Over the past few years I have seen the most fantastic instruments made out of fruit and vegetables and so when I had the opportunity to deliver a workshop and create a vegetable orchestra, guess what? I jumped at the chance!
If you have ever seen Linsey Pollak make and play his carrot clarinet you will surely be inspired. I love the way he talks about music too. The fact that music is a communal activity and not just for a set of experts. This is the philosophy I live by.
As a self-employed music practitioner, it is important to me that I can grow as a musician and an artist. So exploring anything remotely musical, with a variety of people, always interests me. Thankfully I did not go into this completely blindly and had expert hands at my side. Charlie Wells from Charlie Wells music has run a vegetable orchestra before and with her knowledge we could formulate another successful vegetable orchestra as part of the Culture Cures project in Wakefield.
Rycroft youth centre is in the middle of Havercroft and Ryhill. It feels like a million miles from civilisation and it is no surprise that residents say they feel cut off from the rest of the City of Wakefield. There’s a lot of moaning about the youth population these days, perhaps it has always been. Always causing mischief, nothing to do, being a nuisance are things I see being said on social media quite often.
I work on the premise that every child is different, they live in different times with different problems and issues except for one thing which is the same, they are kids and want to have fun. Don’t we all really? Rycroft youth centre is a place to meet, socialise and try new things. The Vegetable Orchestra was a first at the centre and I think the results were successful. We aimed this project at 9-14 year olds with some older helpers to assist with knife skills and drilling! Yes drilling!
Charlie and I had already tried and tested a few vegetables at home. Carrot recorders, kazoos and carrot clarinets; cauliflower conch, butternut squash Udu and Watermelon drums. So, armed with these ideas and vegetables along with parsnips, leeks and pumpkins (that time of year) we arrived at Rycroft.
Our maximum number of children for this project was 20, so we set up four stations, and a demonstration station. Each station had a chopping board, bowl, knives – one large and a pairing knife (handed out later), spoons, ice scream scoop (for scooping out), funnels. The last group would be learning filming skills with Sophie and filming the making and performing of instruments.
As it happened only two children turned up at the start of the session, so they had an entire workstation to themselves. We had adult helpers to assist the younger children with the more difficult skills like cutting and drilling however this did not mean they did not get to do anything, The children were very involved in the cutting and drilling, which I believe is a fantastic skill to learn.
We had decided to start by showing them a Youtube clip of the Vienna Vegetable orchestra buying, making and playing their vegetables. Then we talked through all the different fruits and vegetables we had brought along and if anyone knew what they were and why they are good for us. We demonstrated how to make some of the vegetables into instruments and to my joy there were a few of the adults loving the ideas too. It really is such a fun thing to do!
Learning new things
I particularly loved this project for several reasons:
Firstly, building Trust. The kids loved getting stuck in creating, cutting, scooping and drilling the vegetables. They watched a demonstration on how to make a carrot recorder set to work. There is a certain element of trust between people when using knives and drills. In pairs they worked together, one holding and one drilling or cutting. Giving trust to a young person is so important, trying things out and making judgements are all things we need to experience. If we don’t experience things we will never learn or feel capable of doing anything for ourselves.
Secondly, the art of perseverance. The carrot recorder is particularly difficult to make. The plug that fits in the end has a unique and precise role. Its position is paramount to it actually working. One girl spent ages and ages trying to get the plug right, even more so than the adult who was helping her. What fantastic perseverance skills she had and eventually she did get it to play!
Trying things out
Thirdly, trying new foods. I was surprised that quite a few of the kids had never tried watermelon. By the end of the day it had pretty much disappeared so I think they liked it! They tried eating the flesh and drinking the juice. I realised then that actually my kids have never had watermelon either! It’s not something I buy and with one child who does not eat any fruit this could be a challenge even for me! BUT they did try it and found that it was something they learnt that day.
Fourthly, being surprised! I absolutely loved the delight on faces when the carrot recorder worked and actually played a mini tune. When the cauliflower conch was played and many of the kids loved the sound it made and better still one of the adults got really excited about the butternut squash udu.
Vegetables will never be looked at in the same light again I am sure!
A fifth reason is the way the children worked with each other and together to create their final song/musical pieces. Everyone was involved in some way, writing, playing, speaking, directing, singing it was a real collaboration. The final result, a lot of fun and a whole team working together!
Aims and Outcomes
One of the aims of the Vegetable Orchestra project was to get children interested in fruit and vegetables and healthy eating without actually telling them. The outcome was probably a lot more than I had envisaged. Learning all those new things offers successful outcomes. Making things fun is always going to be a winner for me and music does that. Music unites us all. It is humanly necessary.
All of this has been captured with video footage by Sophie and the children. Each of them has also had the chance to develop filming skills and vlogging ideas. Shots of making the instruments, performing in the vegetable orchestra, what the children liked and disliked and the prose/songs they created together. As much as possible has been filmed.
Children tried new foods and liked them; became interested in vegetables and what we can make with them; created together and everyone had a part to play. I loved that we helped build confidences for some children who had difficulties with other aspects of their lives. To see them excited and getting stuck into making instruments whilst learning new skills like how to control a drill with precision. Learning to trust new people that they haven’t met before and work together. These are all incredible outcomes and seeing the enjoyment and enthusiasm on their faces was for me a great outcome.
Learning should be fun and in this case it really was!