Written on 29-Sep-2009 by billcmartin
In early July I joined East Sussex Music service's primary curriculum leader, Alexandra Dalton, in Eastbourne for its first electric violin improvising summer school, which welcomed 14 young string players of grade 5 standard and above from the county's schools. Yamaha has a great range of 'Silent' violins and electric violins which we've already seen used most effectively as a way to (re)motivate teenaged string players and provide a range of new creative possibilities which can challenge, stimulate and broaden their approach to string playing. So I was delighted that we were able to support this event with the loan of a range of 4- and 5-stringed Yamaha electric violins for the use of participants who didn't have access to an electric violin.
I first met Alexandra last year when we both attended the Jazzwise Summer School, to develop our improvising skills. She already played violin in her own swing band and had a keen love of improvising and the Jazzwise event must have sown the seed of the idea for her own superb event this year. She presented and delivered the summer school with string teaching colleague Lynne Ratcliffe, with the aim of introducing the creative possibilities of electric violins in an improvising context to their young string players.
It was great to hear the young musicians exploring and developing their musical creativity and simply enjoying the new timbres and new impact that an electric instrument brings. But with only two days for this first workshop Alexandra was clear that they could only scratch the surface. So they focussed on two improvisational pieces. In one, the students split into several smaller sub-groups, each of which improvised some very adventurous melodic material which was accompanied by a rhythm backing track. The second piece was a simple swing tune in which each of the students improvised 16 bars, topped and tailed by unison playing of the head in jazz style. They performed both pieces with great panache and clear enjoyment as part of the music service's end-of-term concert, at the end of the second day.
The students all worked hard and enjoyed the workshop so much that Alex Dalton is considering setting up a group to provide this kind of opportunity on a regular basis. She hopes to run the workshop again next year but over five days, to give students more time to explore the electric instruments, digital effects, tonal controls via the PA, as well as more concetrated time to develop improvising skills.
I loudly applaud Alexandra Dalton's vision for what was a wonderful and clearing exciting and motivating activity for the young violinists who took part. I look forward to working with the team at East Sussex in developing this activity next summer.