Hello, it’s Chris Holland here.
You may know me from writing the book, I love my world. You may also know me as the didgeridooman. If you don’t know me at all, here is a brief introduction:
I have been a forest school leader since 2004, but have been teaching didgeridoo in schools since 1998. I also played didgeridoo and percussion in a band called Jabberwocky around the same time.
I would like to have a moment of your time to share with you my thoughts about the benefits of music, making simple instruments, nature connection and belonging…. And a bit about my journey to creating The Natural Musicians Activities – activities which are transforming the way we teach music in primary schools.
Let’s start with the didgeridoo, or yidaki. I love the didgeridoo and how my breath becomes the rhythm, and the rhythms become my breath. I was told by an aboriginal Australian that everything has a spirit to it… whether it is a bug, a tree, a snake, a mountain, a river, a person… even a yidaki or didgeridoo. If you listen to a didge, even a spiral one like this one, there is a sound of a quiet didge in there… like a distant swarm of bees….and when we blow into it, the spirit comes alive!
Playing didge really does help me feel a oneness and a nowness. Like many musicians I often enter a flow state when I play. Flow states are just one of the benefits of making music.
Music has the power to unite people, to help them dream, to move their emotions, minds, bodies.
As Bono from U2 says… “Music can change the world because music changes people”.
I have also seen how music can change the vibe of a place.
I believe that making music helps us connect with each other, with nature and our own heartsong.
Everything in the universe is vibration, some of the vibration is visible to us, some not. Through differing wavelengths of energy… we are all connected.
Music can invigorate us to get up and go, and it can help us to relax.
Music can help us be in the moment. As we sing open hearted with a group of people we may harmonise, we are now. As we drum or clap along, we are now. We are one. We are one with each other, our voices, our instruments, the land that supports us and the air we all share.
Music is not just about making sounds…it’s also about listening.
Listening to vibrations and feelings, not only with the ears, but also with the body and heart.
Being aware of natural sounds helps me extend my mind out into the world… to listen to birdsong and people at work. To listen for the furthest away sounds we join with a bigger self, an listening for the softest sounds around us can also help us listen to the song within.
While listening to music I tend to tune in on the mood and groove… more than the lyrics. Other people listen more to the lyrics… each word has its own vibration.
We all have our own preferences of listening to and making music.
We tend to listen to different kinds of music when we are in certain moods, or when we want to change our moods.
Making and playing music
We have individual ways, styles, modes of making music too.
Many of us get put off by the idea that we need to learn to read music before we can play it.
Did we have to learn to read before we could speak or make sounds? No! We simply played around with our vocal chords until we started making sounds that came out as words.
The same goes for making music…. We can play around with making sounds until we make music. Whether we are using musical instruments, our voices… or a stones and a leaf…we can all play at making music indoors or outdoors.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a whole bundle of activities that help people’s musical self emerge in a way that also connects them with nature? That’s what the Natural Musicians activities are about… but more of that later.
Nature can inspire us to make sounds.
For example; A gasp of fear when seeing a snake; The ooh, ahh and cute sounds of seeing cuddle of little fluffy kittens, an ewww of disgust; a wow and woah of seeing something spectacular. Also the plop of mimicking the sound of a stone falling, or the snap of a stick breaking.
Playing music with people can give us a sense of belonging too. We are seen. We are part of something bigger. Our contribution receives validation.
When we make music with people and with inspiration from nature and the place or landscape around us we enter into a dynamic relationship. There are many layers of connection going on.
As a didge player I often seek out acoustically interesting places to play… bathrooms, caves, stairwells, hollow trees, rocky outcrops.
When I started teaching didgeridoo I had no written music to rely on… (and to this day I don’t actually read music well at all!) I had to come upon a way of teaching rhythms and allow for the creativity of my students to produce their own rhythms and sounds.
I started by using word sounds and syllables… for instance the syllables of the students names to make rhythms and articulate sounds.
I then began to use geometric shapes in the music rooms and halls I was teaching in to help make rhythmical patterns and compositions. A row of four windows, a stack of 6 chairs…each one had a pattern that could be interpreted. Everything is vibration. Everything is sound. How can you give voice to it?
This soon led to looking beyond the walls, helping my students make music based on the patterns and feelings within a landscape or place.
And then we started to use natural and man objects made to help us write musical scores.
Music making in Forest School
When I started to include percussion, music making and singing more songs in my forest school sessions I realised that I could do team-building, nature interpretation, nature connection and so much more through the lens of music.
Natural Musicians activities were born!
Sometimes all we need to get a connection going is a stick to conduct an orchestra!
Another example of the connective journey is making simple instruments from natural objects… just knocking two things together.
When someone goes and looks for two things to beat or brush together to make a sound… they are immediately engaging more of their senses, they are moving in different ways, picking up, engaging, holding, manipulating, listening…experimenting, noticing what other people are doing so they can copy or be unique…
If we were to go and harvest some wood to make a whistle or a scraper, then we have to meet the living tree, or find the right density or variety of wood that is safe to handle or put in our mouths.
To identify the ‘right’ plant we have to look closely at patterns – on the leaves, growth forms of the plants, shapes and numbers of buds or flowers, not only of the plant we seek, but of the others too. Each one is alive, is living in ‘it’s home’ and deserves respect. Each one has it’s individual smell, character and associations (insects, soil requirements, shade preferences etc) we can observe.
All of this builds a relationship to the place. And can also lead to a deeper understanding of sustainability and effects of resource use (that we seldom see when our goods are produced elsewhere in the world).
As we make a simple instrument there is also the skill and technique required to make it. A relationship develops with the material, the feel of the wood, it’s grain.
When it is made there is a journey of discovery for the ways to play it, to let it have a voice.
Thinking of the didgeridoo for a moment, I often wonder if I am playing it, or is it playing me!?
And how I play and discover depends on how I am feeling in that place, in that moment…
When we join in music making with others, maybe through listening to and joining in with a pulse, what each individual brings is unique, a vibrational pattern of where they are at. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
This is all part of the story, the storing in the brain and body, of connection…with the object or instrument, the music, the place, our emotions and the people as we play.
It is bigger than self.
Through making simple music in groups there can be belonging, creation, nowness, oneness, something moving through us all.
Those are some of the things I love about leading musical activities in forest school, and other settings. If you would like to know more about how I have seen music change the vibe of a place click here to read another blog post.
If you would like to try a free activity from the online Natural Musicians facilitation training course… click here: https://www.natureconnection.co.uk/natural-musicians-intro
To finish here are some of the attributes and benefits of Natural Musicians activities:
- Develops personal & social skills including leadership
- Helps give a sense of belonging, and moments of nowness, and oneness
- Increase coordination, collaboration and counting skills
- Encourage listening and attention to detail
- Develop botanical identification skills & ecological awareness by stealth
- Nurture creative thinking & interpretation and composition skills
- Involve people working alone, in small groups and all together
- Encourages self expression, communication, performance skills & teamwork
- there is no right or wrong…it’s a creative process
- Includes curriculum elements of pulse, describing sounds, soundscapes & rhythmic patterns
- Can be done outdoors, indoors, in all weathers
- Are five minute energisers to day long programmes
- Wholistic addition to a teachers tool kit for making everyday lessons fun, exciting and connected to nature
- Enables more staff and children to make more use of percussion and tuned instruments
- Can lead to performances and a new trend in play within the school grounds
- An hour of nature connection activities can lead to 20% improved memory performance and attention span
- Are great for both art & science weeks
- Perfect for teambuilding and generating a sense of place…
- Oh… and did I say? Might help people feel they are more musical and alive than they realised!