…Well, not everything! But it certainly goes a long way to laying the foundations. If you are asking people to connect and abandon themselves to the creative process, it is so much easier to do that in a warm welcoming and beautiful environment. Somewhere that naturally makes them feel that you bothered, somewhere that shows them you think they have worth.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been many instances where I have had no choice. I have on many occasions found myself expected to dream up a safe environment in the corridor of a school, or in the car park of an NGO. Even in the corner of a festival it is hard to delineate the parameters for real engagement with the arts.
You can imagine my delight then when I came across the Haywain Barn at Hellens Manor. I first found it years ago when visiting a friend, and more recently for a super snug Christmas Market. I would go as far as to say I might have chickened out, or at least put an extensive delay on running my first voice arts therapy course, if it had not been for the keen and dynamic team that stepped in and got the wheels rolling.
The Barn is full of beautiful old beams, real coffee cafetières, wonderful old teapots, ethical toilet paper and big glass doors that let the world stream in. What’s not to love!? Under its eaves, my group of 8, sang, screamed, howled and whispered as they let themselves explore the very edges of their voices. They came together as one over tasty treats (another workshop must) and a shared courage in the face of the unknown. The seemingly deep abyss of the arts.
Having spent years working in super substandard environments, where strobe lights slowly bleach your soul, or passers-by somehow wonder through unaware of the horrific awkwardness that can leach out when singing how you feel. I can tell you now, I will not look back. I would also certainly jump at the opportunity to partake in the other wonders that Hellens offers, not just for the quality of the activity, but the quality of the environment.
Sneak down the back and you will find a stone circle full of carved poems. Or a little nearer the house there is a physic garden, tasty tearoom and a house full of wonderful stories. A huge thank you to the team and I really look forward to dreaming up work together once we are all free to roam again. Unite the Beat will definitely be using the space again.
Emily Robertson (co-founder of Unite The Beat in the community)
The Priory Early Music Series (PEMS) is a six concert season directed by Elizabeth Pallett. PEMS is an educational based project that works in collaboration with the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and Great Malvern Priory. It has been initiated by Elizabeth, a professional lutenist and visiting tutor at the Conservatoire specializing in historical performance. This project draws together students studying at the Conservatoire that are interested in performing repertoire between 15th to 17th centuries and provides an opportunity to gain the experience of public performance. The concerts are unique as they focus on repertoire accompanied by various different lutes. Students are coached by Elizabeth and additional specialists are brought in to give masterclasses as part of the coaching process.
PEMS, now in it’s second season, and has a concert series of six lunchtime performances given at Great Malvern Priory between the months of November to June. These concerts are free and have a welcoming atmosphere. A retiring collection is held after each concert to help fund the overall project.
Since the first opening concert in November 2018, PEMS has gone from strength to strength with audience numbers now reaching 200 members per concert plus a growing mailing list!
PEMS concerts focus on a theme. The very first concert celebrated John Dowland’s first book of lute songs published 1597. Other examples include programmes by 17th century female composers such as Barbara Strozzi and Francesca Caccini. The 2019/20 PEMS season has had audiences enjoying songs from the Henry VIII song book c.1520 as well as English folk songs and ballads from Thomas Ravenscroft’s third book, Melismata 1611.
As part of the series, PEMS also performs concerts that are additional to the six events held in Great Malvern Priory to other locations, taking the performances to a wider audience. For the 3rd season of the series we are planning to perform songs from the Henry VIII Song Book c.1520 at Hellens Manor. This concert will be held in the glorious oak panelled music room as part of the Hellenmusic Festival. Other performances will be included in the Leominster Early Music weekend and the Cheltenham Arts festival.
PEMS is also developing an online presence combining interviews and recordings by musicians studying at the Conservatoire who have taken part in the series. These can be found on the YouTube channel – luteweb https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC87yUmouX3ztsl7FchGaDTw
If you would like to come to a concert, information can be found on the Great Malvern Priory website: www.greatmalvernpriory.org.uk/calendar/ or on luteweb – the professional site of Elizabeth Pallett https://luteweb.com/pems/
Alternatively you can join the mailing list and you will be sent updates of the concert calendar and news letters with links to the online series. To join the PEMS mailing list contact:
Elizabeth Pallett firstname.lastname@example.org
It would be great if you can support these talented young musicians.
Hope to see you at a PEMS concert soon!
So, how do you paint a picture with your voice? I’m not talking about expressing your emotions or dreaming up a story that you perceive to be happening, but actually translating image into sound. What does the colour blue sound like to you? And what about to the others in your group? And why would you do it in the first place?! These are some of the thoughts my group of 8 found themselves pondering when in our final session together I challenged them to sing a picture!
This task formed part of the qualifying stages of The Group Voice Arts Therapy course I was undertaking at The British Academy of Sound Therapy. Each week for a month we met at the Haywain Barn at Hellens Manor to expand ourselves and push at the edges of what we felt our voices could do. We sang in gibberish, we howled, we whispered, passed sounds around and most importantly we all rose to the challenge of achieving the unachievable.
There isn’t a huge amount of research into the benefits of group singing of this nature, but a lot can be discerned from the outcomes of choral singing. In their paper ‘An exploration of choir singing: Achieving wholeness through challenge,’ Tonneijck et al (2008) refer to exactly that, the possibility to overcome challenge in a unified, time bound and contained environment.
They also speak of the therapeutic benefits of ‘experiencing something different from the ordinary things in life and being distracted from daily routines.’ I can assure you that when you are desperately trying to work out how to convey a huge rock face in sound, or how to convey the colour gold bounding off a beautiful prayer rock, there isn’t much mental space to be distracted by your shopping list, the fight you had with a loved one, or the crushing pressure of your job.
So how can we all make the most of this phenomenon. The arts offer us a space to contain our emotions, to distract us from daily worries and to offer us a product upon which to ponder. In these treacherous days when we cannot gather in the beauty of the Haywain Barn, how can we access this profound power.
Let us know how it goes or even upload a recording to our FB page: https://www.facebook.com/unitethebeat/ and don’t forget to tag at @manorhellens
- During your daily exercises/time outdoors: Pick a colour that is not immediately obvious in the nature around you and seek it out. If you can, gather as many different items of that colour and bring them back to your home. Place them somewhere like a mantelpiece. Connecting with nature through colour helps to switch off our brains and immerse us in our present.
- Sit with those you are lockdown with. Take it in turns to make a sound and pass it to the person next to you. Try to match their sound and pass it on. This is called passing a tone ball. To expand the exercise, next time you receive the sound, match what you were passed, but change it to something else before you pass it on. You can start with oooo and ahh type sounds and then descend into mad storytelling through gibberish and general play! Again, tuning in in this way focuses your mind and helps you to build strong relationships with those you are living with. Time out from the stress of global pandemic and opportunity for unbridled play!
- If you live close enough to others to hear each other, pick a song that is well known and agree a time to sing it. We live out in the countryside right now so can feel really quite alone. If we were in a village/town/city, we would definitely be having street sing offs! This really is a time to feel connected and united in our struggle.
Emily Robertson is co founder of Unite the Beat in the community