As I write this post it is a rather grey day and in my old, cold house I have just had to reach for a cardigan, but the children have recently gone back to school for the second half of the summer term and I know that the long summer holidays are nearly here. My children do not sit still. Ever. They just need to be doing things, so I am always looking for things they can do, and with 2 months to fill over the summer, it can’t all be DIY instruments and reading books about music, can it? Wherever you are in the country, there will be various events put on over the summer months specifically for families, so it’s worth having a look at your local arts organisations, concert halls, theatres, museums etc to see what they have available for your children to do.
I live in Birmingham, UK, with my family so have loads of options for places to take my children. We actually live in walking distance of Cannon Hill Park, and our local arts centre is MAC, or the Midlands Arts Centre. This is a multi-arts venue that has been around serving the Birmingham communities for many, many years, in fact it is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2022. I attended courses and events here with my family when I was a child, and now take my children. MAC has loads of different spaces for the arts, with dedicated gallery spaces including in corridors that lead to workshops and function rooms, theatre spaces, studios and a cinema, a bar and the lovely KILN cafe, which do some very nice cakes I have to say!
Over the summer months they run a number of events for families, including an outdoor cinema, and courses for children/families to attend. With its location at Cannon Hill Park with the swan pedaloes, crazy golf, happy train, fairground style rides, 2 play areas and loads of parkland it is the ideal place to take the family especially in the summer.
This blog is all about music for children, and so I wanted to feature some events available to families over the summer. I was lucky to have a chat the other week with Jen Loffman from MAC Makes Music, an award winning programme based at MAC, offering inclusive opportunities for music making to young people in the Birmingham area, about the events and courses they have available for families for free over the summer. MAC Makes Music do a lot of work with Music Education Hubs, run courses for music educators and help Early Years settings, Primary Schools, Youth Offending Teams, and Special Educational Needs schools all over Birmingham and the Midlands, so they really know what they are doing when it comes to music events for children.
MAC Makes Music puts on events for young people under 25 years old, and are open to people of all levels of ability. Some sessions may be for a specific age group, and others are open to absolutely anyone, and session leaders are great at making sure all participants feel comfortable to join in. I do like this approach as, especially for school children, our children are placed in a class of people based on their age and geographical area and often don’t get a chance to mix with people outside of their own age bracket until they are much older.
During our conversation Jen talked to me about how one lesson that was learned through the pandemic was that there were various reasons why some people prefer to be in their home environment. They felt more comfortable, safer to access events from home, and so wherever possible MAC Makes Music are committed to offering a hybrid online/in person approach to their events. I will point out below when discussing these events which ones are online only, which ones in person only, and which ones offer both options. Though you should note, that with events that have both online and in person sessions, these will be offered at different times because in MAC Makes Music’s experience it is difficult to have some participants at home while some are there at the MAC.
The events are also, it is important to say especially with the pressures on people’s wallets these days, free of charge. So without further ado, here are some fantastic sounding events coming up at MAC over the summer holidays that you might be interested in going along to:
Come and Sing 10 August
This is an event for all ages, 0-25. It is an inclusive Sing and Sign event, meaning that people attending on the day will learn the songs used as well as how to sign the song. The session is themed, Down In The Jungle, so there will be songs about the jungle, wild animals and explorers, maybe all at once, you never know! You don’t need any experience at all to go along to this event, just enthusiasm. For anyone who can’t get to MAC in person, for whatever reason, MAC Makes Music are offering one session online as well as an in person session.
Open Mic 12 August
This is an event that is largely aimed at older children and young people, say aged 13-25; but then Jen told me that they have had younger children who are really keen to take part in the Open Mic show coming along and performing. So while this is suggested for 13-25 year olds, that is guidance rather than a hard and fast rule. With an Open Mic event you never know who you will see when you arrive, it depends on whoever wants to perform on the day, but there have been performances from music students from one of the local Universities, to someone who had just won his Primary School’s Talent Competition before the Open Mic. If people want to perform, they can.
There are both online and in person Open Mic events, but for the summer the Open Mic will be taking place at MAC with October’s Open Mic being offered online.
Soundscapes 18 August
Soundscapes is a session for young people to work together to create a soundscape. You don’t need any experience of using music technology, or composition, or anything like that to take part. In the session you could be making a soundscape to accompany game play, scenes in a film or TV production for example. People taking part in this will work with the session leader to use technology to create a piece of music. They can use sounds from a sound library, or create their own sounds from musical instruments, or anything they have at home that can make sound, to form part of this musical work. This is a class where, through music technology and creating music, young people can explore things like story telling through music.
At the time of writing this post, the theme for this session hasn’t been confirmed yet. Jen was telling me, though, that one of the things they like to do as an organisation is listen to the suggestions of their audience for possible themes for future events. In talking to children in local schools, one of the things that came up many times was that the children liked video games (blogger note: yep, I can absolutely corroborate this as mum of an 8 year old boy, and a 5 year old girl who, while not as much of a fan as her brother is also very much getting into playing on the Wii we have just dug out of our loft). So the theme for this Soundscapes session could well end up being gaming related.
My son actually attended Soundscapes last summer, and he thoroughly enjoyed himself. So much so, that when he was offered the chance to do some more Music Technology classes at school he absolutely jumped at the chance. He was only 7 at the time and so one of the youngest participants, there were quite a few people there who were much older than him. However, he got lots out of the session, and felt able and encouraged to speak up and contribute to the development of the piece they made together. It was a really fun class for him.
Soundscapes is offered purely online.
Dynamic Sounds 23 August
Run by the same person who takes the Soundscapes sessions, and who is an electronic music recording artist in her own right, Dynamic Sounds is a sort of extension of that programme. It is a development in the sense that it is aimed at young people who already have an interest in sound design, music technology, recording sounds rather than being entirely new to it like Soundscapes, although you don’t need to have attended Soundscapes to go to this event.
Dynamic Sounds is offered in person at the MAC, and people attending get to play with midi instruments (a digital interface that allows musical instruments and devices hooked up to it to communicate with each other) and make sounds together, manipulating those sounds to create a piece of music or soundscape. What happens during the session is that the people taking part record or create their own sounds and then trigger them using, say, a keyboard, or a drumpad. They then work together, putting their work into one musical composition that it performed at the end of the session.
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