really chuffed to see so many of the Soundbounce families at the last Musical Picnic. What a journey they’ve taken from cautious participation in their local Children’s Centre to singing and dancing in the Symphony Hall Café Bar.

This is the eighth year of the Soundbounce project and in 2013, three artists had the great pleasure of working with little ones aged 0-5 and their grown ups at St. Thomas’s Children Centre in Ladywood. Over six weeks in February and March, Paul Carroll (Soundbeam artist), Sara Colman (jazz singer-songwriter) and Kate DeRight (movement artist – that’s me) worked with the families during their Stay and Play sessions to trigger sounds, scat and boogie.

Music, movement, technology and organic instruments are the focus of the ongoing Soundbounce project and this year’s families took great pleasure in exploring all four. We started our work together with nursery rhymes, not your run of the mill, sit-in-a-circle-style nursery rhymes: there were toddler-sized spiders climbing up imaginary water spouts, adult-sized teddy bears going round and round the garden hunting their little ones for a tickle, and the ‘Grand Ol’ Duke of York’ had us out of breath marching all around the massive space and up and over soft play. And all this sung with a very jazzy swing!

Inhibitions thus loosened, Sara used her soulful voice and warm smile to cajole the adults into having a go at scatting. We warmed up our voices, keeping our bodies moving to accompany the trills up and down, and then started with a bit of call and response. While a hint of wariness remained, each adult in the circle had a go at singing a ‘doop bop bee bop’ or a ‘yabba dabba do’ all on their own. Beautiful sounds and a whole lot of smiling.

Each session, before the snack break and more focused work described above, Sara and Kate moved around the room, making connections with little ones and adults and getting them to start moving and making sound. During this open play time, Paul provided a gentle welcome to families to come and explore the Soundbeam, described by its makers as ‘The Invisible Expanding Keyboard in Space’. Families were invited to walk up and down the two beams and to press the eight switches, all of which triggered a myriad of MIDI samples.

In our first session, Paul worked with the group and some hand percussion to make a short rhythmic piece (I’m finding you can always count on musicians to play several more instruments than they admit to initially – you should hear Sara on keys)! Paul sampled the percussion piece and lots of singing throughout the session and, the following week, the Soundbeam triggered the sounds of the families singing and playing. Each week, the Soundbeam reminded the families of what they’d done the week before – a great way to slowly build up confidence and lots of fun for the little ones (and adults) to explore the magic of the triggers.

Following sessions pushed these initial explorations, encouraging families to move more, sing more and produce more music with the Soundbeam. We always finished with an improvised cool down: I distributed scarves and modelled stretching movements, Sara soothingly scatted and Paul provided a chilled out beat on the Soundbeam.

We were also lucky enough to have several special guests, starting with Mary Wakelam Sloan who, as well as being the JazzlinesProgramme Manager and sharing an office with the THSH Education and Community team, is a mean saxophonist. Not only did Mary introduce the toddlers to the instrument and demonstrate its groovy, melodic qualities, she also showed how well it can mimic a pig and cow during a very jazzy rendition of ‘Old MacDonald’s Farm’.

Our second visitors were Matt Palmer who plays trumpet, and Dave Price who plays trombone, both part of Metropolitan Brass Quintet that played at March’s Musical Picnic. They made a dramatic entrance with an upbeat and energetic procession of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ and then treated us to a couple more of their tunes. They also let the families take a close look at their instruments and hear the sound they made up close.

And then came the balloons. And I’m not talking about any old balloons. These are big balloons. BIG. Bigger than the little people who were joyously cavorting after them, bouncing them, jumping for them in their parents’ arms, and trying desperately to reach their little arms all the way around their circumference.

During their first outing, each balloon had a musician assigned to it so that the play was accompanied by an improvisation with voice, Soundbeam, trumpet and trombone inspired by the balloons’ movements. We also played around with putting the bell of the trumpet right up against one of the balloons and feeling the vibrations as the trumpet played. Pretty groovy.

Mary made a second visit, accompanied by James Banner on the double bass, for our fifth and last session at St. Thomas’s. Having earned the trust of the families, we cleared the room of all the Stay and Play toys and had a focused session of singing, sampling, movement and balloons made very funky by Mary’s playing and James’s grooves.

After saying ta-ra to the wonderful staff at St. Thomas’s, we had our sixth and final session in the Lower Bar at Town Hall. I met several of the families at the Children’s Centre and walked the mile over to the venue, leading a procession of buggies through the icy streets to find a room full of happy families, ready to start making music and moving. Having competed with a giant room full of toys to interest these families in participating in activities they weren’t entirely sure about, it was immensely satisfying to have such a large, warm group make their way to a new place to have one more play together.

We celebrated all we had done together and, as a fitting thank you, sent everyone away with a balloon! A regular-sized balloon, mind you, though the cavorting was no less joyous.

– Kate DeRight, Movement Artist and member of the Soundbounce project team