Moving The Goalposts

Moving The Goalposts - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersSo, you’ve read the brief, defined your boundaries, created a masterpiece… and then everything changes. What do you do when the goalposts move?

This will be a familiar scenario for anyone working to commission within the creative industries. But what does it have to do with education? And what can we learn from the fickle capriciousness of the ‘real world’?

Constant Pitfall

It may come as no surprise that this situation has arisen for me personally (this may seem rather music-specific but bear with me). Last-minute change is, in fact, a constant pitfall when writing to order. Particularly when composing for video. This is largely due to the fact you will initially be working to a rough edit, which is then invariably ‘tightened up’.  

What then happens is that all the work done to ensure your music reflects the pacing of the video is now out of sequence. The editor and/or director may not be too concerned. They will still be working to the underlying beat of the music. And this should still work (unless they have completely changed tack) – but the phrasing will now be out.

Unwanted Demands

The solution lies in rediscovering your original response to the creative brief. Even though phrases may need to be shortened or tempos quickened, the sounds, motifs and melodies will still be relevant. And you now have the opportunity to refine and edit your work to make it more concise… ‘leaner’.

Having such a task imposed on you may feel like an unwanted extra demand. But it will rarely make what you have produced worse. More often, it will make things that little bit ‘snappier’. And this is where the learning comes in.

Good Critical Friends

We’ve spoken a lot about giving children free rein to express themselves through creative learning. We know we need to give them space to express themselves. We understand the importance of resisting our natural urge to steer or lead. And our pupils, thereby, have ownership of their creative work.

However, an important part of this process comes at the end. That is when we invite pupils to observe and comment on one another’s work. They are encouraged to be ‘good critical friends’, offering suggestions for improvement and further development.

Humility & Flexibility

This is the point at which children have the opportunity to craft what they have made. To go beyond the original creative impulse and stretch themselves. And that requires both humility and flexibility.

It is hard for anyone to take criticism, however well-intentioned. Yet, the ability to accept and accommodate other people’s ideas is an important skill. That way, we grow beyond our own self-imposed limitations. Which is where collaboration can lead to rewarding results.

Where the Magic Happens

It can be frustrating to have a teacher, editor, director or whoever ‘meddle’ with your precious creation. But remember, they too will have a creative vision. It may not be quite the same as our own – but this is where the magic happens.

A good deal of great art, especially in the world of music, has come from apparently conflicting partnerships. Lennon and McCartney (The Beatles), Townsend and Daltrey (The Who), Waters and Gilmore (Pink Floyd), Sumner and Copeland (The Police) and Simon & Garfunkel are examples that spring readily to mind. No doubt Gilbert & George, too, have their differences – but that is less my area of expertise.

Social Learning

Conflict resolution, compromise and mutual acceptance are all by-products of the artistic process. In fact, this is precisely why creative pursuits are such a powerful tool for social learning. As educators, we all know how important those things are – even if they may not feature in any SATs.

In the end, somebody else moving the goalposts may just be the artistic nudge we need. Learning to accept and understand other people’s ideas and opinions can only be a good thing. And it is one more step towards realizing potential we may not know we already had.

Now, can somebody please explain how Gaelic Football works?


Unexpected Inspiration

It’s Good to Talk

See, Hear & Experience

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Creative Impatience

Creative Impatience - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersDo you suffer from creative impatience? When an idea strikes, do you want to know, immediately, what it will look, sound or feel like? Cutting corners rarely saves time in the long run. But…

Proper Groundwork

This is something with which I grapple all the time. Often, I will be so excited by an idea that I fail to do the proper groundwork to enable its satisfactory completion. However, that does not mean you should resist these impulses when they occur. Quite the opposite.

Back to The Beginning

To give an example, I have recently been working on some video clips from a live performance. Having decided to put this footage online in episodes, I set about marrying the audio and video. As per usual, the desire to get this ‘out there’ somewhat overtook the necessity to pay attention to detail. Which has meant that, to some extent, I have had to go back to the beginning.

I was putting the finished clips together when I noticed a nasty background noise was compromising the sound. So, I set about rectifying this within each clip. But then I realised it would be better to fix the original audio before separating into individual segments. Which, had I been paying attention, could have been done at the start.

Log Your Progress

However, some things only become apparent when viewed (heard/felt/etc.) in context. And that context may not always exist until we are already into the creative process. So, frustrating as it is, sometimes you just need to do some unpicking in order to refine your creation.

This highlights the need for keeping a log of your progress. Whatever the medium, it should be possible to record the steps you have taken. This is useful on several levels.

You may be creating something you would like to reproduce or adapt at a later date. You may wish to teach others your methods, so they can learn from your experience. Or, you may need to go back and rectify a mistake, before then rebuilding what you had achieved.

Not Such a Bad Thing

Fortunately, in this digital age, it is easier than ever to capture the steps taken. And, if you are working within the digital realm itself, you can simply undo and redo specific actions. You can also save alternative versions of your work.  So, experiments may be made without losing the original draft.

Therefore, whilst attention to detail may save time in the long run, the odd rush of creative impatience is not necessarily such a bad thing. We all know that many of our best creations are essentially the result of mistakes. And license to make mistakes is fundamental to the creative process.

Permission to Risk

Where children are concerned, this freedom is key to the whole creative experience. Whereas they are subject to myriad rules and restrictions – imposed, of course, for their own good – being allowed to break free from such constraints is liberating. And knowing that it’s OK to get things ‘wrong’ leads to far greater creative possibilities.

We all crave a degree of certainty in our lives. And we all know this will invariably be thwarted, one way or another. A major benefit of creative pursuits is giving ourselves permission to take risk within a safe environment. Safety is, of course, very important when working with pupils. So, allowing a form of risk in which there is no real danger is a joy for both pupil and teacher.

Doing in Reverse

Though it may sometimes mean unpicking what had taken many hours to achieve, the learning this provides is invaluable. Indeed, the act of undoing something is merely ‘doing’ in reverse. So, we then benefit from double the experience!

Or am I just excusing myself for being sloppy?


Let Go The Reins

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Take Note

Taking Notes - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersThe other day, something  sparked an idea for a blog post. Sadly, I’ve forgotten what it was.  Which got me thinking about the power of writing things down – take note!

In my studio, where I spend the majority of my working hours, I keep two piles of recycled paper. These are from things that have been printed or posted, don’t need keeping and are blank on one side. One stack lives next to my laptop and another on the studio desk. I use them to take note of ideas, to-do items, phone messages, etc. as they occur to me.

Take Note

There are many circumstances in which going ‘direct to digital’ is an advantage. Right now, for example, I am typing into a word processor. That way, I can quickly correct and edit as I go. I will then be able to easily make amendments and revisions later. Similarly, when working on a new music composition, I will generally work straight into my Digital Audio Workstation.

However, when an idea for a song lyric appears, or a potential blog topic pops into my head, it is always useful to write that down immediately and manually.  When it comes to audio, I have the digital equivalent of a notebook (a portable hard-disk recorder). With this, I can quickly capture an idea for later retrieval; something I would be hard-pressed to do on paper. So, ultimately, it’s the making notes that is important. rather than the method in which this is done.

Mental Clutter

The point is that sometimes an idea can be fleeting and needs to be grabbed immediately. If not, it may either be forgotten entirely or remain as one of many fragments of unattended business in the back of your mind. These little idealets (technical term), if not released into the physical world, can quickly build into mental clutter. And a cluttered brain becomes sluggish.

Think of your own laptop or PC. If you don’t perform regular maintenance, it can slow to a crawl. Similarly, if you don’t organise your documents into folders, they will become a confused mess on your desktop. Even the most unconventional mind needs order and clarity. So, rather than landing yourself with a huge clear-up down the road, avoid congestion by noting things down as they occur to you.

Initial Spark

Of course, you could then just be displacing the problem. These notes, if left to proliferate, will be just as disorganized and impenetrable as unattended thoughts. Knowing that an idea is safely noted allows you to attend other matters until you are ready to act upon it. But you also need to cultivate the habit of organising and nurturing impulses whilst they are still fresh. 

This is particularly important in the case of creative ideas . The initial spark needs to be kindled before it goes cold. By rendering it visible in the first place, you have already greatly increased the chances of catching a flame. But, in order to build a creative blaze, that will need to be fed before it goes out. OK, enough of the tortured fire imagery – maybe I have too much time to burn!

Remind & Recap

Younger children have new ideas, thoughts and experiences all the time. Their minds are still malleable and able to recall information readily. Yet, since so much is new to them, points of reference are harder to come by. So, whilst physically noting things down is less necessary, regular reminders and recaps are important.

At the beginning of any creative session with young pupils, it is therefore useful to look back over what was done last time. On the one hand, a week is a very long time for a child. On the other, remembering what they did a week ago should not be difficult, given the right prompts.

Precious Moments

For the teacher, you will doubtless have notes to which you can refer. But will you remember those little moments of precious creativity and spontaneity your pupils produced? Here again, if you take note of things as they occur, that will ensure nothing is lost or forgotten.

Then you can say to a pupil “do you remember when you did ‘x’?” or “didn’t you have a really good idea for ‘y'”. They will be thrilled you remember and able to then quickly build on their ideas. They, of course, don’t need to know you wrote that down last week. The main thing is that their creativity is rewarded.

Still Can’t Remember…

None of which excuses the fact I still can’t remember what on earth I was going to write about this week. Perhaps it will come back to me. Or perhaps not. Where do forgotten ideas go when we don’t take note?

Now maybe there‘s an idea for a blog…


The Tyranny of The Screen

Just Do One Thing

Knowing When To Stop

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move


Do Less to Achieve More

Can it really be that you can do less to achieve more? Is this just an excuse for laziness? Or is there something to be said for taking your time?

Time on Our Hands

Right now, many people have more time on their hands than they are used to. And quite a few are spending it realizing creative ambitions that had been kept on hold. Which begs the question: what were we all waiting for?

Whatever the answer, sheds are now being built, gardens renovated, books written, albums recorded, instruments mastered, paintings painted and more besides. Few people carrying out such activity, however, would consider themselves ‘busy’. They are simply getting on with things, in-between the hours of relative boredom.

Constant Input

In recent times, it has become a virtual crime to be bored. Or, at least, to admit to that condition. Children rarely experience the luxury of having nothing to do. And, even when there is no scheduled activity, they will, very often, default to some kind of screen-based entertainment.

Many studies have found that this is not an entirely healthy state of affairs. It has been suggested that boredom is a necessary part of growing up and one that leads to creative thinking. Children have almost limitless reserves of imagination. But for that to flourish, it needs space and time. Constant input can fill the mental wastelands in which seeds of ideas would otherwise take root.

Limits & Boundaries

And so it is for adults, too. Most of us go to ‘work’. Many never question the purpose of this, beyond providing money to pay for food, shelter and luxuries. And the more we have of these, the more we seem to need. So, the more we work.

With modern technology and digital communication, this work can follow us virtually anywhere. Unless we choose to provide ourselves with limits and boundaries. Currently, we have these imposed upon us. And, whilst the background to this is tragic, some consequences are undeniably positive. Can we, then, learn – in the long-run – to make a habit of doing less? And, thereby, achieve more?

The Space Between

Composer Claude Debussy famously commented that “music is the space between the notes”. What he meant was that music needs to breathe. A listener needs time and space to absorb its flow and cadence. The same can be said for any compositional form: visual art, dance, drama, film, prose, verse. A constant stream of sonic, visual or – even – conceptual input can only serve to overwhelm and confuse.

Which is the state in which many people find themselves, on a regular basis, today. We crave information and (now more than ever) connection. However, without breathing space between interactions, we cannot make sense of things. Though we seek constant stimulation, when we get it, we are unable to cope.

Associated Guilt

The same may be applied to the creative process. It’s not possible to be on output mode the whole time. Periods of reflection and – indeed – boredom are a necessary part of the journey.  So, we need to resist the feeling that time spent ostensibly doing ‘nothing’ is time wasted. And let go of any associated guilt that modern society may attach to this.

Only today, I received an email from a distant collaborator (in New York). This is a man who has created a global network of original thinkers and artists. He has coordinated a world-wide creative project that has produced a number of thought-provoking video sequences. His work is challenging, original, inclusive and collaborative.

True Value

Today, he described himself as ‘tired and lazy’. Tired, perhaps. Lazy, never. What I think he meant, was that he has taken the time to follow his creative project. Possibly at the expense of other things he believes he ‘ought’ to be doing. Maybe he has hit a bit of a slump in productivity. We all do that. It is, after all, part of the process.

In the end, however, this individual has achieved a great deal. Whilst society demands that we remain ‘productive’ at all times, nobody really ever is. We can, indeed, keep ourselves busy. But in so doing, there’s every chance we are actually creating less of true value.

It’s OK to Do Less

So, give yourself permission: it’s OK to do less. Especially now. And see whether, in the end, you actually achieve more.


Please Yourself

Knowing When to Stop

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move




Your Creative Curve

It’s all very well saying ‘just have a go’ but how do you combat doubts about your work? The trick is to recognise where you are on the creative curve.

Is It Any Good?

We’ve spoken quite a lot about the need for expressive freedom. We’ve established that sometimes you need to take a leap of faith and just do something. And we’ve discussed how the process (rather than the end product) is the reward. But, in the end, we all want to create something of value.

So, how do you overcome doubts about whether what you are doing is any good? Even if you agree it doesn’t matter what other people think, if you have misgivings of your own, this can be unsettling. And if that undermines the enjoyment of your creative activity, then it is clearly something that needs to be addressed.

Impostor Syndrome

Well, to begin with, you may be reassured to know that even the most successful artists tend to have these feelings. In fact, those of whom there is the greatest expectation can suffer the most. There is a recognised condition known as ‘impostor syndrome’, which is essentially the sensation of ‘getting away with something’ whilst feeling unqualified to do it.

For the rest of us, the stakes are somewhat lower. We really only need to please ourselves and, perhaps, our peers, parents, teachers, etc. However, that doesn’t necessarily make things any easier.

Seeing The Creative Curve

To combat this discomfort, we need to understand that our misgivings are part of the process. There is a distinct curve to the creative act that, if we can recognise it, we can use to manage our expectations. In the same way that we need to be aware when it’s time to take a break, we must also allow for the emotional highs and lows of the creative journey.

Lost Faith

A colleague was recently reviewing some emails I’d sent her. She is somebody I routinely send my blog-posts to before publishing. She will proof-read and critique them prior to their being sent out into the world.

In one such email, I had written ‘I’m not sure if this one is any good’. She responded that it was actually really good and had something useful to say. I then explained I’d reached the point in the creative curve at which I’d lost faith in what I was trying to say. Which gave me the idea for today’s blog.

99% Perspiration

You may have heard the quote – apparently said by the inventor Thomas Edison – that ‘genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration’. Now, nobody is claiming any kind of genius here but the sentiment rings true for creative work. Generally, there is some kind of inspirational spark that leads to the compulsion to create. And, to realise this creation, a good deal of hard work then follows.

But that is not the whole picture. As I wrote to my collaborator, there are more layers to this process. Namely: the initial excitement of having an idea; the enjoyment of bringing that to life (through writing, moving, composing, painting, sculpting, etc.); the drudgery of refining and editing the creation; and, finally, loss of faith in the whole thing.

Under Scrutiny

Now, this may sound rather harsh, cynical even. But it will be familiar to anyone who creates on a regular basis. For me, personally, the loss of belief usually coincides with the point at which my work needs to be presented to an audience – or made available for scrutiny by peers and colleagues.

And this is where the relevance to our work in education comes in. Put yourself in the shoes of a young pupil. They have been really excited by an idea they had for a picture/dance/story/song. They then lost themselves in the enjoyment of making this thing of their own inventing. And they have worked hard to refine and improve their creation.

But then comes the point at which they have to present their work. This may be: to you, as the teacher; to their friends, whose opinions matter deeply; or to the whole class, which has the ability to make them feel like a hero or a failure. When we look at it from the child’s perspective, it’s pretty daunting. Just at the point at which they feel least confident, they must make themselves most vulnerable.

Confronting Fears

If we are able to recognise our own frailties in such a situation, we can better empathise with our pupils, faced with this crisis of confidence. But it need not be a crisis at all. If they are made aware that everyone feels this way sometimes – and that it’s OK to be unsure – we can help them confront their fears.

As with so many aspects of creativity, this is an important, broader learning experience. One that can help with personal growth and confidence later in life. Confronting fears at an early age can help to strengthen the resolve of those children when they reach adulthood.

Carry On Regardless

And, for those of us that have already become adult, it is useful to remind ourselves that we can’t always be super-confident. But we can learn to carry on regardless. Generally, the best solution is simply to remind yourself you have done your best.

Whereas, in this moment, you may have lost confidence in what you have created, there is every chance that when you come back to it later, you will see it’s true worth. Or – better still – somebody else will say ‘that thing you did was really good’. Just remember, it’s all part of the process.

Now, let’s see: I’m not sure if what I just wrote is any good…


Knowing When To Stop

The Creator & The Craftsperson

Do ‘Something’

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Art for Art’s Sake

With no deadlines, exhibitions, performances or exams in sight, it’s a little like the Zen conundrum about a tree falling in the forest. Without a witness, does your creative work exist? Are you happy to make art for art’s sake?

Good Creative Habits

During this period of social distancing and self-isolation, it could be all too easy to slip into a malaise. However, it’s now more important than ever that we each look after our physical and mental health. And this can be an opportunity to get into good creative habits.

Most of us recognise the need for regular routines in eating, sleeping, getting dressed and maintaining personal hygiene. But how many of us see creative self-expression as a daily necessity? Physical exercise is something we know we should all do for ts own benefit. ‘Art’, on the other hand, can still be regarded as either an amusing diversion or a lucrative career option.

The latter is, of course, a rarity. Of the millions who aspire to fame and fortune through their art, only a handful will achieve them. But the creative process is available to literally everybody: anytime, anywhere. And, just as with physical exercise, this activity brings its own rewards at very little personal cost.

Creative Role Models

Normally, at this point, I would relate the topic under discussion to working with children. Clearly, the collective act of group learning has been mostly suspended for the time being. But that doesn’t mean we cease to be creative role models for our youngsters.

Many of us will have children at home. Those that don’t will be in touch with others that do. And we all influence one another through our words and deeds. So, even at a time when few pupils are in school, maintaining our own creative activity as adults remains vitally important.

Abstract Expression

So, how do you stay motivated to be creative? The best way is to not think of  motivation at all. Make your art a part of your habits and routines. And don’t think about the outcome.

A good approach is to try some abstract expression. This may sound a little fancy, possibly even pretentious. However, taken at its most basic level, it is simply about freeing yourself from expectations.

If learning a dance routine feels like an onerous task, try moving for the pure enjoyment of physical exploration. If you don’t know what to paint (or don’t think you are talented enough to represent a specific scene or image) just play with some colours and see what happens. Bored of practicing scales on your instrument? Throw away the notes and simply make some noise.

The Proverbial Forest

If not now – when? You have licence to go off piste. You can literally ‘dance like no one is watching’. This is your chance to make a habit of expressing yourself.

Don’t just do it once, though. Make it a regular part of your routine. Perhaps after getting dressed, before bed or after meals. And then see how that effects your mood and mental health over the longer term.

You are in the proverbial forest with nobody there to see you. But that doesn’t mean your art doesn’t exist. Creativity is an innate part of us all that demands an outlet.

So, if for no other reason – make art for art’s sake.


Please Yourself

Juggling for Beginners

Let Go The Reins

Do ‘Something’

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

What is Your Label?

This week, two things jumped out at me from the radio. One was from Radio 4’s ‘Saturday Live’, the other the Radio 1 Breakfast Show. Both concerned identity… what is your label?

Who Are You?

For those of us of a certain vintage, this evokes a minor hit from a major rock band. For the rest, it’s a straight forward, yet impenetrable question. What determines our sense of self and – by extension – self-worth?

It was a schoolteacher who addressed this issue, in a very timely and measured manner, on Radio 1’s Breakfast Show. He was speaking, on behalf of all teachers, to the nation’s pupils. He was particularly addressing those that, in the midst of coronavirus-related school closures, will be missing exams and/or leaving early.

The Whole Person

Those youngsters face uncertainty in relation to their exam grades. These marks, in turn, will – of course – have an influence on the future prospects of each pupil. This teacher wanted to assure all concerned that whilst exam grades are naturally of great importance, they do not define the whole person.

Pupil measurement, at all levels of education, is a contentious issue. The idea that a child can be labelled according to SATS results, GCSEs, A levels, and so on can be the source of anxiety, disappointment and demotivation. However, as our friendly headteacher pointed out, how we label ourselves can be something altogether more positive.

Fulfilling Your Identity

Which brings me to the Radio 4 ‘Saturday Live’ guest, Alice Morrison. She had worked within the media industry, enjoying high status and big salaries. However, when her business fell foul of funding cuts, she looked to her passion for adventure as a way forward.

What struck me, in particular, was when Alice talked about deciding to call herself ‘Alice Morrison, Adventurer’. By allowing herself to choose her own label, she then began to fulfil that identity. And this resonated with me personally, since I did more or less the same thing, when I began to refer to myself as a composer in my late twenties.

Dream & Aspirations

It may seem trivial but how we label ourselves is actually important. Clearly, in neither case did we just say ‘I’m going to be this’ without any preparation or prior learning. But here is the point: we never stop learning. Once we have chosen a particular direction, more and more learning becomes a necessity in order to follow that path.

Young children are often asked ‘what are you going to be when you grow up?’. I think many of us have come to the realisation that, in actual fact, we never really grow up. However, many do lose sight of the dreams and aspirations they had as a child. They allow labels that others impose to define and limit them.

Unique Talents

As the teacher on Radio 1 said, it is important to value yourself for your own unique talents. These may be academic; they may be artistic; they may be in the ability to empathise and care. And, whilst we strive to enable our youngsters to fulfil their potential through education, we need also to encourage them to choose labels for themselves.

It may sound grand to call yourself ‘adventurer’. However, if that is your true calling, it would be wrong to refer to yourself as anything else. Children have the wonderful ability to imagine themselves to be almost anything. Fostering this imagination is a vital step towards them later achieving their goals.

You’ve Got to Have a Dream

Let’s remind our pupils that labels applied by others are not the only ones that count. And, thereby, help them on the road to self-determination.

As Oscar Hammerstein II once said:

“You gotta have a dream, if you don’t have a dream,

How you gonna have a dream come true?”


What is Your Personal Truth?

Please Yourself

Alice Morrison, Adventurer

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move


Please Yourself

Last week, we talked about preparation. How creativity can give confidence in meeting challenges. And how, in the end, you should be happy with your own work & please yourself.

Falling Apart

How prescient then, when one of the composing commissions cited fell apart in the final phase. The details are unimportant but, essentially, I was commissioned to write some music for a promotional film. The footage had been planned, shot and edited. I had been then drafted in to provide a soundtrack. I was given a guide track to work to and a fairly vague brief of what was required.

It became clear, right at the end of the process, that the people commissioning this piece had not made sufficient preparation. They had not fully thought-through what the promo was for or what it should say. So, in receiving the finished piece, the top decision-maker (who had been absent throughout the process) then decided it was not what she wanted.

Substantial Creative Work

Clearly, there had been a lack of proper communication in this instance. The production team (myself included) will still be paid for our work, so nothing has been lost from that point of view. However, nobody wants to be part of a project that is seen to have been a failure. But was it really?

The fact remains that a substantial piece of creative work has been made. The camera angles are magnificent, the lighting crisp and sharp. There is a terrific human element, a clear narrative and – of course – a cracking soundtrack!

Doing The Best You Can

Whilst it is disappointing to know that this footage will now not be aired, I can personally take comfort in the fact that I was happy with my part in it. As with all things creative, it is the process itself that is the real reward.

Like most artists, I have serious doubts about whether my output is ‘any good’. However, I have learned – as previously discussed – to please myself. To do the best work I can with the tools and skills available.

Inspire & Encourage

When we set children a creative task, there is no money at stake. Nobody will judge whether or not their work has met a brief or ticked the right boxes for funding. The purpose of providing them with artistic challenges is to challenge them.

Obviously, what some pupils produce may be subjectively ‘better’ than others. Indeed, we like to model examples of good work. However, this is in order to inspire and encourage the whole class, not to pit one against the other.

Please Yourself

This kind of positive cooperation is an invaluable life skill. And if individuals learn the strength to say ‘this is what I have done and I’m happy with it’, they will develop resilience for future collaborations. Pride in one’s achievements should not rely on the opinions of others. Whilst we all like to be appreciated and receive praise the true worth of our creativity is what it means to us personally.

Perhaps, in assessing children’s creative work, we could bear this in mind. Rather than saying ‘that’s good’ or ‘you’ve done well’, we could ask ‘are you happy with that?’ or ‘what do you like about it?’ It’s always good to provide alternatives and suggestions for improvement. But, perhaps, if a child is unyielding because they are happy with their work, our only response, surely, must be ‘please yourself’.


Juggling for Beginners

Keeping It Real

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

Juggling for Beginners

As a freelance creative, commissions can be like buses. You wait ages for one to come along – then three turn up at once. And so it is I found myself, last week, juggling three very different composing jobs.

Juggling Contradictory Demands

So, how do you contend with meeting potentially contradictory creative demands? And ensure each is delivered on time, to the required specification? The answer, as with so many things, lies in good preparation.

In the specific case of fulfilling these briefs, that entails a thorough analysis of the source material. All three are video-based and two came with a ‘guide track’ (example of the style of music desired, to which the video has been edited). A lot of information can be derived from both these sources.

The guide track provides: a genre; sound-pallet (set of instruments/tones); tempo; rhythmic structure; harmonic structure and so forth. Similarly, the video has its own pacing, tone, mood, etc. From these, it is possible to construct a template, complete with sound sources, structural markings, tempo maps and so on.

Early Preparation

But, the bulk of preparation took place before any of this was considered. That comprised years of listening, studying and performing. Immersion in countless musical styles and genres, both as audience and performer. This is not said by way of an idle boast, it is just what I do and have always done.

The point is that if you – or your pupils – have an innate interest in a creative form, you will automatically be preparing for the possibility of expressive output of your own. Not only that but a specific creative interest provides fuel for other artistic pursuits too. Better still, none of this feels like ‘work’.

Experiencing art invariably feeds the act of creative expression. So, the whole process is self-perpetuating. And a library of knowledge will amass over time, virtually of its own volition. When somebody then asks ‘Can you create this?’, you can reply – with a degree of certainty – ‘Yes, I can’.

Normalise Meeting Challenges

The beauty of working with young pupils is that they have not yet learned to question whether or not they are ‘good enough’ to tackle creative tasks. And you can give them the opportunity now to normalise meeting such challenges. That way, you are helping to offset any potential reticence as they mature.

Children that grow to develop an interest in a particular creative area will feel ‘qualified’ to pursue this later in life. Not only that but they will have a residual self-belief that may spill-over into other areas of their adult lives. What a gift, when asked to juggle three contrasting creative tasks, to be able to say ‘Yes, I can do that’.

Good News

So far, I have delivered on two of the three commissions. The good news is that they were well received. The other is in hand and I’m pleased to say that I’m happy with it so far. Which, quite frankly, is what matters – and could  well provide the topic for a future blog post.

One word of warning, though: if you are introducing younger children to  juggling – of any kind – it’s probably best to avoid fire!


I Don’t Know How You Do it

What Is Your Personal Truth?

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move


Keeping it Real

It’s easy to be dazzled by what we can achieve with technology. However, there’s a lot to be said for keeping it real, especially when working in the digital realm.

A Little Bit if Grit

Music production has benefited, for several decades, from the ability to sample natural sounds. The waveform of anything that can be recorded may be manipulated and used to produce everything from percussion loops to soaring melodies. And the little bit of ‘grit’ this provides can greatly enhance what may otherwise be a rather mechanical sound.

The other day, my daughter showed me a YouTube clip of a contemporary music producer, who works with big-name pop stars. He was demonstrating how some of the sounds within what has become a chart-topping hit come from surprising everyday sources. Few would spot these within the mix but once they have been pointed out, it’s hard not to then listen to the track and say ‘oh yes!’.

A Different Approach

I had just been invited to create some music for a video project when I saw this. And it led to me taking a different approach to my composition. The video features people being interviewed in a variety of settings. Each clip ‘suffers’ from quite a lot of ambient sound spilling-through on the recording. So, rather than see this as a problem, I decided to work with it.

Listening to the background noise, I was able to identify and isolate sounds that suggested rhythms and phrases. I sampled these and blended them with instruments with similar tone and pitch. Each element was then introduced as the source sound appeared within the video. This is still a work in progress but I’m quite happy with the results.

Good Advantage

Potentially distracting noises-off have, therefore, become part of the soundtrack. What may have been seen as a problem has been turned to good advantage. Not only does this mask a technical flaw, it actually means there is a deeper connection between the spoken words and accompanying music.

As we have previously discussed, every creative project is defined by a set of limitations. This may be a physical space, a time limit, a colour pallet, a theme or – very often – a combination of factors. When additional constraints are imposed, these can actually be helpful, from the point of view of defining a creative composition.

Real-World Sources

Working digitally can create the illusion that anything is possible. And, perversely, this overwhelming freedom can be stifling. So, introducing a little reality into the equation can help narrow your options. Any art form is, arguably, a reflection of the real world. By taking real-world sources as a starting point, we can immediately root our creative work in that reality.

Consequently, our output will then be more likely to resonate with others. They will recognise, consciously or otherwise, the ‘realness’ of what they are witnessing. And its effect will be enhanced.

Messy Reality

Working creatively with children, we want them to be expressive. We also want them to be up to speed with the latest digital technologies. The latter can be a great vehicle for the former. But we need to be careful not to make everything too ‘clean’. A little bit of messy reality can make all the difference, breathing life into what otherwise may be safe and stale.

So, encourage your pupils to get their hands dirty. Allow them all the freedom that digitial creativity provides. But also instill in them an awareness of the benefits of keeping it real.


What is Your Personal truth?

See, Hear, Experience

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move