The Dionysus Ensemble in the Solomon Islands
The Commonwealth Resounds Ensemble-in-Residence, the Dionysus Ensemble recently travelled to the Solomon Islands to lead a musical project for young people. Here is a report of the project, written by Ensemble Leader Leonie Adams.
The Piano Association of Solomon Islands (PASI), the music training organisation on The Solomon Islands, enables children to learn various instruments, not simply the piano. These children receive tuition only once or twice a year and must manage alone apart from that, with help only from untrained volunteers.
This project provided expert instrumental teaching for existing students in piano and violin as well as giving some children their first ever instrumental lessons, including the first ever cello lesson on the Islands!
The Dionysus Ensemble ran a “Go Compose Solomon Islands” day, which for the first time, introduced composition and trained the students not only how to create their own music, but to write it down. The day was focussed on music theory and notation practices as well as the importance of music being documented for posterity so that their music can be shared, performed by others and last into the future. Our students returned over the following few days with pages of newly created music, which they’d worked on at home after class, to ask advice, seek out new ideas and direction and to check their work with us. We performed and recorded all of their pieces for them so that each student now has a professionally performed record of their first piece.
Performance and Presenting Skills
We held a performance and stage craft class working on presenting well to an audience, which is a highly valuable transferrable skill for job interviews. Solomon Islands has a very high rate of youth unemployment so this skill will put these students at an advantage in an incredibly competitive job market.
The idea of walking on to a stage with good posture, bowing and timing your performance were unfamiliar to these students, and the change by the end of this class was monumental.
Introducing the piece of music that they were about to perform was also a new challenge, and we discussed voice projection, clarity of speech and diction, as well as stage fright, nerves, courage and presenting a confident attitude to the audience.
We, in conjunction with the British High Commissioner, provided a high profile recital opportunity for three students at different levels from beginner to grade 8 at the British High Commission drinks reception for the Diplomatic Community, and about half of our students performed in their first ever public concert held at St Barnabas Cathedral in Honiara. Some of our students not only performed their prepared music but also their own compositions, giving a world premiere of their works and a public outing of something created and performed entirely by them.
Every single student performed in a more informal concert on our final day at the Maranatha Hall. This gave everyone a chance to show their progress and development in a friendly and relaxed environment in front of family and friends.
Dionysus Ensemble Performances
As a chamber ensemble, the Dionysus Ensemble performed at various diplomatic events for the British High Commission & the American Consul and also for Rotary Honiara, as well as at the Heritage Park Hotel, in the children’s ward of the Hospital and live on the radio for SIBC – Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation.
Essential Skills for Life
Music gives the children transferable skills such as teamwork, perseverance, working hard bringing results, maths & counting, listening, dedication, responding to others, physical & motor control & dexterity and social interactive skills. Participating in an ensemble enhances feelings of self-achievement, encourages people to overcome challenges, builds self-confidence, and raises determination to make more effort to meet group expectations regarding standards of playing. Music is giving these children a purpose, and a skill set which will help them to access further education, learning, jobs and to be able to deal well with social situations.
We have discovered innate and natural musical talent in these students, an enormous desire to learn, improve and develop and a commitment to their studies which is truly admirable. The children involved in this inaugural project came when they weren’t scheduled for a lesson just in case someone was late and they could have extra time, with a list of questions every day and with renewed vigour and interest as the project went on.
These children committed to this project with an intensity seldom seen by our team and were soaking up every scrap of knowledge that we could give them.
Impact and Sustainability
“I couldn’t sleep last night because I wanted to practise!” – Reynard 15
“You taught me to be brave and to play the piano” – Juanita 8
“Great teachers and musicians. Loved learning from them and listening to them playing their instruments. Such great inspirations.” Ian 18
This project brought an exciting and invaluable range of experiences and opportunities to all involved in PASI which really spurred them on.
As well as working with the children, the Ensemble worked with local teachers and parents to share our teaching expertise & practice tips so that they will have a wider range of techniques and resources available to encourage and enthuse the children going forward.
The British High Commissioner, HE Brian Jones and Dionysus Ensemble Founder and Cellist, Leonie Adams, founded & opened a Commonwealth Music Library within Honiara public library so that donated sheet music and CDs are now freely available to anyone in the Solomon Islands to borrow. This invaluable resource was made possible by the incredibly generous donation of new books by Universal Editions London and will allow our students and anyone who is interested to discover new music to listen to and to read & learn.
Beyond this Project
We would love to be able to continue the work that we started – to put in place regular teaching, a regular concert itinerary in which they could perform, to develop their composition skills, to increase the number of students able to have access to PASI and to take desperately needed resources such as instruments, spare strings, manuscript paper and music stands over for them.
We also want to develop their connections with local businesses to generate background music performance opportunities for the students, to widen the range of instruments taught and to link up PASI with the Police Band to put on a joint concert. This is just the beginning of structured music leaning and making in the Solomon Islands and the possibilities are enormous. With continued support and guidance, they want to set up a music hub where all musicians can come together to support each other, learn and develop as well as putting on performances, sharing resources and ideas. The students are willing, enthusiastic and a joy to teach, they expressed their gratitude so clearly in their attitude and progress over our project.
This project would not have been possible without the kind and generous support of our sponsors and supporters.
The British High Commission, Honiara
The Mercers’ Company
The Royal Society of St George
Imperial Travel, Solomon Islands