When Art Touches Us All

Often, these days, when an event of global significance occurs, it feels as though there is pressure to conform to a particular emotional response.


Occasionally, however, such an event can illicit genuine reactions and spontaneous displays of emotion. And so it was with the responses to this week’s fire at Notre Dame, in Paris.

Personal Impact

This has had an impact on me personally, as I am about to take my wife on a long-awaited trip to the city. Though it feels a little selfish to say so, Notre Dame was high on our list of must-see destinations. For me, this would be a re-visiting of something that had moved me deeply on a previous visit, some 35 years ago.

Back then, I was on an outing, together with an irreverent bunch of colleagues, all in our late teens or early twenties. The trip included the usual sight-seeing but was mostly just a bit of a jolly. Our general demeanor had not been one of polite sensitivity or cultural inquisitiveness. Rather, we were more like a bunch of school children that had been let loose without proper supervision.


Until, that is, we visited Notre Dame cathedral. It’s too long ago now to recall what day of the week it was but, if memory serves, there was some kind of service taking place within the rear part of the building. This included a choir and possibly the organ as well. The effect, combined with the many candles burning around the building and the sunlight slanting through the enormous stained-glass windows, was truly awe-inspiring.

The usual ribaldry and frivolity had left us, as we emerged – one after the other – into the bright morning sunshine. Maybe because of our lack of expectation, the majesty, the atmosphere and perhaps the spirit of countless pilgrims had overwhelmed us. We were speechless and somewhat humbled by the intensity of what was simultaneously a collective yet very personal experience for each of us.

Irreplaceable Art

So, it was not surprising to witness the heartfelt prayers and impromptu singing of hymns as Notre Dame stood in flames this week. Nor the painstaking care taken by the fire crews. Or the personal risk to which they subjected themselves in rescuing irreplaceable works of art.

Even as a nation grapples with its internal politics and the world confronts a future full of uncertainty, art has the ability to unite, inspire and overcome. Just when it may – to some – appear an irrelevance, a waste of both time and resources, creativity shows its true worth. Some of the motives and methods behind the creation of such an enormous structure may seem questionable. But, to those that have provided the artistry and craftsmanship – as well those that have invested it with faith and wonder– the results transcend such mundane considerations.

Love, Unity & Hope

No doubt, we will still visit the cathedral, as planned, next week. And that visit will now take on a whole new significance. As will the cathedral itself. Already, there is talk of rebuilding and restoring. Some may use this as an opportunity for self-aggrandisement. But, for the majority, this will be a labour of love, hope and unity.


Lesson Plan: The Great Fire of London





We Are Family

Ever have one of those intense periods of meetings and encounters that really brings home how creatively connected we all are? The past week has been one such period for me.


It made me think about the true value of the creative arts – whether as profession, hobby or study.

Creatively Connected

On Friday, I was privileged to attend an undergraduate dancer’s degree show. My connection was that I had provided part of the soundtrack. This followed the student’s participation in a show I put on last year. Accompanying me was one of the dance professionals who had worked with the students on that project.  She also happens to be a key member of the Dance Notes team. In turn, she had put me in touch with the heads of post-graduate and undergraduate dance at the college. And these introductions had paved the way for including students within my work.

That same evening, I went to a gig to see a band, whose bass player I worked and toured with in another group. The producer of that band has also just mixed an album for me and among the audience were various other local musicians. One of those, I currently perform with regularly.  And, somehow, these connections made the experience of seeing this wonderful trio even better.

Let the Children Play

Saturday, I traveled to watch a performance that was the culmination of a residential course. This is run by our local music services. My son plays with the symphonic wind band they host every week. Their residential has been a highlight of his calendar for several years.

What is striking about that course is its focus on collaboration. At the concert, students presented performances in around five different ensembles. These comprised: woodwind, brass, strings, percussion and voice. However, over the course of the 3 or 4 days spent on the residential, the youngsters had worked together in as many as 30 different groups. Many of these had formed quite spontaneously and the staff are always keen to encourage such initiatives.

Old Friends

I was especially pleased to be able to attend the concert this year as I had a booking myself for that evening. I thought there would clash but the evening gig had a late start. This even afforded me time for a stop-off en-route, to visit an old friend from university. He also still works within the dramatic arts, facilitating better communication in organisations through Forum Theatre. And the ceilidh band, with which I was performing that night, is run by another former university colleague.


It struck me that the experiences those students were having on the residential course mirrored those of my own professional life as a musician. Forging connections, maintaining relationships and finding meaning through shared endeavour are key to creative success and fulfillment. Whether this leads to a so-called ‘career’ is neither hear nor there. The main thing is the enrichment, connection and greater understanding it provides.

After all, in the end, we all are family!


Make a Move

Don’t Follow The Leader

This week, I have been working with an animator with whom I collaborated many years ago. He is a top-flight CG artist and it is really an honour to be creating together once again.

Creative Flow

However, there is one thing about this working relationship that is a little challenging. We both tend to have strong ideas and opinions, which can lead to a stemming of the creative flow. Differences of opinion are a necessary and often exciting part of the process. However, should either party attempt to dominate, then this can actually become stifling.

Working creatively with children, it is important to be aware of this possibility. Whereas the intention may be to encourage and motivate, it is easy for a teacher or facilitator to inadvertently adopt a position of dominance. Whilst the urge to ‘teach’ maybe hard to resist, it is invariably preferable that children be allowed to explore for themselves.

Expand & Grow

As with my collaborative experience as a composer, should too much ‘leading’ take place, there may be a narrowing of options before possibilities have been fully explored. As teachers, we can easily feel under pressure to ‘provide ‘. However, by resisting this urge, we are actually giving more, by way of license to expand and grow.

One of the many positive attributes of movement work with young children is that there is no right or wrong – only different. Having said that, it is possible for both pupils and teacher to identify outcomes that are pleasing or satisfying. working within a freely expressive framework, patterns, narratives and imagery will present themselves. It is these that we hope to find, recognize and nurture.

True Reward

We want, of course, this to be the children’s’ own achievement. For them to have ownership of the outcomes is key to them taking pride in their work. So, we need to ask them: ‘what would you do next ‘, ‘how’s does that make you feel ‘, ‘what other shapes or moves can you think of ‘… etc. What this might produce is, of course, anyone’s guess. And therein lies the true reward.

So, be aware of your own desire to lead. Try to divert this into facilitating pupils leading themselves. Then marvel at how creative they really can be.


Dance Notes Tutorial Videos

Busty Kelp (CG Animation)

Enjoy the Ride!

Sometimes it’s interesting and informative to practice what you preach…  And to value the process


When you use Dance Notes’ teaching schemes, the emphasis is on giving ownership to your pupils. In so doing, you need to give up control and allow the process to take on a life of its own. Which is analogous to the way in which these resources and the work that goes into them have themselves evolved.

Go Where Your Passions Lead

The chief lessons developer for Dance Notes has, for many years, been  Michelle Rochester. She is somebody who did not start out to teach dance.  In fact, she hadn’t aimed for a career in dance at all. However, she went where her passions led. Today, Michelle not only shapes the way in which teachers throughout the UK deliver movement classes but also heads up the charity ‘Make a Move’.

You may have noticed links and references to this organisation at the Dance Notes site. There is a reason for this: the two entities (Make a Move and Dance Notes) have a symbiotic relationship. And each came to be where it is today more or less by accident, rather than design.

Case Studies

Before setting up the charity, Michelle had been facilitating dance in schools around Somerset, Bristol & South Gloucestershire for many years. Some of the most valued and rewarding work was with children who had learning or behavioural difficulties. Case studies included one child who was initially unable to remain within a classroom setting for more than a few minutes. He ended up actually leading dance sessions.

Finding Solutions

When the funding for such work was suddenly withdrawn, Michelle began to look for solutions. Somewhere along the way, it was suggested she set up a charity. That way, she could continue this work at no cost to the schools themselves. Since the benefits of movement classes to the disabled and socially excluded were very clear, this took off quite quickly.

From Strength to Strength

Several years on and Make a Move works with vulnerable people from all areas of society. These include: mothers with Post-Natal Depression, Alzheimer’s patients and corporations whose workers are, by their own reckoning, ‘broken’. This latter category – of course – helps to fund the rest and to match core-funding from regular donations.

So, as with the actual lessons and workshops themselves, this whole process didn’t begin with a fixed end in sight. The reasons for carrying out this work are clear and the benefits well-known. However, where this may lead is never a given. And so it should be in any creative endeavour.

Value the Process

Individuals (teachers included) are sometimes discouraged from trying things out because they don’t know if the end product will be ‘any good’. Ultimately, the beauty of creative pursuits is that they are not outcome-led or results-driven (or any other such abuse of the English language). The value is in the process. Or, in modern marketing-cliché parlance, ‘the journey’.

So, go on, get on-board and enjoy the ride. You may not end up where you imagined you would – but you are guaranteed to learn something valuable along the way.



Lessons for KS1 & 2 Dance