Mai and the Magical Blackbird
April - May 2021
This Spring we have been working with Raphael Clarkson, Sinfonia Cymru, Arts Connection and five primary schools across Powys, retelling a Breton folk tale – Mai and the Magical Blackbird – exploring folk and chamber music from Brittany, Wales and further afield, and creating our own artworks and new music to help bring the story to life.
The project offered a creative springboard to exploring cultural connections between Wales and Brittany, as well as links to many areas of the curriculum including geography, history, storytelling, oracy, creative writing, music (creating, performing and listening) and art.
i) Teachers (written feedback and conversations)
“Mai and The Magical Blackbird was a triumph! Every element of the project engaged and inspired our children (and staff). Raph, Chloe, Berri, Epsie and Lowri were all superb.”
“Raph is always encouraging and always finds a way to incorporate all the children’s ideas, they loved the composition workshops.”
“The artwork has been brilliant, the children have enjoyed it so much, the themes meant we could use our forest school area to work.”
“The project sat well within the new curriculum, especially ‘Wales and its place in the world’ and encouraging children to ‘lead their learning’, encouraging them to be ‘engaged citizens’, and to learn about diverse cultures and different peoples.”
“… the Expressive Arts at their best!”
ii) Pupils (recorded conversations led by Raph Clarkson)
Feedback from the children reveals their attentiveness both to the music and to the interplay between music and story, it also demonstrates the pride they took in the music they had created themselves:
The younger children picked out particular moments in the music-making and performances, referencing, for example moments in the music they had created. These demonstrate how close the connection for them is between sound and meaning: “the magic music” … “when we were rubbing the leaves” … “making the horse footsteps”; and also “the blackbird music” played by Epsie - (Messiaen’s ‘Le Merle Noir’)
The impact of the instrumental sessions that had preceded these workshops for North Powys pupils (see ‘Joined Up Music 2020/21) is evident in the responses from older pupils who were alert to the technical skill that went into creating the different sounds. They enjoyed “playing tremelo [to evoke a moment of magical transformation] … “listening to the music Sinfonia Cymru played” … “hearing the flute go high, the viola go low, and the harp in the middle”
Enjoying the interplay of narrative and sound is revealed in another older pupil’s comment: “I liked the story because it matched up so well with the music”
“I liked watching how the musicians played their instruments all together”
Again, those children who had already participated in the instrumental sessions brought their understanding to the project:
“I liked learning to play the different parts, and when Berri and Lowri played their instruments they played chords. I loved that and didn’t know you could do that.”
“I didn’t know playing with the wooden bit of the bow was a thing you could do”
Responding to a question about what they found difficult, the emphasis was on mastering technical skills and again demonstrates their engagement: “plucking the A string” … “getting between different strings – although it got easier when I did it more” … “holding the bow correctly” … “plucking with the bow in your hand” … “finding the right place to put my chin”
The coronavirus pandemic has meant that this project has had to adapt several times to lockdowns and changing restrictions, and the schools and teachers have had to work hard to ensure the workshops and performances could go ahead safely. There were times when it felt as though we might be asking too much of the schools to be taking on board all the additional risk assessments and challenges involved in getting the musicians into their schools when they have been under such pressure on a daily basis. But the feedback from all involved has been so positive that there is no doubt it has been a worthwhile and meaningful experience. We are enormously grateful to everyone who has made it possible – children, teachers, heads, musicians, artists, partners and our fantastically generous funders. Diolch i bawb!
Resources for Participating Schools
Welcome to our Mai and the Magical Blackbird resources page. Here you will find everything you need for our work together during April and May.
- Mai and the Magical Blackbird - Notes on the Music (457KB)
- Notes for teachers to accompany the Art workshop video (below) (461KB)
- Worksheets for pupils to accompany the Art workshop video (below) (1.53MB)
- Mai & the Magical Blackbird for reading in class or at home (336KB)
- Mai & the Magical Blackbird for listening in class or at home (17.8MB)
- Celtic harp music performed by Chloe Powell-Davies of Sinfonia Cymru:
Art workshop presented by Emily Wilkinson:
Thank you / Diolch yn fawr to the following funders who have made this project possible
Brecon Town Council, Colwinston Charitable Trust, Community Foundation in Wales, Gwendoline and Margaret Davies Charity, Ty Cerdd, Garfield Weston Foundation, and individual donors to the Mid Wales Music Trust