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David Ashworth Resource Interview

17 March 2017

David Ashworth has created a number of resources around Jonathan Dove's Friday Afternoons songs for the Share section of the Friday Afternoons website. These included: Classroom Ensemble arrangements of Three Birds, Legend and Snowcomposition worksheets and a composers guide to the 2016 songs; and remix resources for Fast Car and The Little Girl of Rain. Below he discusses the resources he has created, his motivation for doing so and the process that created them.

Why did you decide to write these resources?

There were two reasons the Friday Afternoons Project Fund appealed to me. Firstly, here you have an initiative with an ostensibly traditional brief – quality new choral works for schools in a classical style with piano accompaniment – looking to reach out in new ways through a focus on digital delivery, creative responses, and areas of low engagement. Rather than narrow my activity to addressing just one of those specific areas, I was keen to investigate whether there might be a way of addressing all three, as components of a multipart resource. So my multipart resource is digital, and it encourages and supports creative activity in ways which reach out to students who may be uninterested, less confident or less able to participate in a more traditional academic approach.

Secondly, by making the resources available from the Friday Afternoons website as a set of free downloads, we can reach out to schools and teachers across the whole of the UK so they can use them whenever and wherever they choose; time, travel and costs are no longer a problem. Including video tutorials, for example, makes the digital remix resources more accessible to teachers and students. Teachers can access them at times to suit them, rather than being pinned down to a workshop or CPD session at a specific time and place.

What prompted you to arrange some of the songs for classroom ensemble?

The classroom ensemble arrangements were made so that young instrumental players could also make a musical contribution. The arranging resources allow teachers to put together bespoke ensemble arrangements for their classrooms and extend the opportunities for performance to students who may be reluctant to sing.

What gave you the idea of using these choral compositions as a starting point for original composition activity?

I think there are two strands to this. Firstly, I was conscious there was some great writing in the piano accompaniments that was in danger of being overlooked. These accompaniments are much more than just chordal vamp-alongs for the choir parts. I wanted to shine a spotlight on some of this great writing.

It also struck me that the musical ideas Dove works with would appeal to many young students. The catchy, funky rhythms, the repetition of riffs with a strong rock/pop feel, and the interesting harmonies and textures provide a great pool of ideas for creating music in a range of contemporary musical styles.  I have previously written similar resources, using the music of artists such as Radiohead and Bowie, and I thought it would be interesting to try a similar approach with music which comes from a contemporary classical starting point. The ideas are very similar – perhaps showing the extent to which many contemporary  composers working in a classical idiom are drawing on influences from rock, pop and other musical styles.

Both the composition resources and the remix resources allow for and encourage creative response. The composition resources provides pointers for ways in which students can work with some of Dove’s compositional techniques. The remix resources give students the chance to create original music in an engaging and, for some, a more culturally familiar environment.

How did you approach writing the three different components of the resource?

The piano parts were deconstructed to make the various musical layers available for a range of popular and orchestral instruments. This opens up a range of options for teachers to explore. Guitar, bass, drums and keyboard could provide a ‘rhythm section’, for example, with a possible brass, woodwind, strings combination taking the upper layers. In addition some virtual instruments played on mobile and/or accessible technologies could take some of the parts making the music available for those who do not access more traditional instruments for whatever reason.

And the remix resources?

This developed from some work I did for the BBC on their Ten Pieces projects. The BBC provided me with some musical samples from their multi track recordings of well known classical works.  I did a bit of digital editing on these and added some compatible ‘techno’ samples, which would enable students working with computer sequencers to remix the pieces in new ways.

For the FA songs, I had to take a slightly different approach. The remix activities take some original motifs and fragments from the vocal parts and piano accompaniments for two of Dove’s songs. These were re-recorded, using synthesised sounds, and made available as downloadable sample libraries from the FA website.  Students can use computer (or tablet) sequencers to reinterpret and remix their own versions of the songs using these freely available materials. Teachers’ notes and video tutorials have been provided which explain the process in more detail.

How are schools responding to these resources?

I’m very pleased with the feedback we have had so far. The response has been encouraging and it seems that teachers will be using these resources in various ways.  Dissemination has been straightforward and I’m confident that many schools are now aware of the resources.  By making them available from the FA website and spreading the word via social networking channels, we can cast the net far and wide.

A disadvantage with sharing resources in this way is that it can be difficult to gauge impact and get detailed feedback on who is using the resources, how they are being used and how students are responding to working with them.

But it’s a great start. If Friday Afternoons want to build on this initiative and move further in this direction, we probably need to look at ways in which we can build up an online community, where it’s possible to engage in discussion and elicit valuable feedback to support and augment the resource over time.

David Ashworth, 2016

David Ashworth is a freelance education consultant, specialising in music technology. He was involved in setting up the TeachTalk: Music group which function as an online ‘think tank’ for discussion on music education issues. He has been involved at a national level in most of the major music initiatives in recent years.