CoLab - Building the Trinity Laban creative community by Joe Townsend

CoLab 2018 logo.png

This year for CoLab at TL I have decided to feature two home groups of people. Firstly, our one-to-one teaching staff and secondly, alumni. So, despite inviting brilliant people into our community from around the world, I am really happy to announce that this year CoLab projects will be run by staff members Naomi Butterworth, John Crawford, Mikhael Kasakhevich, Rivka Golani, Gerry McCrystal, Sarah Wookey Douglas Finch, Michelle Meinhart, Phil Pesket, Hugh Wilkinson, Melanie Henry, Louise Jackson and Peter Knapp and David Bahanovich to name a few.


Other project leaders are TL alumni such as Femi Koleoso from Ezra who is running a Grime project; Zoe Georgallis and Will Scott who bring their talent and unique skills to lead Soundpainting; Oliver Payne, fresh from working on the hit show, The Grinning Man in the West End and Phil Meadows who will bring his Trio Skint to play on the opening night party of CoLab.


Working together with recent alumni, we offer fantastic role models to our students and staff keeping us on our toes and build a bridge between the art world and college life.


And to cap that, there are staff members at TL who have hidden talents that many people are not aware of. Award-winning theatre and dance director Adam Hypki – yes! He’s our graphic designer will be working mentoring a project as we welcome students from Poland and we are expecting some surprise offerings from the Estates and Facilities team.


Next feature CoLab Dance!

CoLab 2018 by Joe Townsend

Trinity Laban is gearing up for the 7th edition of CoLab. There will be sharing of work on the 19 and 23 Feb with events scattered across the 2 weeks.

In the run-up to CoLab, I am going to reflect on CoLab highlights of the last few years

Also, I will be previewing some of the creative prospects for this year.

Looking back


In 2016 Trinity Laban was visited by leaders of the First Nation Blackfoot Tribe from Smashed in Buffalo Head Reservation in Canada. The project featured new commissions from outstanding composers from 7 different countries. The result was a marathon concert in the Chapel and a naming ceremony for project mentor Rivka Golani, AKA she who flies in high places.

Looking forward

 In CoLab this year we are looking forward to welcoming choreographer Struan Leslie who has just directed the New Year festival in Edinburgh for thousands of people. He will be bringing his experience of working as Movement Director at the RSC and Aurora, to help students playing in the CoLab strand Chamber Twist to think like dancers.

Struan Leslie

The Role of the Mentor by Joe Townsend

I really enjoyed this article by Teddy Abrams. Find your own mentor. Become a mentor.

In music higher education need to really help students find mentors in the first years after leaving college.

by Joe Townsend

CoLab: Understanding the ‘ME’ in TEAM – Take the test


Making work during CoLab can be exhilarating, fun and also challenging. It’s all very well saying that it is all about process, but working together on something new in a mixed group is often not so straightforward. As CoLab approaches here are some thoughts on team working with thanks to James Wilson, head of the V&A leadership programme, who will be taking part in CoLab:

For twenty-five years Meredith Belbin’s book Management Teams has set the standard for how you can operate as a part of a team. Although this book is aimed at business management there is much that we can learn as creative artists from his research and what it has say.

He identifies nine key role types that make up a balanced and effective team, these include the CO-ORDINATOR with the chairperson’s get-it-done approach, the RESOURCE INVESTIGATOR who brings contacts and context, the SHAPER who likes the challenge of pressure, the sober strategic EVALUATOR, the PLANT who is creative and on the edge with the bright idea, the TEAM WORKER who looks after the well-being of the group, the IMPLEMENTER who designs the systems with an analytical eye and the SPECIALIST who brings unique and specialised knowledge. With this mix a team can be highly effective and work in harmony.

Every person has a combination of these traits, which can be flexible and mobile depending on the task in hand. Understanding one’s strengths and roles can help the group become highly effective. Try taking the 5-minute Belbin test and see your team role profile:

So once you understand your team, how can your team be effective?

Set clear objectives – defined so everyone understands their steps in achieving a shared goal

Appropriate leadership – understanding of shared functions rather than acting out of formal roles

Suitable membership – A good team balance appropriate to the task

Commitment to the team – shared experience and values

Supportive team climate – working in a trustful environment

Getting things done – Knowing what it is doing and when it has achieved a goal

Working Techniques – The team invests in skills, rules and procedures

Learning – from each other

New Members – quickly integrated, supported and developed

Managing the group – the team monitors itself

Other teams – the ability to work with other groups

Success – how to build for the future, deal with expansion and learn to say no.


Joe Townsend

Habititation on BBC Radio 3 Late Junction by Joe Townsend

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Here's a project that I really enjoyed being a part of.


Composer and pianist Kate Halsall with TL staff and DJ Myr on Late Junction (7th September)


Kate works with DJ Myr and a String trio featuring Trinity Laban’s Joe Townsend (violin), Nic Pendlebury(viola) and Laura Moody (cello). It was first performed at the Black heather Club, which is a part of Trinity Laban’s creative work.

The piece mixes sounds from around Lewisham and Greenwich and weaves them into a live performance.

Kate has just joined the Trinity Laban Engaging Audiences team and will be teaching 1st and 2nd Year undergraduates.



Play the violin like a bird by Joe Townsend

In preparation for the Creative String Group at Trinity Laban that starts in a week or two, here are some serious extended techniques for the violin. In the woods near Gherla in Transylvania, Josef Ghermant imitates the birds around him, and even teaches them a thing or two.  Bringing your left hand around to the other side really helps to let go. I love the cockerel sounds. Iogica was Ceausescu's Gypsy Orchestra leader. He told hilarious tales about the band's escapades and escapes from the sadistic humour of their boss. After the revolution he lived a simple life teaching the violin to children in the town.

He died a few years ago but his memory lives on in the memories of those who were touched by his beautiful playing. 

The film was shot by Kate Hands.

Reflections by Joe Townsend

Composer Joe Townsend reflects on the inspiration behind The Gypsy Bible

On the eve of starting a course in Traditional and Folk music for the first time in the history of Trinity Laban Conservatoire, I have been putting the finishing touches to the module which is all about performance and some theory of cultural identity, and that there is really no such thing as folk music. It's all made up. Well, that's not quite true either. Its going to be fun. As a taster I was reading back over old blogs and here is a post from when I wrote the music to my show The Gypsy Bible back in 2010. My own stories are true, but the words written by Alistair Middleton are definitely made up

Iosef Germent

I have always loved the violin. I think that my life really started from the moment that I first saw one in an antique shop. I learnt to play it and practised many hours till I became good enough to make a living playing Jazz tunes and English Folk music on the street and in cafés– I was living in Paris at the time.

I travelled across Europe through Vienna to Hungary and then beyond on the “Black Train” to Transylvania, the land beyond the forest. Not necessarily a place of vampires and fairy tales but a rural culture of people rich in superstition and connected to the soil through work and history in a brooding landscape where people get around on foot and by horse and cart and ancient Mercedes.

I met gypsy musicians who were generous with their musical gifts and exchanged many tunes and learned something of their style of music.

The violin that I played in those days was an old French Vosges fiddle that had seen better days, especially since it had been crushed in a crowd of giant Bavarians at a beer festival and dropped by a French customs officer. Still it made a decent enough sound.

One spring at a fair a gypsy fiddler asked me to show him my fiddle. I handed it to him and he looked it over a bit like a gypsy horse dealer might look over a horse’s teeth to see whether it was any good or not. He picked up my bow and then started to play wild and strange tunes that I had never heard before. Other musicians on 3-string viola and double bass joined in and a young couple danced. And he played for an hour.

This music was not the stuff of a soupy café orchestra for tourists by the castle in Budapest but the music of weddings and funerals – songs of longing and grief, the Doina and dances which are joyful with a serious heart . He was a Lautar, a member of a tribe of musicians that can be traced back to Rajistan through Afghanistan, Turkey, Bulgaria, a long line of musicians stretching back through the ages. Pure Roma.

The music that he played was from a body of tradition drawn from a living testament of music handed down through generations, with time gradually wearing the music into the beautiful melodies that I was listening to.

My own violin had never sounded so good.

When he had finished he handed it back with a shrug as if to say that’s not a bad fiddle. 
And then, a strange thing then happened as I started to play.
The whole violin was warm.
The neck had heat.
It was as if it played on its own accord.
With something of its own will.
Or with the memory of the last person who played it.
Something of that violinist, his music and his story had been transferred into my violin and then on to me.
I also collect stories about violins and I want to bring them to life in this production.

There are stories that seem to pop up around the world in different forms.

A girl is murdered by her jealous sister and then made into a violin by a wandering musician, the violin only plays one tune…”Oh the wind and the rain…”
Another girl trades her family and the devil makes them into a violin to woo her lover…
A young man goes to Hell and back for his love playing his fiddle as he travels so she can hear him as moves along…

A violin has a head,
A neck,
A belly,
A back,
Sides and ribs.
Inside you’ll find a two inch piece of dowel rod.
This is the sound-post that the French call “l’ame”
The soul.

The best wood for the belly comes from the Tyrolean pine on a south-facing slope cut down in February while the sap is low. The wood must be taken half way between the bark and the heart. One may have to cut down a whole tree to find the just the right piece of wood to make a good belly.

Violin varnish is laid on as a liquid and worked in with the hands or a brush.
It is has many ingredients:

The trees weep,
Catch their tears in a bowl.
They weep Amber
(Caught at ebb-tide in nets)
They weep Arnotto
(The tears of the Indian plum)
They weep Benzoin
(Sumatran tears of red and white)
They weep Cinnabar
The trees sweat,
Catch their sweat in your hands
They sweat Copaiba
(Mexican gold)
They sweat Copal
(Incense from Zanzibar)
They sweat Curcuma.

The trees bleed,
Catch their blood in your mouth.
They bleed Elemi
(Egyptian blood)
They bleed Calamus Draco
Dragon’s blood.
Wash it in tears – that which is washed in tears will live forever.
Bless it with sweat – that which is blessed with sweat will live forever.
Dress it in blood – that which is dressed in blood will live forever.

Your Violin is varnished.
That which is dressed in blood will live forever
Will live.
Has lived.

Collaboration Tracks - Kashmir by Joe Townsend

Oh, pilot of the storm who leaves no trace, like thoughts inside a dream

Heed the path that led me to that place, yellow desert stream

My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon, I will return again

Sure as the dust that floats high in June, when movin’ through Kashmir.

Over the summer break I met up with my Granny in Cornwall and she reminded me of when she went walking in Kashmir in Northern India on her honeymoon with her newly-wed husband, Andrew. The year was 1937 and they relished the solitude, the grand vistas and the peace, a country conjured in the colonial imagination and away from the government offices and dust of Delhi. They walked, and as it turns out she rode a pony quite a lot of the way, while Andrew walked. Their solitude also meant travelling with a small entourage of people to put up tents and cook accompanied by a small handful of armed guides. Such was solitude for some in the fading British Empire.

The very sound of the word Kashmir conjures up mystery and was the title of the song that Robert Plant penned when travelling through southern Morocco. Showing equal measure of devotion and irreverence to musical authenticity they created a masterpiece and quite possibly one of the greatest tracks in the history of rock music.

Monastery on Hilltop by Koshy Koshy used under CC by Trinity Laban/ desaturated from original

The version that I have chosen is not the original but the reworking on the 1996 release No Quarter. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page bring together a range of amazing musicians that included a stellar string orchestra of the finest players on the London session scene including David Juritz who is leading the Trinity Laban Side by Side orchestra on Friday 3 October, and stars from other parts of the world. Musicians featured UK based percussion maestro Hossain Ramsey and friends on percussion with violin virtuoso Waeil Abu Bakr, who lights up the middle section with a beautiful Egyptian style fiddle solo. This version happened in the middle of the 1990s world music boom. They didn’t pander to recreating authenticity but allowed people to do their own thing over a rock classic.

Kashmir is one of Led Zeppelin’s greatest compositions which they played live at almost every gig after releasing the original version on the album Physical Graffiti. Musically it features a solid drum groove in square time with the melodic elements superimposed in “three”. The result is highly syncopated. Add a Hijaz mode of the harmonic minor here and there and you have a highly pleasing and exciting result that has rocked audiences over four decades. Robert Plant is one of the great storytellers and really knows how to shape a song, he wails like an imam and roars like the great rocks star that he is.

It is a story of escape and an exotic journey through strange lands, and encounters people who spoke in tongues of lilting grace, a recurring theme in Led Zeppelin’s work. The words relate to the fact that always on the road, and the one they were on in Morocco at the time went on and on.

Heylandt – Go to Heaven! Kashmir by Udo Herzog used under CC by Trinity Laban/ desaturated from original

All I see turns to brown, as the sun burns the ground

And my eyes fill with sand, I scan this wasted land

Trying to find, trying to find where I’ve been.

As I sat with my Grandmother aged 97 last Thursday we think of our own Shangri Las beneath the summer moon. Oh, I been flying… (Grand)mama, there ain’t no denyin’

Written by Joe Townsend – CoLab creative producer

HEAs a Jolly Good Fellow by Joe Townsend

This is where I reflect on my Fellow of the Higher Education Academy submission. Reflecting on  reflection? the world's gone mad.

If had been asked about creating a good learning environment when I started working at Trinity Laban seven years ago I would have probably opened a window to let some fresh air in.

I have recently completed the Fellow of the Higher Education Academy accreditation exercise, which I decided to do it because within a year or two, it is bound to be a requirement of teaching in the sector.

I approached it with some trepidation, suspicious of having to take part in some Quality Assurance, TDAP compliance box ticking exercise that was perhaps more for the benefit of the institution than my own. As a creative musician, I felt my blood starting to boil as I read through some of the academic language, and thought that a much better format for the exercise might have been  a thirty-minute viva where you get to discuss your practice with a panel who understands the idiosyncrasies of the conservatoire education.

Having said this, I found the exercise of reflecting back on two years of teaching over a period of four days at the end of the academic year  a really valuable and energising experience, because with reflection came the desire to do things differently, better even.  The benefits were considerable and I actually enjoyed digging out references, which are not required for the submission. I decided to move towards a more democratic style of teaching and managing, inspired by the great educators of our age (Friere, Vygotsky, Kolb, Purcell and Caine).

It’s a pretty straightforward task where you have to write five statements about your teaching; so I went straight to the part where you can blow your trumpet about all of the projects and conferences one has taken part in. This was the easy bit and was quite satisfying; much harder was writing about how I design and plan, teach and support, assess and give feedback and create a good learning environment. These all have to be cross referenced against a checklist of learning and teaching essentials that are both highly personal and also reflect a high expectation from the HEA.

The process of having to squeeze the learning outcomes and key descriptors into the six hundred word statements is a bit of a game, but the brief is really quite broad because as an assignment it has to cover every area of higher education teaching.

I think when I apply for the senior fellowship next year I will have the confidence to highlight the areas that I find particularly challenging such as risk and potential failure and the things that are not so straightforward. For example, gathering feedback from students and colleagues is a relatively simple task, but listening and then acting upon it is harder and involves personal challenge and judgement.  And, implementing and understanding change at Trinity Laban, at times seems to have more in common with Mervin Peake or Kafka than reality.

So completing the fellowship application was not so bad and I even got an email to say that I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy which is worthy recognition and importantly the next time the students are falling asleep in a seminar I might do more than open the window.

landreader project by Joe Townsend

Photographer Dominick Tyler is in the middle of shooting The Landreader Project 

He is taking beautiful photographs of British landscapes and creating a giant website and book. There are some breathtakingly beautiful images that really make me want to get out of London. His first book of photographs was Wild Swim. I believe that this is all a pretext to spend most of the year in wild and desolate places. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it. 

What I like about this project is the wiki element. He is collecting names for every land formation and the different titles that people give them.

The latest ones this week are:  Cleugh, Force, Swire, Law, Cwm and Brocken Spectre.

One that is missing from the list at the moment is the "gungepatch" - this is dent left in the ground in the front gardens for where the bin doesn't quite fit on the path. there is also "tarmacup" that's the manmade one where they just keep resurfacing the road until there is actually no kerb left.

The music on the film clip was recorded by Martin Green and me.


Ory's Story - Schools Opera project kicks off by Joe Townsend

Ory is found out again. "What am I going to dress up as next time??"

Ory is found out again. "What am I going to dress up as next time??"


Today was the first session working on the Blackheath Halls Community Opera education project at Addey and Stanhope School.

Count Ory is all about disguise, passion, melancholia. Rossini wrote it with early 19th century for a French audience, so it is bawdy and full of comedy. Rossini (of William Tell fame) was a genius with melody and orchestration and it is gripping and soaring music with plenty of surprise.

There is not really very much in the way of back story or deep and meaningful interpretation, just a lot of fun. It's basically a cartoon in which  a young count dresses as a holy man to woo the heart of a young woman who is suffering from melancholia. It is not a bourgeois malady that Brecht would have painted, nor similar to Lady Macbeth's descent into madness. She's just a melancholic and Ory is there to get his way with her. Spoiler alert!! It doesn't happen. He tries everything (well, not really, but he does dress up as a hermit, which she sees through and he then tries another tack and dresses up as a Nun. There is a basic flaw in his plan though. Why would she ever consider going out with someone who poses as a nun?

The young students at Addey and Stanhope School in Deptford were great. They threw themselves in to the project and following rhythm workshops, doing physical theatre as Italian waiters with plates and then listening to boots of the Opera and reflecting on it.
The results were positive, one young person said that a sad tune tine would sound better if it were sped up and had an R&B beat put to it. That is definitely a way to go. There were some lovely melodic ideas built around the theme of the colours of melancholia and so many other creative thoughts and talent. Combined with the guitars, ukeleles, beats and Afrobeat, it is going to be hard to fit it all into a 15 minute piece.

A big thank you to Mr Teager (Head of Music at A&S school) and students Dinu and Claire from Trinity Laban for volunteering their time to help with the leadership. Also Helen from TL Learning and Participation and to Anna Wyatt who has set the whole thing up. Can't wait until next week when we all meet for the second time and get cracking toward the final showing on July 15th.

Link to the Blackheath Halls production of Count Ory here.



Turner, the sea and the performing arts by Joe Townsend


I'm going to be leading a workshop at the Culture Capital Exchange annual conference. I will be looking at some of the dynamics of group work in creative dance and music projects and asking whether there is something to be learned and applied when working on larger scale partnerships.  

How are curatorial decisions made and transmitted and who has ownership and agency? Political and economic climate, policy, budgets, modern life and management challenges, ego and power dynamics often impose on creative projects long before any work has been commissioned. 

I will be working with Laura Greenhalg who is a dancer, choreographer and thinker. We will start from a practical base and experience risk through dance in the first instance and broaden the debate out from there. Sara Wajid who is the Public Programmes manager at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich will be bringing her unique perspective.



TCCE presents: Culture, Creativity and the Academy - building a new ‘Grand Partnership’

Tuesday 24th June 2014
Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Milton Court, corner of Milton Street/Silk Street, London 

Participatory Workshop: Turner, the sea and the performing arts

Trinity Laban’s Colab festival in February 2014 featured a group of dancers and musicians who worked together with the National Maritime Museum to create and perform work inspired by the Museum’s Turner and the Sea exhibition.   The resulting work presented a unique opportunity for music and dance students to collaborate in the development and staging of incredible performances, designed to conjure up Turner’s evocative seascapes. The NMM and Trinity Laban partnership demonstrated yet again that students and staff really benefit from inter-disciplinary work on a number of levels.

Through the workshop you will participate with your body and brain, starting with a movement warm-up, a presentation of the project and a discussion about cross-disciplinary practice and how it can facilitated through institutional partnerships.



Workshop Leader: Joe Townsend, CoLab creative producer Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance with: 
Sara Wajid, Public Programmes Manager, National Maritime Museum and

Laura Greenhalgh, Choreographer, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance

Music is... by Joe Townsend

Typing the following search terms into Google is quite interesting.

Music is…? Perhaps we need to think differently....

At Classical Next last week Mark Pemberton, Director of the Association of British Orchestras said "there is no such thing as classical music, just music". He put the search terms "classical music is..."into Google. I have done the same with other genres.

The results? Basically everybody loves music, or rather search algorithms hate Jazz and Classical music.

jazz is.jpg
Basically everybody loves music

Basically everybody loves music

Audiences - who is listening by Joe Townsend

Now, in the 21st century, in a time of unprecedented change and financial difficulty, musicians are rightly concerned about their future. The institutions that train many of those musicians are also right to be concerned.

The health of the music industry is uncertain. As a result of excellent courses across Europe, young artists are making better music than ever and there is a hunger to reimagine music alongside soaring technical standards. Through some inspired learning and teaching, jazz conservatoires are developing pedagogies that focus on group-based learning and methods that foster entrepreneurialism, imagination and collaboration resulting in a diversification of genres and style.

Meanwhile, the major labels are unhappy because they are no longer making money from music and are having to rethink their business model. Musicians aren’t that happy either; revenue streams continue to be unclear as most music is downloaded illegally whilst popular music is being used more and more to drive giant brands and sell products such as Converse and Red Bull through festival promotion, publishing and on-line campaigns. However, through entrepreneurial initiative, musicians are forging their own opportunities, for example:  the Jazzwerkstatt Wien, Berlin and Bern, the Chaos Collective in London, Dirty Loops from Stockholm and programmes such as Gerard Godley’s 12 Point Festival amongst many other exciting innovations happening around Europe.

The audience, the people who consume our music are delighted. You can listen to any music you like for nothing on Spotify or YouTube. It is affordable to go to live music events and the festival scene is in good health. And perhaps, the artists and musicians have a reason to be happy, because if you are smart you can sell your music to a global, networked audience, a community of niche fans for a fraction of the cost a decade ago. But there is also crisis in audience literacy, a corollary of the sad decline in the visibility of Jazz as an art form in the mainstream media and popular culture.

The decrease in Jazz audiences in concert halls and clubs is widely recognised, with data from America and the UK revealing that Jazz audiences have significantly fallen away over the last thirty years and in addition to growing older. Studies also suggest that if you haven’t fallen in love with a niche art form by the age of twenty-six then it is unlikely that you ever will.  This presents a crisis for Jazz and the future of Jazz education. Audiences help us to make sense of our music and bringing meaning to it.

Elsewhere, research also indicates that people participate in artistic activity more than attend, and that many audiences are made up of people who take part in the arts.  As conservatories we need to work hard to develop and energise our audiences through reaching out to young people through bringing musicians into schools. For people in hospitals, prisons and for marginalised population, music becomes something to hold on to and is often a ray of light in an otherwise challenging world.

Historically Jazz has always been a community art form, from its early roots through to the Community Music movement in the seventies. Recent times have seen bold projects from jazz and popular music, such as Tomorrow’s Warriors alongside inspired programming at the South Bank Centre. These projects recognise the need for audiences to take part and provide a challenge for the artist to think differently about how they perform and present their work.

The generative skills involved in rehearsing a band, song writing and improvisation lend themselves well to participatory projects. The discreet qualities such as social entrepreneurialism, camaraderie, empathy and autonomy are important skills that can be gained through work-based learning, and skilful mentoring. We need to create a study that places these skills at the heart of our students’ learning.

What might this curriculum look like and how might it be structured? Trinity Laban has created a course called Engaging Audiences that teaches leadership, community performance, marketing and self-led projects that all students participate in as a core part of principal study. In addition, all students participate in CoLab, a two-week festival that provides a place where students can experiment in a socially constructive way to try out new ideas and ways of working.

As representatives of conservatoires we are in a position to seize the moment and be leaders in music enterprise, shaping art and culture and using our music as a tool for social change and to affect the cultural landscape.

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

 Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Under the skin and into the head; Bjork, Tom Waits, John Ruskin and empathy. by Joe Townsend

Here’s some thoughts on empathy and understanding in performance, collaboration and life.

Andrew Stuck will be introducing a CoLab project based on creative walks. He conceives and organizes a series of strolls around town. These are not tourist walks, but ambles that require people to question and to interact with the environment, your companions and yourself. For  CoLab he will introduce and inspire a creative walk - the actual content and theme will be down to the students taking part.

One of Andrews walks is built on the premise that you have to observe the surroundings and interact with people through the eyes of John Ruskin, the genius 19th century art critic, philanthropist and thinker. He lived near Herne Hill and has a strong connection with South East London.

Many performers such as Tom Waits and Bjork have both said that they like to take on the personae of other people when they perform.

In theatre, the Stanislawski school of method acting is all about getting right under the skin of the character that you are playing to bring truth to the performance. I find it interesting that sometimes fantastic performances in music are not so much about portraying a truth but presenting a fantasy, or a construct of some kind.

 Bjork - Here in Dancer in The Dark (2001)– Lars Von Triers’ masterpiece, she sings singing I’ve seen it all.)

 Tom Waits – here with Iggy Pop in the Jim Jarmoosh film, Coffee and Cigarettes. Not singing but totally “in character”.

Glen Gould in several of his many characters.

Descartes came up with the cogito ergo sum “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am” in the Enlightenment when people were concerned with existence and what consciousness was really about, so it’s not surprising that a favourite game in certain social circles was Mendelssohn’s Berlin. It was simple, people got together to take on the role of a famous characters from history and act out that persona for the duration of a soiree. In his book “The Craftsman”, Richard Sennett describes an example of Socrates meeting up with Bach. What could that game look like today?

As performers we all put on a costume, I certainly sometimes channel different people when I play, depending on the gig – there is an amazing Romanian violinist called Iosef Ghermant who I think of before playing.

Acting as somebody else is all very well but I often wonder what would it be like to put ourselves in the shoes of a friend or somebody you don’t get on with. What could we learn? How could we know how to behave or act?

Marshall Rosenberg in his movement for non-violent communication believes that any conflict can be resolved once you can understand their needs.

“The people are empathically connected to what each is feeling and needing—-they do not blame themselves or let judgments implying wrongness obscure this connection to each other”  Rosenberg.

 Ask the right questions and then listen to what it is like to be that person. Understand their needs, then try to experience their viewpoint, in your shoes through their eyes and behavior.

 How does this affect us when working in groups in an interdisciplinary way? Do we just jam and see what happens? Do we ask questions, or tell? How do we listen? What do we say?

And does understanding others help is to find truth in our performance or find a persona. Should we be ultimately searching for a “truth” in ourselves as performers?

 I personally think it’s all up for grabs and there are obviously no hard and fast ways to understand each other.

Rachmaninoff Symphonic dances: Inspired mentoring, fantastic students and why no dancing?? by Joe Townsend

On Friday evening I was moved by the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances played by Trinity Laban Orchestra at Blackheath Halls.

What followed was a 35-minute performance of vibrant and delightful music under the assured, sensitive and bouncy leadership of Jonathan Tilbrook. The symphony orchestra was made up of students and supported by around ten professional players and teachers from the music faculty. The students took us on an edge-of-the-seat ride with great energy, enthusiasm and artistry.

The staff and professional players were leading the way by example.  These included the poetic violin playing of John Crawford and much inspired leadership from Joely Koos, and Sam Burstin and Leon Bosch. John Anderson demonstrated some amazing leadership from second oboe, and Gabriella was great on harp.
A student said after the gig, that playing alongside pros in a pro situation was really exhilarating and quite scary, it meant that they had to raise their game to a new level because they had only one sectional and then a 3-hour rehearsal (a luxury for a 35 minute piece of music) as opposed to days of work on a symphony orchestra programme.

Humans have a natural disposition to learn; and through observation and patterning role models, learning can be accelerated in a way that we don’t see in a more didactic approach to instrumental craft. There are numerous skills to acquire on the road to becoming an orchestral musician. The model of mentor used on Friday was collaborative and profound…and the music sounded fresh and exhilarating, so whoever put the idea forward was a genius (probably a student).

OK - I have always found the rituals and protocols of classical music concerts a bit irritating. For example, why can’t we make a noise between movements? Why do we have to sit in rows?  I think that it would be great if people could move around to the music. Well, they’re dances after all.
I don’t think people should call music a dance unless people actually dance to it. I know that Rachmaninoff wanted to use the piece with Fokine for a ballet and that they were later choreographed in the 80s, but what I’m talking about is some kind of expressive dancing, spontaneous group urge to move. I find the whole sitting in rows thing quite hard work.

I am seriously thinking about putting together a programme of Symphonic music that people can groove around to…it might need a steady beat - suggestions please. Or something expressive. A kind of Symphonic, Body Jam. I would space the band out a bit and have dancing in the rows of the orchestra. There would be a conducted piece where the dancers lead an improvisation where choreographer is conductor creating movement and music in response at the same time. The music would be a series of pre-organised harmonic and rhythmic patterns.

It could well be a Prom. Watch this space! Non-classical is good but we do need to bring the canon, which after all is the justification for the symphony orchestra, into contemporary society. Whilst I love Gabriel Prokofiev and non-classical, I do think that we need to get some of the great old stuff away from the great stuffiness.

This is my CoLab Blog by Joe Townsend

Welcome to my blog.

I will use this space to reflect on learning and teaching and the Trinity Laban CoLab project which runs from 10-21 Feb 2014.

Projects are starting to take shape and I am looking forward to more suggestions so that we can make CoLab 2014 a fortnight to remember.

CoLab is intended to release students’ creativity through extending our craft and re-imagining the canon in new and interesting ways.

I have been thinking about what makes good collaboration.

Craft: musicians learn their craft and need to spend hundreds of hours developing the skills needed to reach a professional standard.  In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks of 10,000 hours to mastery. He is building on the writing of people like Richard Sennett in The Craftsman and  Dr. Erickson’s writings. This is a hotly disputed subject, but one thing is sure, you need to focus on your subject and do repetitive practise over a long period of time to become good at your craft.

This “craft” type learning does not always consider creativity and the type of thinking that can result in innovation.

Mark Stevenson, (cryptologist, future thinker and serendipity engineer) describes creativity in terms of 5 principles to observe:

  1. Have an unashamed optimism for working together
  2. You are what you do, not what you intend to do
  3. Get involved in projects that are bigger than you are
  4. Engineer serendipity – every good idea is like 2 other ideas coming together
  5. Making mistakes is OK but not trying is irresponsible
  6. Police your own cynicism – it is the enemy of creativity.

I think that these are great, and are a challenge to think about and discuss when dreaming up project ideas, both for CoLab and elsewhere.

Add creativity to craft and great things start to take shape.

Motivation - internal and external. Why do you want to do something? what makes you want to do it? Daniel Pink has some interesting things to say about this on TED talks and if you want to plunge deeper then it is worthwhile thinking about Vygotsky and his contemporaries who discuss Social Constructivism as being a model for learning. This is where people help each other to learn in groups. the intervention of a mentor or a teacher can then help with acquisition of skills and ways of building and learning.

Flow which considers nurturing a balance between skills and challenges as an individual and a group is a great way to think about how a group is progressing. Being aware and discussing flow can be a very good way to understand how a project is progressing and developing. To find out more about this it is worth looking into the godfather of flow, Mihaly Csiszentmihaly.

In addition to motivation it is important to consider reflection. Educational theorists such as Kolb, Dewey, Boud et al have published many works on reflective processes and how we learn through taking part, capturing and evaluating the experience and then planning the next steps. Awareness of these approaches in collaborative groups can be a good way of discussing what is happening and how to move forward. In recent years there are emerging ideas about how we can form communities of reflective practice. These can happen in groups at the end of the day or at pauses in the action.

On the other hand reflection can be a solitary and quiet practice away from the activity in the bubble of a project.

Below the dividing line I have written EGO. Now, ego, in itself is not a bad thing, (and I’m not talking Freud here) but it is important in collaborative processes to be aware that sometimes individual vision can inhibit group agency. That is why the bigger the ego, the smaller the overall value.

I am trying to make sense of this equation and immediately it is obvious that there are elements such as leadership and decision making and other things that could be included, so any comments would be most welcome.

I will expand on some of these ideas in later blog posts.

Joe Townsend