Tom Deveson bangs the drum for an upper primary percussion package
Beat It!. Group Percussion for Beginners. Book and CD. By Evelyn Glennie and Paul Cameron. Faber Music pound;15.
One of the most exciting sights and sounds in contemporary music is Evelyn Glennie weaving her way through a labyrinth of percussion instruments and hitting them all with dedication, accuracy and grace. She has teamed up with teacher Paul Cameron to provide the means for some of that experience to be recaptured in the classroom.
Beat It! is a workbook based on four African dances. It is meant for children of nine and over, although much will also be instructive for their teachers. The book contains a progressive set of lessons and activities intended - and this is essential - to usher in live performances, even if the school cat is the only audience. This is above all, music to do, then do again.
Each dance is linked with three rhythm workshops. The foundation of African music is rhythmic, and here we are encouraged to build up a vocabulary we can draw on in our listening and playing. Rhythm, of course, is expressed not only through sticks and beaters. There are activities for voices, body sounds and movement, any of which can be used as a layer of musical language during practices and performances. A set of instrumental workshops also allows students to rehearse specific skills for playing and understanding the melodies.
The parts for performance are flexible, and can be adapted to suit the needs and capabilities of most children. Melodies can be played on recorders or violins as well as the usual classroom xylophones and glockenspiels. An accompaniment line is for keyboard or guitar players. The tunes can be matched with any grouping of the rhythm lines that have been learned or with others that are improvised.
The CD is a vital part of the pack. It is there to be heard - listening is just as important as performing - and to be used to teach particular sections. Dozens of short recordings feature each of the sub-divisions of the pieces, introduced by brief click-tracks to set the pulse. This means it can be used by small groups of children for practising as a whole-class teaching device, or as an accompaniment to a live performance. Background information on making and playing African instruments is succinct and helpful.
All this is probably harder to describe than do, and each of the four pieces has its own practical appeal. "Mavuto Megamix", a set of Malawian tunes, emphasises the co-ordination of independent hands, feet and voices. The vocals recreate percussion effects. These can be transformed into patterns to be played on instruments.
"Omusambwa Kwetsingoma" develops tunes from three countries into an ensemble piece. The learning focus is on ways of dividing the basic pulse using shakers and drums.Opportunities to improvise take place within the rhythmic pattern, so instruments and voices can "fit" in a huge number of ways.
"Celebration" and "Rainbow Nation" use Botswanan and Zulu music to provide extra challenges. Clapping skills are required to work on cross-rhythms in additive patterns. These will need a leader - teacher or pupil - who is happy to work in 78 and 108 time - but the point is to develop that ability and confidence through careful but vivacious exercise.
A chance to beat it yourself comes on Saturday June 20, when Evelyn Glennie and Paul Cameron will host two one-hour workshops based on the book. This will be part of the Mad About Music show at the London Arena in Docklands. Both workshops will culminate in a performance by the audiencel Bona fide music teachers can get free tickets by ringing the organisers Mammoth Events, on 01353 666366. This offer applies to all days of the show (June 17-21) including the dedicated education Friday, on June 19l Tom Deveson is music advisory teacher for the London borough of Southwark