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neighborhood
Improvisation
Composition
Baroque Style
Lyricism
Participant quotes

Here are outlines of some of our favorite workshops and lecture recitals.
Click on a subject to jump to that part of the page.
Feel free to call or email to discuss having Vita and Ishmael visit your group!

Improvisation Workshops

In our improvisation workshops we help people connect with the musical instincts we all have within. Even those who only contribute a few notes delight in weaving them into the musical fabric, while those with musical training rediscover the essence of chamber music: intense listening, cooperation, and communication.

We've taught workshops ranging from one hour to one week, with participants ranging in age from five years to seventy, in groups of up to fifteen. We have lots of experience working with people with disabilities. Through games and structured group improvisations, we introduce three basic concepts: focus, imitation, and contrast. However, every session is unique!

One day our group made a fabulous machine. It was mostly effects: clucking, beeping, letting off steam, blowing whistles. Everybody took part and had a great time. Vita started to laugh when Corrina started "oiling" her ribs ("psst") to keep her gears running smoothly!

In a class for first and second graders, a tiny girl named Sarah raised her hand and piped up in a tiny voice, "I think I could sing you a little tune if you want." She did, and we made it the first theme of a Spring Symphony. Afterwards her teacher said, "I was amazed. Sarah never speaks in class!"

A group of three eight-year-old boys and four adults became very quiet and listened to the soft sounds coming in from the street. Then Will, who had started playing the viola only two weeks before and was just beginning to use his left-hand fingers, started playing a beautiful prelude. As Vita imitated each phrase, he added his fingers. Vita started to ornament her imitations. Alexander began to play the tambourine softly. Soon two drummers came in and we had a full-fledged tarantella going. William got out his harmonica and started playing an elaborate C major flourish with a great deal of vibrato, while turning like a whirling dervish.

Composition Workshops
We lead composition workshops of various lengths for groups of about four to six people of all ages and skill levels. Below is our plan for a series of four two-hour sessions for children composing for the first time.

First Session: Intervals express moods

• Let children challenge us to play music illustrating any mood they can think of, using excerpts from classical repertoire and new music.
• Challenge them to identify small and large, dissonant and consonant intervals and the feelings they convey.
• Help each child begin to compose a piece for violin and piano, beginning with a mood to express. Play the children’s ideas back to them and encourage them with questions and comments.
• Encourage other children to listen supportively and tape record each other.

[Between sessions, we listen to the tapes and write down the pieces as much as possible.]

Second Session: Unity and variety, repetition and variation

• Demonstrate these concepts in Mozart’s Sonata in G major, K. 301.
• Discuss repeating melodic figures and ask children to identify ways in which Mozart varies them. Pair children up and ask one to choose a set of notes, the other to create several repeating patterns with those notes, then switch.
• Help each child develop his or her piece. Begin by playing what the children wrote during the first session. Encourage them to use repeating patterns and repeat sections using the instruments differently to make the pieces longer while still making them easy to grasp and interesting to listen to.

Third Session: Ending
• Demonstrate short pieces and movements by Bartók, Dana Maiben, Chopin, and Kansy Nientao, showing how each composer marks the end. Discuss ways to bring back material from the beginning of the piece (including backwards, as in a palindrome, and inverted, as in a mirror image) and ways to vary such repetitions with different harmonies.
• Help each child plan the overall shape and ending of his or her piece.

Fourth Session: Review
• Review ideas introduced in the first three sessions, using new examples from Fauré and Ishmael’s own compositions. Challenge the children to identify large and small, dissonant and consonant intervals, repeating patterns and figures and melodies repeated with variations and mirror images.
• Help each child end and edit his or her piece, adding dynamics, expressive indications, and metronome marks, and naming the piece.

Baroque Style
We have given workshops on this subject for both children and adults, in groups ranging in size from ten to forty. Below is a lesson plan for two-hour workshop for ten adult music teachers.

Theme: Baroque style is
• psychologically charged,
• highly ornamented, and
• intended to enthrall, amaze, overwhelm

We introduce ourselves by playing a Marini sonata.

To experience the differences between Baroque and Renaissance aesthetics: participants compare photographs of the Michelangelo and Bernini statues of David, then pose as each, noting the differences.
Investigate the beginnings of opera in Florence, 1600: the scientific reinvention of music using new techniques to enthrall, amaze, and overwhelm the listener. Discuss and illustrate musical “intensification” techniques:
• dissonance
• rhetorical dynamics (esclamatione)
• ornaments (intonatio, trills)
and Baroque ideas about expressive gesture in acting and art.

Participants look at Rubens’s painting of Daniel in the Lions’ Den, then pose as Daniel beseeching heaven for aid. Play opening of Marini sonata again, have participants sing musical gestures (esclamatione, intonatio, trills) with words “Ahi me,” etc., while posing as Daniel.

We introduce recitative, figured bass.

We introduce sequences, read literary equivalents from the period.

Participants look at photographs of Bernini’s St. Theresa in Ecstasy and pose as Theresa and the angel piercing her with a divine arrow. We play Bach’s Sonata in E minor for violin and continuo slow movement.

Read “Infirmata Vulnerata,” an anonymous literary equivalent; note very intense, Baroque convergence of sexual and religious ecstasy.

Discuss “pathapoeia” and appoggiature: rhetorical devices capable of expressing intense and mixed feelings, sighs of sweetness and pain. Sing upper and lower appoggiature and chains of appoggiature, identify them in the Bach movement. We play the Bach again.

To review, participants compose a short “opera” using Baroque rhetoric, both in musical and physical gestures.
Lyricism and Compression
This is an hour-long lecture recital suitable for college music students and adult music lovers that explores similarities in the musical styles of Brahms, the most conservative of the Romantic composers, and Webern, whose music still sounds avant-garde today. Comparing the two refreshes one’s hearing of Brahms and brings out the incredible expressivity of Webern. The following is an outline of the lecture, with a few excerpts from the sources we quote.

Bernard Holland wrote “Minimalism is a musical art that says very few things over a long periods of time. This is in opposition to music that takes a long time to say many things (Mahler), music that says very little in normal amounts of time (Saint-Saëns), of music that says a great deal in practically no time at all (Webern).” (New York Times, 8/10/07) We explore this last kind of music in this lecture.

We play excerpts from Webern’s Four Pieces for Violin and Piano and Brahms’s Sonata in A Major.

We read responses to Brahms’s and Webern’s music focusing on the compression of their musical styles by their contemporaries Heinrich von Herzogenberg, Luigi Dallapiccola, and Arnold Schoenberg.
Herzogenberg writes of “an enormous genius” springing out of “a tiny box;” Schoeberg of “a novel in a sigh, a joy in a breath.”

We make comparisons with literary style and visual art, reading from Oliver Strunk and E. B. White’s Elements of Style (“Every word must tell”) and showing paintings by Joseph Beuys and Joan Miró.

We analyze the first of the Webern pieces and the first theme of the first movement of the Brahms, showing how cells or motives encapsulate feelings and the cells or motives are then used to create textures permeated with lyricism.

We outline the historical development from Classical style to Romantic “total thematicism” to atonal “athematicism,” which nonetheless relied upon melodic cells or motives to tie works together.

We explore how the settings in which these pieces were first experienced made possible the compression of their style.

We end with suggestions for performers derived from Webern’s own performances and Brahms’s letters to conductor Hans von Bülow to help audiences grasp their music despite their stylistic compression and changes in performance environment and reception.
Workshop Quotes
“Thank you so much for a wonderful moment of music! You are both so talented and so skilled in bringing the "less skilled" into your world in creative and fun ways. You're both wonderful. Thank you!" – Jane

“It was inspiring, not only for the music, but to see what people are capable of when they experience a supportive environment.” -Dorothy

“It was like a burst of energy, transformations. I had a sense of total freedom and abandonment of self. Lost all sense of self-conciousness.” – Lorraine

“Inhibitions be damned. The music brought people together.” -Leon

"That symphony was terrific. I liked how you took everybody's ideas. Thank you for coming to our school. I like how you were so calm about everything. You are very nice." --Orion

"It was a pleasure to have you at our school. I liked the way you played your own compsitions. Most people don't do that. In most concerts at our school even the most unusual ones, they don't have us compose our own pieces. It was fun to have our ideas and some of yours put together." -- Lily M.

"Thank you for playing a piece that you made up, and for letting us make up one like yours. It was fantastic!!!" --Natasha B.
Pictures from our 2002 Music Workshop at Camphill Village, Copake, NY, and our 2003 and 2004 Music Workshops at Saint Jacobi Evangelical Lutheran Church, Sunset Park, Brooklyn, funded by Chamber Music America's Residency Partnership Program, supported by the JPMorgan Chase Residency Re-grant Program, The Helen F. Whitaker Fund, and the Chamber Music America Residency Endowment Fund.
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Please contact us for information on creating an improvisation workshop for your organization:
call 347-799-2668 or email orfeoduo@gmail.com


© 2016 The Orfeo Duo