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Music that would normally be rhythmically too complex for children is made instantly easy.
Bug, Better, Beast is a set of five environmental animal songs for children’s choir/chorus making a main production over a term.
The total performing time is about 20 minutes singing (not counting breaks between songs) - but performing any combination from 1 to all 5 is possible.
It is aimed at children between the ages of 9 and 13.
It will appeal to those children not interested in more usual choral pieces.
Though dramatic and fun these songs include many facts about the five animals in question and they always ask if each animal is successful or not in its environment and why. There are many ways they can be tied into other parts of the curriculum looking at natural history or discussions of global warming today.
The effects of climate change are different for each animal, some carry on and some become extinct.
Climate change has often happened in the past, including global warming, and has lead to great changes.
• Cockroaches eat almost anything, are very adaptable and hard to kill. A great success story through many periods of climate change.
• Dinosaurs were here for millions of years but were killed by climate change. Not a success in the end.
• Sharks are top of the food chain and a great success. They are not naturally buoyant so they have to swim all the time – even when they are asleep - or they would sink and drown. Like cockroaches they have lived through climate change and are a success but they have a very different place in their food chain.
• Tigers are top of the food chain too but are almost extinct. They and their habitat are destroyed by humans. They are not a success now and their environment is destroyed.
• Humans. Are we a success? What are we going to do with our world?
A choir big enough to split into two groups (30 children or more) and a CD player.
An instrument to play the vocal line would be desirable.
It’s all echoes! Tiny phrases on the piano (cues) are immediately repeated by the choir.
All the songs work like this. CHILDREN PICK THIS UP VERY QUICKLY INDEED.
Bug, Better, Beast comes with a CD.
A piano only track for each song.
• “Sung cues” - the tiny piano cues are sung by a female voice, the children then sing along with a male voice repeating what they have just heard.
• “Sung as written” - the piano plays the cue and both voices sing along with the children.
• Several tracks for learning the round.
Split the children into two groups of equal size. Keep the groups consistent from the first practice - one for the top line of the children’s score ‘cockroaches’, and one for the second line ‘sharks’. This way they will learn consistently and each get a turn at singing a main part. Arrange the two groups with a gap between them so the interaction between them is clear.
Explain how the musical notation works: the split choir is written on two lines of music that are read together. Contrast this with the single line of music for the Dinosaurs and Tigers where all the children sing the same thing at once.
You need to know the pieces well first. Do not be daunted by fast speeds, it is easy to pick up – just keep playing the practice tracks with sung cues.
Introduce the idea of how the pieces work by picking a phrase for example ‘What are you?’ and ‘What am I?’ Speak the phrase in rhythm . Get the children to echo back what you have done. Change the speed, the volume and the character of each repetition until they reply in the same way.
All the rounds are at a different speed and it is important the children understand they have to get the speed right each time. The first time you teach them the round get the children to listen carefully to the one bar introduction (it is always the same in each round). Explain it has a 2 beat feel by clapping it for them so that they can feel the 2 beats in the bar. Get them to anticipate the speed of several rounds in this way. They can clap along with the round after the bar introduction until they get the speed right. Encourage them to listen to the left hand of the piano part as they clap (and later sing) so they can feel the speed.
Start learning each song by speaking through the words in rhythm with the children echoing them back. You can do this slowly at first but add expressive details from the beginning. You will need to do this several times until they get to know it. This technique can also be useful later for reminding them of the expression especially if you have to rely on the CD alone in rehearsals.
If you can sing and play through the vocal lines on an instrument slowly before using the CD this will also help. For some practices the children can face each other ‘confrontationally’ to help them realise the drama in the Cockroaches, Sharks and Humans.
Learn each round separately from the songs. Start with everyone singing the tune together. Begin with the tigers which is at moderate speed and therefore the easiest. Wait till the children know each round well before singing it in two parts.
If the groups in your choir are too small to sing confidently in two parts they can sing the round in unison starting with the first entry of the tune. In the cockroach song the children can still sing the appropriate words but sing them simultaneously.
You need to know it well before rehearsing. Practice alone with the CD and make the gestures you will use when conducting. You need to know it physically as well as mentally.
Always have the ‘cockroaches’ on your left or right so you get used to pointing only in one direction. It may help to put arrows in your score to remind you which group to point at especially when things get fast.
Mime the words with the piano keeping your hands close to you then repeat the mime with you hands extended in the normal way for conducting. This leaves no time to look at the music! The safest time to look at the score is while the children finish singing what you have just mimed to them. This is the best time for you to breathe as well!
Conducting the rounds is hard because you cannot mouth two things at once. Bring each choir in for one bar, then alternate your attention between the choirs and conduct each choir’s last bar. This way you should start and end well!
Memorising is easy because the piano part and the conductor’s miming prompt the next phrase. However the children may need a copy of the rounds. They have the same tune but different words each time so it is harder to remember which words to sing.
Discuss the situation in each song with the children. For example, what do cockroaches and humans feel about each other? Which parts of the song show this and how to bring this out in their singing? Which passages would be effective loud, even shouted and which quiet? Should some of the phrases be more acted than sung?
Point out how the different speeds and different accompaniments change the mood of the music. The round is the same tune every time but has different accompaniments that change its character. For example, contrast the heavy ‘walking’ bass in the dinosaur round with the quick pattern in the cockroaches' round.
The tiny mottoes with cues appear in different places with different words. For example, in the cockroach song ‘Kill it!’ bars 143/144 is the same as ‘Cities’ bars 26/27 and ‘Maybe’ bars 57/60 and the same tune appears at a slower speed in ‘Cities’ bars 24/25. This can help them to understand that the same musical material can develop and change its character.
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