For many visitors to Handwritten over the past few months, the exhibition’s music manuscript section has been a highlight. We had expected that interest in this section would not just be confined to the adults, and so organised a school holiday activity for 7-12 year olds based on it. Music Makers was presented twice during January to around 30 enthusiastic kids. The workshop drew on themes in Handwritten, looking at the history of written music, and processes involved in producing musical notation.
The history of written music has much in common with the history of the written word. Like words, music was around as an oral tradition much, much earlier than its recording in manuscript. As with the written word, religious purposes were one of the early calls for the process of notating music. An example of early musical notation we looked at in Music Makers was the prayer book Missale Plenum (Full Missal) which depicts chanted or sung prayers in Neumatic notation, a system used prior to the invention of the five-line staff.
The styles of notation present in Handwritten’s music section differ greatly between their composers just as the styles of handwriting do in the rest of the exhibition. The idea of different ways of writing music down included discussion of systems of non-standard notation, like this very cool representation of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. This created an opportunity for kids to examine unusual visual representations of music from the Library’s collection and create their own graphic scores.
Also, there was plenty of time devoted to playing and listening to music by composers represented in the show. Taking the familiar melody of ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ based on French folk tune ‘Ah vous dirai-je, maman’, we listened to theme and variation studies by both Mozart and Haydn, and made up our own variations on keyboards and glockenspiels.
Sadly, activities for budding musicians at the Library are over for now, but there are still sessions over the next few weeks for calligraphers both young and not so young. Details for sessions on Sunday 19 February and on Sunday 26 February are available from the Library’s events pages.