During my time as a music teacher and as a teacher of the arts I have created, in conjunction with the classes I worked with, several musical dramas, some of which focus mostly on music and some of which focus more on drama, but all have elements of both. Some have dance elements and some have other non-artsy elements too.
This post is an attempt to bring them all together with descriptions and activities.
The aims of all these Music/Drama units of work were essentially the same:
- Each student in the class will have the opportunity to demonstrate musical and dramatic creativity, and thereby have part-ownership of the performance
- Each student in the class will participate musically and/or dramatically in a performance in front of an audience
- To open the ears of students to music they are unlikely to have heard very often, and to encourage them to appreciate that music
- To have fun with music and drama
Here’s a list of some of the Musical Dramas that I’ve developed over the years. Each has a vague plan and a possible scenario. Some also have ideas for accompanying activities. None of them are complete units. As I say, whenever I use them, they are adapted and developed depending upon the context.
- Farewell Songs. Most successful ages: 7-13
- Devil music. Most Successful ages: 7-13
- An Entertainment by the Army of Alexander The Great. Most successful ages: 8-13.
- Robinson Crusoe Pop-Up Book. Most successful ages: 7-13.
- Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale. (Most successful ages: 9-13)
- Circles (Most successful ages: 4-8)
I used to often often play warm-up games that encouraged the students to think, be creative and become confident, also to increase energy levels.
Prop Circle: One of mine and the classes’ favourites was a circle game with props in the middle. I would either call for volunteers or play Musical Circles and the “chosen” one would go into the middle, choose a prop and imagine it was something else and act with it. I would tailor the props to suit the focus of the main activities. Sometimes they would go into the middle in twos or threes and have to work as a team. Sometimes they would choose more than one prop and combine them. Sometimes they chose to use the prop as the thing it actually was. I allowed this but encouraged them to exaggerate, or fed ideas in. For instance, if they chose the umbrella and put it up and stood under it, I would suggest that it was windy, or it started to take off, or it was so cold that they started to chiver….
Snapshot Freeze Frames: Another favourite was one where we imagined a scenario from a script or from whatever topic we were immersed in and in small groups they made a snapshot of a scene. I encouraged them to explore different heights and point in different directions to make a 3-D snapshot. Sometimes I would actually take a photograph and let them see for themselves how they might make their snapshot more dramatic or expressive. Sometimes different groups would take different scenes from the same script or story and we’d join them together like a pop-up book. Sometimes, they had to think of a caption, or speech bubbles, or sound effects, but sometimes with no words or sounds at all.
Story votes: This is more of a technique than a game really. When I’m making up instant stories (or composing, for that matter), I provide a starting notion, but then try and get the rest of the plot or ideas from the participants themselves. The ideal scenario is when everyone’s ideas are incorporated – this requires quick thinking and a very open mind. Sometimes, there are too many ideas forthcoming and then, I would write all ideas up on the board and every now and then we’ll have a vote and go for the most popular and continue from there. There’s usually a way of using some of the less popular ideas too, if you think hard enough!
Improv Games: I also used to play lots of improvisations games – they sometimes led onto more focused work and sometimes just as a warm-up. Favourites were Space Jump, Death-In-A-Minute, Slo-Mo Commentary, Charades, Party Quirks, One Word At A Time, Sounds Off-Stage, People Poses, Floor Phrases.