Raven Tales: Creating a story show
Posted by More Music on 01 February 2024
All the Right Notes: Raven Tales. Creating a story show and making discoveries on the way, with Anni Tracy and Ben McCabe from More Music.
Morecambe based community music charity More Music is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Alongside our other Youth Music funded programmes, early years music making is a priority for us and we have focused on play, musicality, parent and child bond, and speech and language development through varied participatory sessions since we started our regular Clapping Song session, originally developed with Chrissy Gladwin and Chas Ambler.
Inspired by a residency with Magic Acorns’ Dr Charlotte Arculus, we have been expanding our early years offer through developing performative and interactive happenings for very small children and their adults since the co-creation of Magic Islands of Music in 2017.
Magic Islands sessions offer a space where objects, instruments and playful interventions gently flow in and out; blending singing, music, light, texture, colour and shadow to create a magical impact including immersive and interactive experiences which allow children and adults to explore according to their own needs.
Lockdown demanded we develop a way of exploring interactive music making with children without close contact. We were suddenly unable to sit and play with children, share instruments and props so we decided to experiment with a more performative approach. We found ourselves with time to spend on thinking and playing rather than delivering constantly!
In Magic Islands we have a subtle narrative carrying us as practitioners through different scenes informing tone and focus. With Raven Tales we wanted to present a clearer story line to see if it was possible to bring very young children and their grown-ups with us on the journey.
Maeve the Raven Let’s make a story
We start the show before it starts! Anni and Ben are sat in the space with a simple, calm set with an ambient birdsong soundtrack. We were aware that children may well be coming into this particular space for the first time – it might even be their first time at a show. So, we offer an informal, friendly, personable atmosphere to help people relax, and feel that they’re safe and welcome.
Each group is invited to collect a colourful drawstring bag and explore what’s inside (shakers, bells, guiro frogs and pom-pom bees). This acts as an ice breaker and deepens the welcome, showing the children that they’re going to be allowed to follow their interests while they’re with us.
The show follows Maeve the Raven on a journey to discover a new home after her castle is destroyed in an (animated) storm. Along the way she meets a variety of new animal friends in their habitats, so she can decide which one suits her best.
We were drawn to exploring a diverse range of media, genres and moods mainly in the pursuit of making the show as playful as possible. But we also know that particular children will light up in response to particular things. We wanted to use recognisable materials so that parents, carers and children would feel empowered to make up their own stories at home.
We got started by doing. Anni made papier maché raven models and then flew them around on display poles that we use to display flags and banners at festivals.
Filming the shadows cast, as well as the models themselves, offered a pleasing texture. At each stage we experimented with what we could do with the different props/torches/toys etc, tried things out and thought about what would work for the audience in mind.
We needed to make a storm to destroy Maeve’s home as a projected part of the story and decided to try filming Anni painting onto an overhead projector. Happily, there was an improvised element to this! We made discoveries about different colour combinations and techniques along the way, like blowing through a straw. We tended to come up against a challenge and then find the quickest, cheapest, most obvious ways to solve it: for example, by nipping to the local hardware store to buy 50p paintbrushes. This scene was filmed on a mobile phone.
Cardboard boxes have been important for More Music’s early years offer ever since we developed Clear Moon, Quiet Water – an interactive performance made in response to the 2004 Morecambe Bay Tragedy as part of The Long Walk project, directed by Pete Moser. Have a look inside and the story begins as the box reveals itself as a castle.
We used elements of our Walking Down the Street Gamelan – a beautiful sounding junk percussion installation – as a sonic scrapyard for Maeve to visit, trying different call and response sounds with the audience. This is the first chance for everyone to jam together before Maeve is blown away in a gust of wind and exits through the audience.
During the second lockdown we realised that there was a possibility that there would be a long delay before we could actually get in a room with people to perform the show. We invited Rick Middleton, a multi-skilled More Music musician who had been learning all about live-streaming and further developing his film making skills in support our performance programme, to join us in creating a film version of the show. Rick is also an essential part of the live production. Using live-streaming software he triggers soundtrack and digital projection elements as well as operating theatre lights. This is all Rick’s version of play and adds a digital experience and more textures for the audience to enjoy.
A multi-sensory show It wasn’t a considered aim to cover all of the senses when we made the original piece, but when we were commissioned by Lancaster Music Festival in 2023 to develop another scene for the show we realised that touch, sight and hearing were all wonderfully catered, for so we added an olfactory aspect! Tissue paper flowers perfumed with essential oils rain down as glowing, multicoloured singing bowls pulse, providing a soundbath as we start to sing in harmony, wearing flower hats.
Another seed sown with Magic Islands was shadow puppetry. We’ve previously improvised with torches and shadows but this time we told a specific story: the scariest scene in the show where Maeve is seemingly captured by a fox in its den.
Anni made simple unarticulated paper puppets to show the chase between fox and raven with an original Ethiopian jazz inspired soundtrack. The shadow screen and accompanying blackout brings a powerful mood change in the room.
Child-led in performance Because we have a technician live-triggering scene changes, soundtrack and film elements, we are able to be flexible inside the structure of the show and be child-led throughout: walking with children as they march around to the music, celebrating vocalising through imitation, building on offers made in instrumental play. “Find the game, play the game, find the next game”.
Looking forward Making Raven Tales has taken us on a happy journey of discovery and we’re actively looking for bookings in order to share Maeve’s journey with more audiences. Also, Anni has the next story up her sleeve, so we’ll be looking for R and D support to start playing again!
Raven Tales captures a range of senses Feedback from participants:
“Lovely, uplifting feel, a really unique experience.”
“We loved the setting, the simplicity of the props like the castle, the bag of percussion so that we could be involved in the show, the characters, the actors, musicians. Perfect length for our children who were immersed fully in the show. Also, really nice to receive the YouTube video which our daughter has been asking to watch daily.”
“The whole thing is quite magical and different, wish there was more like it”
Thanks to Erin Rydal and Daisy Whalley for joining Anni, Rick and Ben as performers and stage hands in Raven Tales shows.
Magic Islands of Music received support from Lancaster Arts and Light Up Lancaster in addition to Magic Acorns’ vital inspiration.
The latest issue of Sounding Board by Sound Sense includes ‘All the Right Notes: Raven Tales. An interactive story show of exploration, improvisation and sensory play’ written by Anni Tracy and Ben McCabe.
This article originally appeared in Sounding Board Issue 4 and is reproduced with permission. Sounding Board is the quarterly journal published by Sound Sense, the UK professional association for community music.