Updated: Dec 22, 2021
A Tuesday morning in December, Chapeltown Community Nursery. The main area is cleared of playthings and tables, leaving a space waiting to be filled. Henry lays out his instruments, all wind instruments today: a slide whistle, recorder, hulusi and duduk. Ben and I give the floor an extra sweep. Our theme together is the relationship between movement and music, and we go straight into our first score:
- either all make sound and move, or all are silent and still.
The children come in from playing outside and begin to take their shoes off, but it's our sixth weekly session here and 2-year-old Cyrus knows what's what. He is already with us, twirling, walking between us and listening. I don't think he knows quite what the game is, but he definitely knows that there is one and he wants to play.
Children mostly take a seat in the semi-circle of tiny chairs, then move easily between watching us and nipping up to join in. After a while, I ask if anyone knows what we are playing and 3-year-old Finley straight away calls out the more common name for our score, "musical statues". It's a question that sometimes comes up with improvised performance - how explicit to an audience to make the score. Is it fun for watchers to be in on the game, or is the rule just a scaffold for the performers to build something around, and the interest comes in witnessing or joining the interactions that spring from it? This morning it feels right to share what we are up to. It seems to change things for some children, whilst others are connecting with the movement and music on a more exclusively visceral way, what they feel is happening is more relevant and real than any words.
The children start to realise that this game of musical statues is a bit different from the usual version. Here either mover or musician can initiate a change, so they can make Henry play and then be silent by sprinting across the space. As more children join in, Henry ends up pretty out of breath! Us adult players switch to a more conversational version of the score which we call "silent statues", where movement can happen in the silences. It gives us more space for interaction and play with the children's movements. When their teacher - Tanya - joins in the dancing, the children are enthralled. It's one thing for some unknown adults to appear and do unusual things, but when it's someone they know well, their delight is audible and several children join in for the first time today.
After a while of vigorous, excitable play it is time to calm things down, so I lay out several pieces of padded cloth for children to roll along, recreating our 'rolling river' from a previous week. We begin to sing a languorous, pentatonic song, "We have been sailing, for a long, long time". The softening of the floor and the soundscape transform the children's movement as they reach and spiral their way across the room. I lay out more pieces of the beautiful African cloth, making a patchwork covering the whole floor. A couple of children have chosen to stay sitting at the side with one of their teachers. I lay a piece of fabric for the three of them to put their feet on, and in response one of the girls hides her feet under her chair. I hide my feet under the cloth and her teacher follows. She watches with interest but chooses to keep her feet tucked away. Ben is using his fabric like wings, and then a cloak, as fully committed to the movement as any dancer I have seen on a stage. The children enjoy hiding and then being revealed. We use the pieces of cloth to tow children around the room, faster or more sedately depending on how stable they seem to be, or want to be. One boy chooses to surf standing. I join the caravan behind him, ready to ease his landing if he falls, and when I've had enough of this before he has, ask him to sit down.
We invite the children to choose a fabric 'bed' to lie on and listen to the music. Most children do this, some waving their legs in the air or rolling to cocoon themselves. Rae takes advantage of the quiet to dance through the empty space that has opened up. We are happy that in this setting that values play, the teachers don't feel the need to intervene, although the movement she's chosen is the opposite of what I've suggested. The hour-long session is coming to a close and we need an ending. It comes with gathered bundles of fabric being thrown with satisfying thumps into a heap. When the last one lands, the session is over.