Architecture as Musical Inspiration

Amphitheatre by TCL 1961

Design makes such a difference in a work space and schools are no different. I had the good fortune to work at a school that created a lot of interesting spaces for teachers and students to work and interact in. It really got me thinking about how much the surrounding environment influences what we create as musicians. Below are some ideas about music spaces and how to use your surrounding environment to inspire future musicians.

 The Cafe

One of the best ideas my school in Indonesia had was to have a modern cafe space in the reception area. Before school, during lunch and after school both teachers and students would gather there to collaborate, discuss, socialise, hypothesise, you name it. It was also a gathering place for students who liked to play guitar. I love the social aspect of making music, and this is one place where it can happen organically. Every school should have one!

The Foyer

Music can be informal like in a cafe, or formal, in a concert hall. Students sometimes need to be reminded of the formal nature of a concert through a physical boundary, the foyer.  Is this music that I can talk over or not? Is this music I can interact with physically (for instance dancing or clapping my hands to the beat) or not? Often students need to be reminded of the etiquette behind attending a performance. If your school doesn’t have a foyer leading into your formal performance space (if you’re lucky enough to have one), the next best thing to set up your audiences’ expectations is lighting. Dimming the lights and lowering the volume of background music is one of the quickest ways to let your audience know that this is a formal performance.

The Theatre

Oh how I’d love to be working in a school with a fully equipped theatre with sound, lighting and raked seating, but it’s actually such a bother. Both the audience and performers need to be trained to use a theatre appropriately before a performance can take place and if you’re the only teacher who uses the theatre you have to train students how to work all the systems. Parents take note, you have no idea how long it takes to train students simply how to walk on and off the stage and how to introduce a performance!

The School Hall 

If your school hall also acts as the school gym, you know that this kind of space is hell to make music in. The acoustics are awful and there just seems to be no feasible way to arrange seating to make the best of the music, and yet music teachers are expected to provide music for awards ceremonies in these spaces! Make the best of a bad situation and either choose music that echoes (e.g. beautiful slow acapella choral pieces) or go bold, brassy and jazzy (e.g. music from the swing era was played in these spaces to great effect).

The Amphitheatre

Do you have any future rock stars amongst your students? Rock music is too loud for most enclosed spaces – take it outside! The best thing about this is in rehearsal, when they realise they have to plan how to work the stage! Yes, I too was once an awkward teenager, but it’s oh so funny watching them try to be arrogant and rockstar-like when they’re usually trying not to be noticed in the back of the classroom.

The Garden

I was once fortunate enough to interview at a school that had it’s own harpsichord and string quartet that rehearsed in a very ornate room with French doors that backed onto a garden. I can’t think of a more suitable space to hear any kind of quartet than in a courtyard or garden. In fact I may just have to get my school’s clarinet trio to play in the school’s rose garden in the new year.

To finish up, enjoy this TED talk on music and architecture…

About Alison Armstrong

Alison Armstrong BMus./BEd. (Queensland University of Technology), Dip. ABRSM (Performance- Singing) I have trained to teach Music (Elementary, Middle and High School) and Drama (Middle and High School). This is my 7th year as a teacher.
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