Tag Archives: Melissa

Weekly Session Blog #26: The Bitten Barfi.: Monday 23rd June 2014


It’s been pretty much a week since the mango-fest, and it’s safe to say I’ve made a radical transition from that person you heard about in Leeds who spoke far too much, far too quickly. Days have passed since the summit of nine months lived in hues of mellow Indian sands, and that person has been rendered utterly speechless. But now she will try and lift her head from the asphyxiating shadows of an auditorium to speak.

The Demon goes after Jyoti in The Mango Tree - Leeds College of Music - 20th June 2014

The Demon goes after Jyoti in The Mango Tree – Leeds College of Music – 20th June 2014

Trying to source the true ingredient for this blog entry has been tough. I didn’t want cardamom, nor did I want comedy gold. I had already mentally trawled many a street-food market stall in my mind, but no intoxicating blend awaited my hands at the keyboard. I didn’t want sympathy either – as I turn my heel away from the M62 and leave this city – nor did I didn’t want applause (though it was certainly fun to be awash with that in The Venue on Friday!).

Jyoti sinking in the water in The Mango Tree - Leeds College of Music - 20th June 2014

Jyoti sinking in the water in The Mango Tree – Leeds College of Music – 20th June 2014

Most of all, I realised I craved a moment from the reader. A moment of peace and quiet with me, to appreciate the sheer effort, dedication and soul of Musical ARC’s Creative Director, Lorraine Cowburn. For months, Lorraine has been cunningly crafting a masterpiece in The Mango Tree, not pausing for longer than necessary to explain to the world around her why she was stitching its threads a certain way. A little less conversation and a little more action is, without a doubt, the approach that brought such an astounding result for the audience (inclusive of every member of Musical ARC and the show team). The show was a moving, shifting experience of great beauty. But year upon year (show or not!), the presence of the individual behind it is what makes the togetherness of Musical ARC possible. Not only possible, but awesome.

Princess Jyoti and Raj Kumar - The Mango Tree - Leeds College of Music - 20th June 2014

Princess Jyoti and Raj Kumar – The Mango Tree – Leeds College of Music – 20th June 2014

In the aftermath of The Mango Tree, I had stood nibbling a bite-size barfi chunk in the foyer, and knew that from that point onwards I would let the bindi do the talking. My lip was wobbling and I could not chew. I was frozen, despite a heavy grey heat that slumped against the skyscraper windows and traffic outside. I may not have looked okay, but in fact, I was just stupidly proud of the show I had just seen, and was trying not to cry a bit (a lot) as “unique”, “magical”, “amazing”, “when’s-your-next-show? Whaddya-mean-you’re-only-doing-one-show-this-year?!”, “can-I-have-a-bindi?” and “wow” circled my eardrums like buzzing bees.

Raj Kumar picking the flower from the water - The Mango Tree - Leeds College of Music - 20th June 2014

Raj Kumar picking the flower from the water – The Mango Tree – Leeds College of Music – 20th June 2014

I will take this moment to express all thanks and appreciation on behalf of Musical ARC, to all audience members and collaborators who joined us on 20th June for the rapture of the mango season’s finale. This included pupils and teachers of St Philips Primary, who really had meant it when they said they’d come along when we visited them for an Equal Sound workshop last month!

Dilrani Kaur accompanying the soundtrack - The Mango Tree - Leeds College of Music - 20th June 2014

Dilrani Kaur accompanying the soundtrack – The Mango Tree – Leeds College of Music – 20th June 2014

Lastly, thanks to you reader, as you’ve heard me repeat the M word like a broken record since September. Though talking of mangoes, news is definitely on the horizon for a following chapter… This is not the end!

The Players - The Mango Tree - Leeds College of Music - 20th June 2014

The Players – The Mango Tree – Leeds College of Music – 20th June 2014

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #25: Cool as Mangoes… (Not!).: Monday 16th June 2014


With “The Mango Tree” a mere few days away now, I gather it’d be rude of me not to post. But truth be told, we are all getting a little nervous, excited and quiet now. Since our “The Mango Grove” workshop (delivered on Monday) is now a thing of the past, allow me to step back and reflect. Though perhaps this would all feel a little easier if my muggy little office in Meanwood had some ambiance in the form of incense, candles and live Tanpura (for those who don’t know, that’s the Indian musical instrument responsible for the foundations of captivating drones).

Last Monday at the workshop, we saw a session with a difference. Primary school pupils from Carr Manor scurried round the corner, seemingly stepping from the ordinary right into the extraordinary, as their senses were magically filled with the colourful ways of India. Flashes of magenta, gold, purple and orange entered eyeshot as Dilrani (head-to-toe in full Indian goddess costume) bent down to honour each young forehead with a bindi. Sugary rainbow rows of barfi sailed across silver platters; where one-by-one they were snatched up by playful fingertips and enjoyed for the first time by Yorkshire’s children. Bells knocked together with elegant drama as Dilrani danced through angular forms; shadows told charming stories before a screen shielding Reb Caputo’s bespoke office.

Dilrani Kaur applying henna to a hand. June 2014.

Dilrani Kaur applying henna to a hand. June 2014.

Dilrani Kaur applying henna to a child. June 2014.

Dilrani Kaur applying henna to a child. June 2014.

And what about ARC? Well, we performed our musical journey piece, “Indigo”, and now we can’t wait to vibe on it again. However, there will be one minor difference next time we play it…

…See you at The Venue, this Friday, 7pm.

Don’t forget to book your tickets at Mango Tree box office at Leeds College of Music

by Melissa Thompson

Various pictures highlighting Musical ARC June 2014.

Various pictures highlighting Musical ARC June 2014.

Weekly Session Blog #24: Ready, Steady, Indigo.: Monday 2nd June 2014


My eyelids peered at the light for a millisecond, and closed again as rapidly as a sea urchin recoiling from the water’s surface. It was Monday morning, and I was unsure whether I could face the day. I was uncertain of whether I could bound two steps at a time into regularity, arms flailing between my alarm clock’s mute switch and the cheerio cupboard in my kitchen.

But then – It happened. Looking up at my calendar, I realised it was June! I bolted out the door, my motions now more akin to those of a motorcycle. I ran through Headingley’s North Lane, past shop windows, past the faint essence of fresh mangoes in the green grocer’s; my head was truly spinning with the colours of India. I hailed a driver, and guided my good friend Shehnaaz into the vehicle so I could saturate her mind with the sudden intense adrenaline I was experiencing after turning a leaf in my calendar. On our way to Meanwood, we talked of the hours that would follow, of playing our latest creation like it was 1964. This was the tune ‘Indigo’, by the way, a composition that we will be sharing with you on our exclusive tour de Mango.

We will also be performing this in just under a week during a community workshop held at our base in Meanwood, complete with barfi, bindis and B-Sides. The Mango Tree’s collaborating artists will join Musical Arc in a mass inspiration aimed at the members of our community, where we will work with Music, Dance, Origami and Henna. We can’t wait.

As for those walking past Leeds City Museum on Saturday… walk in, I dare you. I shall be inflated with excitement and samosas and telling the whole world about The Mango Tree show, which kicks off in just two weeks now.

Here’s the link for tickets:

Mango Tree box office at Leeds College of Music

Book now, reserve a lassi!

by Melissa Thompson

Amy Manancourt dancing behind a shadow screen in rehearsal for The Mango Tree. February 2014.

Amy Manancourt dancing behind a shadow screen in rehearsal for The Mango Tree. February 2014.

Weekly Session Blog #23: Arc in Full Circle.: Monday 19th May 2014


This week, Musical Arc stepped away from the excitement and spontaneity of The Mango Tree for one minute and went back to the roots of these last few years in two special deliveries of Equal Sound. On Monday we gathered under the astonishing sunlight at Stanningley Primary School, a place with familiar grounds and familiar faces. We were returning to meet a new generation of year three pupils here. To play music to them, to send messages that everybody could understand, until we were all just jamming away without a care in the world about what we looked like or how we talked.

Shehnaaz wheeling Liah around at Stanningley Primary School. 19th May 2014.

Shehnaaz wheeling Liah around at Stanningley Primary School. 19th May 2014.

“I learned that even if you have a disability, you can do good things”, stated one year three pupil in the sharing assembly that day. This was heard moments before a girl (without being told to by her teacher) came and shook hands with us all, in sheer appreciation and respect for what we had exposed her developing young mind to in the day’s events. We can’t wait to go back in future and see Jackie (the head teacher) for more Equal Sounds amongst year groups to come.

Head Teacher of Stanningley Primary School advertising the upcoming Mango Tree (May 2014).

Head Teacher of Stanningley Primary School advertising the upcoming Mango Tree (May 2014).

After just one sleep, Musical Arc hit the road again. Once more we were at the start of what would be a fulfilling and moving experience at St Philips Primary. Regardless of how many moments pass in my life, I may never clear my memory of such a wonderful sight and sound from one of the music sessions we had in this school. Despite being year 6 (and perhaps more conscious about being cool and trendy?), a group of boys completely lost themselves in the groove at one point. As they sung ‘Mango’ (taught by Musical Arc during the day), they did it with pride, laughter and rhythm. Either the vitamin D from the sun has had a short-term positive effect on the world, or we’d simply been lucky to meet fantastic school communities in one week.

“The kids are loving it; they were stood in a long line in the playground at break time singing the ‘Mango’ song that Musical Arc taught them this morning!” – Miss Taylor, Year 6 teacher.

After coming out of two workshops on a high, it was time to get back into the work mode surrounding other mango-related issues. Wednesday saw Lorraine and Mel attend a rehearsal at the Cardigan Centre, with all of our June show’s collaborating dancers and artists. Words were exchanged, handfuls of seeds were nibbled on anxiously, and the music was stopped and started over and over in pursuit of absolute perfection. Hours passed before we had overcome this process, and we knew that at the origin of our mutual exhaustion was a feeling of exhilaration. The prototype of this performance was suddenly becoming real, and frankly, was becoming something really worth a reserve in your calendar.

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #22: The Mango’s A-ripening.: Monday 12th May 2014


This week Musical Arc continued on a creative stream of composition for their latest tune, the live piece which will be showcased at the opening of ‘The Mango Tree’ show. We heard gripping intermissions, searing horn solos and heart-rending progress in the percussion section. We felt once more how taking time to write pure music – not to a spec or in a rush, but just taking time to let it out – was such an inspiring and releasing process for us all.

Time is ticking away; the show is only a few weeks away now! We are beginning to get energized (and mildly anxious, of course) about the summit of this yearlong project now. Collaborations, microphones, meetings, cups (and more cups) of tea have shaped our lives since September last year. With the return of the sun in the Northern quarter of the arts world, the final challenge is almost upon us.

In other news, we wished Liah a very happy birthday in the session today. Liah is one of Arc’s most committed musicians, and she certainly knows how to lessen our performance anxiety with wonderful cake year upon year!

With the investment of time and energy the Arc family have parted with over the last months, we welcome your friends, family, colleagues, football team, gym buddy… anybody at all, in fact, to come and witness ‘The Mango Tree’, a cross-culture, live portrait of the merging art forms before your senses.

Tickets can be found at Leeds College of Music – Don’t miss out and book your seats today.

Go on… Today! Do it!

by Melissa Thompson

Jyoti and Simran practicing the Mango Tree routines

Jyoti and Simran practicing the Mango Tree routines

Weekly Session Blog #21: With Open Ears.: Monday 28th April 2014


All at Musical ARC had returned to their headquarters following a little rest and recuperation, expecting to be back in the studio swing – when suddenly, it dawned on them that recording music for The Mango Tree was a thing of the past!

Although the process was stimulating and beneficial to us all, the ARC had learned how an intensive period of recording creativity can, at times, be demanding too. It’s almost as though musicians get to the summit of creative achievements like these, see the finishing line, and pause because it’s over. And despite weeks of patience and graft, they forget so easily that there’s a thing of beauty waiting for us beyond that line. A thing they have created, through the winding of musical minds along a path.

And so it was, we had recorded solidly for a month, and we had forgotten that what awaited us was a mastered track. Which we would hear this in its entirety today…

…A blast from the past had also come to witness our weeks of pre-Easter work today. Musical ARC had the most wonderful catch up with Nita, who had previously worked on the storytelling element in a past production of The Mango Tree many moons ago. All those moons ago, it had been something quite different, so it was as interesting for Nita to listen to our latest interpretation and arrangement as it was for us to reflect on the past through her.

In this state of reflection and stillness, we opened our ears. What they clung on to was one of the most enlightening things they had heard yet – the oh-so-familiar, yet oh-so-excitingly-unfamiliar sound of our own musical threads, artistically knitted together by two sets of ears (Martin Harwood and Lorraine Cowburn’s, to be precise).

If this post is confusing you, reader, I have a suggestion that may help decongest your brain… Grab a ticket from LCM’s box office, free up 20th June at 7.30pm in your diary, and go outside and buy a mango. And chill out with your piece of fruit until next week, when you are welcomed to re-open your screen for an update on … wait for it… a brand new tune!!

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #20: Round up of a Wonderfully Noisy Half Term.: Monday 7th April 2014


It’s Easter break currently and everyone at ARC is enjoying a well-deserved one at that. Last Monday we had a fantastic time at Weetwood Primary School with years 4 and 5.

The themes of our workshop were music, story and communication. We assembled in the hall with an array of musical instruments and the children responded wonderfully to our sounds and presence – by the end of the day we were jamming together as truly equal beings. Many musical conversations were shared with the Weetwood community; many of the pupils have budding careers in music already since taking lessons in the lovely grounds of the school. In the final show and tell at the end of the day, we witnessed some outstanding creativity in the children. There was a human conveyor belt of the children’s pictures weaving around them as they respectably admired their day’s work, and this was accompanied by poems about a moon made from blue cheese and some fantastic improvisation on the glockenspiel.

In other news, one of Musical ARC’s recently-joined musicians, Andrew Wilson, shall not be resting one bit during this break in favour of training for the Leeds Half Marathon. If you would like to support him in this admirable mission, then he would appreciate even the smallest donation which can be made via Just Giving . This page has been put together by Andrew and gives his supporters a background on Hope Pastures, which is the organisation to which all proceeds will go.

After a break from recording and last week’s hard work, we shall be meeting again on 28th April at Meanwood for a good old natter and music session – hopefully outside in more of that Spring sunshine! Watch out for more updates around this time.

Wishing a happy, peaceful Easter to our supportive community.

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #19: Sn…Sn…Sno – Spring?!.: Monday 10th March 2014


In the words of everybody across the nation, SPRING HAS INDEED SPRUNG! The pavements of Meanwood have never seemed so beautiful; ice cream has never felt so prominent on my To-Do list.

While grinning like idiots as we left our coats at home, Musical ARC prepared for another week of recording. This time, well-practiced, we knew instantly what we had to do. We resumed our places and remained patient and co-operative for the unfolding sounds of The Chase.

10th March 2014 Elly, Mave and James rehearsing The Mango Tree at a Monday Session.

10th March 2014 Elly, Mave and James rehearsing The Mango Tree at a Monday Session.

We had reached the halfway mark in the process of recording The Mango Tree, and meanwhile, there was another exciting event on the list for Musical ARC this week. Somewhere inside a glorious and grand pavilion at Elland Road Stadium, I splayed a colourful array of maracas, flyers and live video action across a podium.

2014-03-12 EPIC SEN Event Elland Road - Melissa's Stall

2014-03-12 EPIC SEN Event Elland Road – Melissa’s Stall

This was in aid of the EPIC SEN event, an important occasion for children with complex needs and their friends and family. It aims to share and showcase an array of services and activities available to improve the quality of life of these people, and is a positive and inspiring way of introducing them to organisations like Musical ARC. Visitors to my stall got the chance to…

  • Watch a sneak preview of DB’s video Beyond the Wheelchair
  • Browse some of Artform’s instruments
  • Hear all about our Equal Sound workshops in Leeds
  • Chat to a rather excited me about The Mango Tree show in June
2014-03-12 EPIC SEN Event Elland Road - Melissa's Stall

2014-03-12 EPIC SEN Event Elland Road – Melissa’s Stall

It was a breath of fresh air in Musical Arc’s schedule, and just seemed to compliment the beautiful tinge of Spring in our surrounding world.

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #18: Arc’s Studio Pop-up.: Monday 3rd March 2014


Musical Arc reined March in with the air that some serious work was about to kick off. Two new, professional faces (by the names of Ewan and Aled) had come to help us lay down the recorded segment of The Mango Tree show, made up of our original compositions.

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording - Recording levels

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording – Recording levels

It was a new and exciting setup for the Arc, with the addition of a few more wires and bolts here and there (not to mention a little more pressure than usual!). After a couple of last minute run-throughs, our panic subsided in time for production part I of The Garden. See pictures below for a keyhole peak into Arc’s pop-up studio.

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording - Beatmaker Andrew

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording – Beatmaker Andrew

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording - Mave gets the thumbs up

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording – Mave gets the thumbs up

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording - Happy Robert

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording – Happy Robert

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording - Smiley Elly / Ponderous James

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording – Smiley Elly / Ponderous James

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording - Expressive Liah

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording – Expressive Liah

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording - Vickie tinkling the ivories

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording – Vickie tinkling the ivories

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording - DB doing his thang

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording – DB doing his thang

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording - Stage action

2014-03-03 Mango Tree Recording – Stage action

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #17: Ceilidh Chaos.: Monday 24th February 2014


After a much-needed break, Musical Arc reconvened at Meanwood Community Centre to catch up and play some music. Over a cuppa, we witnessed the progress of Beyond the Wheelchair, a recent video created by our good friend and talented videographer Erwan Durand. The short film takes viewers on a journey through D.B’s daily life. It visits the various activities and interests he has and gives a bit of background information on cerebral palsy, a condition which does not prevent him from enjoying things.

Today, we also had a lovely visit from Princess Jyoti and Raj Kumar – two Leeds folk who are sometimes known as just Simran and Jyoti when out and about grabbing the papers. We transformed the hall space into a theatre (we even had chocolate biscuits; all that seemed to be missing was some plush curtains) and we heard the music of The Garden from The Mango Tree. We gawped in awe as the couple merged into a visual whirl of perfection and grace through a series of dance moves and grandiose gestures, and thought to ourselves, “Wow, this is still only the beginning?!” Somehow, that realisation made the idea of mangoes, bindis and shadow puppets in the mix seem like a dream.

Reader, you must be wondering why the title of this entry is much more frenzied than what I have mentioned so far…! Rumour has it that Martin Harwood can hold quite a pleasant little jig on the fiddle… so much so that we can’t stop ourselves from folking out across the dancefloor. This is exactly what we did in the afternoon, and after only tripping over my feet about twice and plentiful laughter, I can say that The Mango Tree definitely needs a sprinkling of the Ceilidh vibes. Watch out, audience, you’re gonna love it!

In other news… Pop along to Waitrose as much as you care until Friday, and put your free change tokens in the Musical ARC box to help boost our chances of getting £1000!

Toodle pip.

by Melissa Thompson

Blog #16: Happy New Mangoes!: Thursday 30th January 2014


Crikey, have we really made it past January minus a single drop of snow..? I may have been a tad overzealous this month when expecting the worst, weather-wise, which would explain my post-Xmas absence in the virtual world recently.

Despite my lack of typing, I can tell you that some exciting prep for The Mango Tree has been bubbling underway in the New Year.

Recently, there has been greater focus on the work of the collaborative artists (dancers of mixed styles, shadow theatre, actors) and what they will bring to Musical Arc’s own creative streak. A couple of weeks ago, a productive meeting with the collaborative artists was held in The Venue (where we’ll be performing the real thing!), and it struck me that this project is turning out to be quite a cocktail in the arts and sensory department.

It also became evident that Simran, our King Raj Kumar-to-be, has got some serious lungs on him. All at the creative meeting experienced a demonstration of some of the scenes so far – leaving us strictly under the belief that he has visited Raj Kumar in a past life, bottled up some of the angst felt in the princess’ absence, and preserved it solely for this opportunity!

Welcome back.

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #15: And just like that, Christmas crept upon us.: Monday 16th December 2013


In typical Arc fashion, we didn’t beat around the (mistletoe?) bush, and had scheduled in a really quite hectic and lively activity for the closing session of the year.

We warmly welcomed Lewis Campbell – a professional, independent videographer based in Leeds – to spend a couple of hours with us in the hope he would capture the spontaneous (and intentional) beauty of the music we have been shaking and rattling in 2013. I’m not gonna lie, I was quite heavily involved in the idea and eventual decision to invite him along, but I believe that sharing the passion for what we do through more corners of positive exposure in the community can only be a great thing. In terms of the finished product, well, you’ll just have to be patient! Don’t be alarmed though, we aren’t prancing about in bikinis in the hope of a hit single or anything. Too cold for that anyway, if I was ever bonkers enough to call such shots.

And finally, let me take this moment to show my gratitude for the commitment everybody at Arc showed in their presence on the (currently anonymous) project, which occurred in the space of a Meanwood rehearsal. As the weather gets colder and our timetables become more crammed ahead of mince pie season, it can be a challenge to rally round the last of the working troops! But come they did, to offer the most open-hearted and unique assortment of gestures, language, poetry, harmony, comedy, rhythm and soul I have ever known in a family. Because that’s what we are, folks, a ‘family’.

Excuse me; I must tend to my wonderfully-gluttonous cheeseboard now. My biggest indulgence yet!

Wishing a warm and melodious festive period for you all.

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #14: Breathing Fear: Monday 9th December 2013


The week unfolded in heavy gusts of winter wind, inspiring Musical ARC to write about the terrifying powers that overwhelm Raj Kumara in The Mango Tree.

It was time to craft the mystifying, frightening music that precedes the princess being chased by a demon in the story. Inevitably, we turned the lights off and decided to get spooked.

From a cold and vacant space there emerged an undercurrent of crackling synth, rustling through bodies and breathing fear down necks. A reco-reco (a bit like a guiro, used in Brazillian music) was scraped with painful anticipation. Every miniature bridge was one step closer to the sound of the nails of evil, scraping on the conscience of the Arc.

A sense of madness boiled over, as the dissonant crescendo of the horns swelled.

Panic. Growing in the vastness of the woods, where it seemed panic could never outsize.

It was a feeling, deep-rooted in the murky mud beneath the princess’ dainty sandals, a frozen terror that escaped from the muted screams of the deadened weeds around it.

It was a feeling that today, we made.

My heart goes out to Emily, our new volunteer. After this eerie showcase, she must be fooled that we never make sweet and melodious music…!

Monday 9th December 2013 Musical ARC pretending to be demons.

Monday 9th December 2013 Musical ARC pretending to be demons.

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #13: Garden in Full Bloom: Monday 2nd December 2013


Musical ARC fondly re-visited that heady scent of jasmine, radiating from the gentle tones of one of the show’s opening themes, The Garden. Just a couple of weeks away from an early draft of the recording (not to mention Christmas!), it was somewhat relieving to have a piece ready that we could rehearse from our book of evolving creations.

Despite advent’s long nights, small dark days and the fact that most of the wildlife in the scene would be currently hibernating, the session injected liveliness and warmth into our lives.

Psst. A little birdy also told me that a cameraman could be on his way just shy of Christmas, ready to shoot some of Musical ARC in action at the pinnacle of its Mango-induced energy. Watch this space!

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #12: Into the Blue Monday 18th November 2013


Pushing through a gold and grey November, the Meanwood crowd assembled to further its new-age musical continuum.

In addition to the ornamentation of Classical Indian vocals, Lorraine had us focusing on a new element entirely. This musical stream included… actual streams, in fact. Shortly before, we had been merely discussing the use of watery sounds in music, and how we might use these to illustrate the scene in the show where the Princess is sinking – a blend of relief and poignancy as she moves further from the talons of a demon, and further into the blue, away from the arms of Raj Kumar. This is a point in her life where the ‘fight or flight’ effect has solely taken over and she’s plunged into deep waters in an attempt to save herself, unaware of the 7 year distance she will experience from her lover.

Through sheer empathy, we’d grabbed just about every type of kitchen vessel you could imagine (straws, bowls, jugs, wine glasses, you name it), and we found ourselves filling them with tap water, blowing raspberries, pouring at different heights and speeds, striking at different pitches and weights, and circulating glass edges with our fingertips, in anticipation of a mermaid’s piercing whistle.

2013-11-18 Musical ARC crew play with straws

2013-11-18 Musical ARC crew play with straws

Groups departed and, quite literally, swam through the oceans of their musical minds. In the main rehearsal space, a posse of about six of us crowded around to examine the watery possibilities of a Roland PK-5 keyboard. We soon discovered that a sombre bass line, played by Shehnaaz, was the way forward in creating a balanced level of movement and meditation in our listeners, as freer waves of sound curled above.

After a worthy session of composition, we returned to shallow waters. And we hoped our listeners wouldn’t forget to hold their breath.

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #11: Chasing Ideas Monday 11th November 2013


You’ll never guess what..? We went to warm up in our circular formation once again, and a joining of souls found us diving headfirst into a new composition. A simple few calls and responses were made; the flavours of worldwide jazz (and crazed game shows) gave us fever. In true Arc flavour, we thought, “why the heck shouldn’t we layer this stuff up?” – It was sounding pretty groovy, after all.

What materialised was a skeleton of The Chase. The music for this section of The Mango Tree shall elevate the fear and urgency felt during Raj Kumara’s unfortunate encounter with a demon in the gloomy forest. The beautiful princess is running as far away as she can from her enemy, eyes wide, at the near expense of her body parts.

The session was dedicated to the transferring of our earlier, recorded vocal movements into instrumental effects. We were in high spirits at the entry of a new band member, Andrew, who I hear is a great singer. During today’s process, we witnessed some keen general musicianship and focus coming from his direction, as he lost himself gladly in the hullabaloo of a glockenspiel, then the rhythm of a beating drum. In fact, it was relieving to not find Andrew immediately terrified at our suddenly-speedy work ethic. He had caught us at the very core of our craft.

A shot of the Musical ARC group in action on Monday 11th November 2013.

A shot of the Musical ARC group in action on Monday 11th November 2013.

D.B’s sound of the day was (rather aptly!) a harassing, thrashing and startling orchestral hit, reminiscent of the hot terror and panic felt when a cup of tea slips off a kitchen surface in slow-mo, for what seems like years. Lia and Robert were driving forward in fiery fashion, ringing alarms with every chime, in doses of brilliantly-strident, Carnival feel. The calamitous action was laden with jerky, high horns (Mave, James and me), a relentless off-beat rhythm from the keys (Shehnaaz and Vickie), and DJ Rob’s experimentation of something much smaller and more acoustic than usual.

As Lorraine and Martin’s eyes darted through direction and occurrence, they showed flashes of a dramatic and wonderful existence for Musical Arc. Here, in the present.

by Melissa Thompson

News: Human Lotus: Donations request


Between you and me, reader, I find our regular rendezvous’ in the virtual world to be highly fulfilling and fruitful. There’s something about the anonymity we both hold, behind the square barrier of an internet screen. Me in my slippers (pixie ones of course), and you, probably… Well, let’s not get too carried away. But, whatever the weather, whatever we’re wearing, whatever our mode of reading, understanding, speaking or connecting- we can all be involved in this media, in the promise of a reflective, subdued moment. I’m wondering, actually, whether Shehnaaz is at home right now, ordering my rambles into a Braille edition and praying for me to get to the point of what I’m trying to say.

So Shehnaaz, this is for you. The week we had at Musical ARC was breezy. We kicked-back and had a bit of a newsflash, where we heard of D.B’s recent participation in some market research. So high in demand these days, aren’t we? D.B was monitored as an online shopping customer, representing this process for people with disabilities, and was generously rewarded with a token amount. Even more generously, he donated this to Arc! Further thanks to him for that.

Which brings me onto a quick link… Specifically, a link to localgiving.com , our platform for donations. However big or small (try digging out those coppers from under the sofa; if you’re lucky you’ll find a biscuit too), a donation made today (up to £10) will be doubled. That’s right- multiplied by two! There is quite a gleaming pot of gold where that idea came from, too, so don’t be shy of grabbing your chance to give and multiply. You’ll multiply our chances, too. It will go towards our relentless stamp in the community, one that is adjourned in colourful, musical notes and promotes equality, justice and awareness in our world.

On that note (today, from the Mixolydian scale of D), I will leave you with a teaser of the power that lies at the roots of a fruit tree…

by Melissa Thompson

See also Donate Page.

Weekly Session Blog #10: The Palace Monday 4th November 2013


Refreshed from half-term, we decided to start capturing the thoughts and feelings in The Mango Tree that we had gleaned from prior weeks. The prototype of the material would be ready to hit the recording studio sometime before Christmas- it was time for action.

The rehearsal this week was spent focusing on the music for The Palace. In our minds, we were high up in the mountains, and overlooking the majestic valleys of India…

… A flute emerged, with creature-like undercurrents that climbed onto the craft of the storyteller. As this purpling colour ebbed away, it was greeted by the regal, warm strength of a fiddle. Circulating around the Arc, it was as though the words themselves were conducting such changes of musical stroke. As though the chapters were a big paintbrush, a collective of sound and colour merged in its abundant strands. Next, we witnessed the varied palette of an electric foot-pedal keyboard, the shades always in reach of a searching voice. Following this, a caste of chimes- wooden, metal, busy or sparse. Naturally, the pulse progressed to a waltz. A glimmer of magnificence mirrored us as we “Oom Pa Pa-ed”, in the same vein as marble palace floors could mirror waltzing steps.

We had begun, with our minds and bodies, a motion picture soundtrack.

by Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #9: Lyrical Bubble Monday 14th October 2013


The term continued in alarming possession of a red balloon. We began to show our true colours as storytellers, with each pass of the prop leading to a twist and turn in the plot. Beginning simply with the phrase “I opened my closet to find…”, we were suddenly on par with the Chronicles of Narnia- Though behind the doors of this other world was our imagination. Here, red balloons with feigned illegal status and burger joint drive-through chases existed.

Fragmenting from this comedy, we formed an Arc in the hall. Well, more of a circle actually… We’ve started doing this thing where we warm up socially, physically, mentally, vocally, expressively- but away from the instruments. It really has given the Meanwood sessions a new lease of life, since we’re preparing for a lot of musical focus at once. It encourages us to be fully absorbed in the pitches and possibilities that fly in the air between us; it encourages us to support one another with physical exercises that are simple for some and not necessarily for all. Martin began today by instructing that we all limber up like puppets, as dependant as one of Rebekah’s bobbing shadows. It was as though we disconnected from our limbs, disconnected from our insecurities. For a moment, only invisible string could hold us at the pinnacle of our brains.

Today was possibly one of the longest stretches of time we have spent in this bubble. It began as a natural progression of simple sounds in succession, and soon represented a wild, moreish torrent of acapella. Feeding from vocal phrases as they layered one-by-one, we drummed, played trumpet solos, climbed ladders of “yipeeeeeeeee!”. Anything goes. So, when Martin called that we depict an emotion as agreed, we jumped at the chance. “Sadness”, said James, looking up. Sure enough, Fred proceeded with a moody blues that put my mind in a smoky room. Liah’s high range lamented solemnly, and soon chords were soaring, eyes were closed, hairs were standing up at the backs of necks and we were almost ready for our movie soundtrack edition. That was, until, DJ Rob sent us happily bonkers with his “Getting down and funky” statement in the next piece. Bodies were shaking to the beat, and joy was certainly felt by all.

by Melissa Thompson

News: New Performance: Planting the Seed


In spite of the summer heat making its excuses, all at Musical Arc had something to grin / shout / punch the air about. We’d only gone and got the grant from the Arts Council, for another much adored performance of “The Mango Tree”. Waiting for ideas to grow into reality can be painful, but hey, not as much as if we had waited in vain. For, in this fine September of 2013, we planted the seed of our show.

This joyous beginning saw energetic discussions take place at Meanwood, where we confirmed what the process of our year would include. We would be writing the music for “The Mango Tree” ourselves, with the Indian traditions of story and dance inspiring us along the route. We would be welcoming the expertise of collaborative performers, including that of our shadow puppetry artist, Rebekah Caputo and a traditional Kathak dancer. There would be some live music performance and recording opportunities involved too – so not only would we be perfecting every beat and pedal, but we’d experience new professional environments. It became clear that this project would be both fulfilling and crucial to our artistic development. We could not wait to get stuck into part one…

…Light danced from the soft, broken chords of Martin’s acoustic, and we felt the princess tiptoeing into the arc. D.B’s earthy pedals depicted her humming voice, and she began to walk through a lively forest. Shehnaaz was her rhythm, tapping her sparkly toes as she waltzed; and soon we heard the horns, saw the sun beaming down at the girl. Peacefully she wandered, until unwelcome chromatics swore rudely at her face. The story was unraveling; a vicious presence was near…

Melissa Thompson

News: Funding Confirmed for The Mango Tree


The Musical Arc committee are elated to announce they have received funding from the Arts Council for a performance project, “The Mango Tree”.

Re-kindling a past venture, the elements of the show will consist of storytelling, original music composition and live performance, shadow puppetry, and traditional Indian dance.   This array of arts will be displayed by the individuals of Musical Arc alongside collaborating performers, refreshing the insights and senses of all involved.

The journey starts now, with the group regularly meeting at their hub in Meanwood for the writing, direction and rehearsal of the piece. The culminating show commences at The Venue, Leeds, in June 2014.

Further details TBA.

Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #8: Kickin’ off those Pixie Slippers… Wednesday 26th June 2013


Weeks upon workshops have passed us by. With every minute, they have brought success, downfall, invention, creation, absence, recovery, movement, expression, growth and…. continental breakfasts (that one definitely brought Arc’s VIP status to another level). I shall kick off my pixie slippers, shove aside a pile of risk assessments, caffeine and bells, and take a moment to reflect.

So, there was St. Patrick’s and its wildly imaginative, pulsating poetry, “the moon is made of cheese, and the sun is hot like a thousand red jalapenos” (if only I had kept the name of this budding artist).

Deighton Gates, you welcomed our mini Arc to Wetherby with the many trinkets of your music store cupboard. It was a pleasure to dust off the tambourines and take those chime bars for a stroll.

Whinmoor, Oh Whinmoor! I was honoured to walk in on your angelic “Happy Birthday” rendition, after Lorraine thought it would be hilarious to send me out of the hall for ‘something vital’ during assembly. You made being another year older seem a lot less crumby. Birthday aside, we were minus much of the usual troop at this event, so had to work twice as hard to give the original plan a new lease of life. Everybody pulled together and made this experience not only possible, but highly fruitful. We also said farewell to Vicky P, who is gallivanting across the globe to NZ as we speak. We wish her all the luck in the future.

Birchfield Primary workshop… I may have been coughing up goblins in my bed at the time (another mystery illness that has captured me lately), and I may have missed out on your amazing hospitality. But, by gum, did I indeed hear all about the croissants! Arc were overjoyed by your welcome and reported back in high spirits.

There was Raynville, where Rebekah joined us once more with her stimulating aura of shadows. This first-class comeback saw children being awed by the vintage tapestries of shadow theatre, before making their own puppets. In other news, I found myself revived once more under the spell of Lizzie’s saxophone, one of Arc’s new volunteers.

The morning of Churwell’s workshop was not as spritely as usual, what with feverish symptoms and broken bicycle chains resulting in a forgotten volunteer. However, our predicament was dulled somewhat by the wonderfully Scottish greeting of our ‘posh caretaker’, who escorted Arc from the gates to their Green Room. This school were constantly mindful of any access requirements we may have, which can make a huge difference in the outcome of any workshop that Arc delivers. The vibe brought with it a productive and lively day.

Bring on the finale, this coming Monday at White Laith. This time with all volunteers attached.

Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #7: The Festival of Green-Room Hops


So folks, it’s been a busy time of late, with all Musical Arc VIPs hopping from one green room to the next in a whirl of Equal Sounds. What began as a tiny seed of thought, a small taste of success, is growing to become a weekly reality with every school visit. Talking of seeds…! We have been regularly embodying them in Mel’s classic warm-up alongside some mystical alap on flute and violin, inspired by the many colours of India. Other features of the workshops have included Shehnaaz’s touching base with children’s ideas of disability through her talk on day-to-day life, group performances including all elements of the workshops and pending action from our lively Shadow Artist, Rebekah Caputo.

Our hard work and presence was warmly received in Sharp Lane and Alwoodley primary schools, where we witnessed all angles of their communities offering something unique to the string of events. Crystal clear is the notion that we live in a society where many are used to rule and order, which may seem a logical response to the patterns of today’s working man. So you can imagine how fulfilling it is to see school pupils really able to let go and give it some welly in the workshops, whether that be through a burst of chime bars selected at random or a pencilled line on a page leading to creative places a child never saw in the light before.

We’re seeing true potential in them; we’re feeling enthusiasm, creativity and groove in us all. The experiences we are knee-deep in now are continuing to teach us valuable lessons as teachers, showing us how we can express ourselves more clearly and directly. As we leave trails of this energy along the Leeds pathways of education, equality ripens.

Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #6: Monday 25th March 2013 Broomfield Special School (Workshop Blog)


A season of Equal Sound workshops commenced at Broomfield today, a school for disabled children of South Leeds between the ages of three and 16. The unique nature of this setting meant that only a humble handful of Arc’s musicians attended, leading a series of tailored interactive sessions. With every gathering, new flashes of insight welcomed us to the many ways of communication and response through music.

Mave’s trumpet fanfare gave signal to a collection of arms reaching high in the air, stretching into the spaces above us as much as we could. Robert’s xylophone was the soundtrack to our stretching at arm’s length; while Vicky’s thunderous drums beckoned us fiercely towards the ground. This atmospheric exercise was the first way we related pitch to our senses, by feeling the air around us at different heights. By the fourth run of this exercise, Mave and I had become so comfortable in the space that we (the horn section) had morphed into pixies, leaping and bounding across the circle to our own songs.

The interactive sessions also saw us demonstrate and share Arc’s collection of handheld percussion instruments, bringing a true flurry of stimulation through the rush of rain-sticks, octachimes and conversation. A keen desire to discover and use new sounds was felt in the pupils’ overall reaction. The creative flair I witnessed in some individuals is etched in my memory, where an ear for rhythm and an eye for melody seemed to stem from the need to simply ‘have a go’.

Following a morning of touching base, interaction and playing group music, Musical Arc members served as VIPs in the sensory room, inviting some children to hang out and break routine for the afternoon. Tea and biscuits naturally progressed into a mellow jam that paid homage to The Black-Eyed Peas and Bob Marley.

Meanwhile, Lorraine and I had left the group to go and spend some time with some other children within the school that we had not yet met. These children, unable to draw parallels in communication in the same way that we do, responded to our sounds in very different ways. Some chose to sit and listen or face away, others wanted to touch our instruments and be as present in our personal space as they could be. Lorraine and I travelled about the room, letting the children lead the way to our own interpretations.

Without words and language, we collectively sailed to and from conscious harmony.

Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #5: Monday 4th March 2013 Arc in Unity


This afternoon, the ARC assembled in a balanced session of listening, sharing, learning and jamming. Kick-starting the springtime with an inventive game of “Pass the balloon”, heads ducked and arms reached at the beck and call of member’s names. This sparked an intriguing chat about our favoured (and desolately distant, in some cases) ages, where we became nostalgic of our newborn and twenty-something selves for all of five minutes. Yet in true Musical ARC fashion, we remembered to focus on the ‘here and now’, and did what we could to make this day see refreshing steps towards our collective and personal goals.

With the support and feedback of all involved in the ‘Equal Sound’ workshops, a demonstration of a morning’s school assembly was led by Shehnaaz. This vital ingredient of the workshops gives the opportunity for a disabled member of the group to sit and lead a discussion on the topic of their personal disability, prompting and answering any questions that pupils may want to ask about their day-to-day lives. Although today’s talk was carried out for the purpose of practicing the structure and execution of this area, what was more profound was the insight and advice exchanged between Shehnaaz and us. Despite the assumption that we had her best interests at heart, it was only today that we found out how her nails had been coloured in such a trendy way, or how she attends to her culinary demands. The difference between terms such as “visually-impaired” and “blind” was also visited, as well as the subjects of mobility, travel and the use of Braille. This fulfilling and fascinating conversation is one that will happen more in future, driven by those disabled members that wish to come forward and share with the group.

Another segment of today’s events was dedicated to ‘Musical Mix’. This section of the workshop enables small-group learning to commence, with children indulging in a sequence of bite-size lessons led by members. For example, James and Vicky (the brass team!) would greet each small group and have a few minutes to introduce themselves, their instruments and perhaps perform or teach a snazzy trick or two. Using a role-play format once more, we revitalized our skills in this area and ensured our ‘Musical Professor’ hats were steadily in place in preparation for this term’s grand series of workshops.

The productive session was closed with a well-deserved, let-your-hair-down practice of “Wendy Ya Ho”, a stimulating classic that really sets the sounds of Musical ARC free.

Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #4: Monday 11th January 2013 Equal Sound


Musical ARC folk were elevated by this week’s news. We have ten workshops confirmed in succession, throughout March and beyond. Forever remaining close to our primal goals, it is invigorating to know that we’ll be bringing them to new destinations: An array of Primary Schools.

We hope to raise awareness of the disability arts of Leeds, and challenge notions of what it means to be disabled. We want to promote positive role-models of people with impairments, by grabbing life’s horns and letting-rip in the music. We shall leave imprints of belief that everybody can aspire in equal measures, regardless of what sets them apart in the community.

The drive to create the ‘Equal Sound’ workshop was fuelled by the urge to share our experiences with young people, as they might already have preconceptions and fear surrounding disability. Despite the existence of equal rights, equal respect is still hard to find- not by fault of our own, but by fault of society and education. Leeds University research supports our intentions, by telling us that “…non-disabled children need to experience meeting with disabled people and hear about the realities of their lives. Children who had direct experience of interacting with disabled people in their families or local communities had a more accurate and realistic understanding of the lives of disabled people”.

We sense that Musical ARC’s dynamic route to awareness could be about to hatch grooves in the hearts of many, letting the music speak volumes to youngsters and their teachers.

Melissa Thompson

Weekly Session Blog #3: Monday 4th January 2013 Harmony, Bean Bags and Protest


We proceeded to limber up to the infectious, funky licks of Martin’s guitar. The power that oozed from Musical ARC today was attitude. We seemed to be overflowing with the stuff, evident in the “Hey!” hand gestures that showed face as we sauntered through the beat. Though we may have taken some light inspiration from Ali G Indahouse, the act of blending vocal and limb movements proved useful in rhythm, timing and memory practice. For this exercise, the group had divided in half and created four-beat patterns that were practised simultaneously. Just as we were getting the hang of this aerobic-jam malarkey, a wee chat about the weather and our favourite ice-cream flavour was thrown in, setting the tone for the day.

With brainwork rife amongst members, it was relieving to return to a level of ‘cool’ with the re-entry of our reptile muse. Under Robert’s guidance, we practised Kinyonga, an enlivening, four-part harmony piece that transferred us vividly onto balmy African sands. Post-Chameleon, I found myself in childish awe as we followed the travels of a mischievous yellow bean bag. More specifically, the group were adapting a musical game to the needs of a future Primary School workshop. Watching everyone skip merrily around the circle like jovial banshees, I was too busy awaiting my turn to notice the quantity of musical senses that were being touched. Which is a good thing, by the way.

It was Vicky’s turn to take control for the rest of the session, with a few of her own musical ideas coming to the fore. In a later discussion, we agreed that our findings throughout this hurdle of discovery were similar. This was mainly in realising that original material evolves rapidly when on the spot and that the core focus is on being a concise leader.

The music session occurred in synchrony with some fundamental conversation a few yards down the corridor, in my bespoke clinic. Words were finally freed by members on the subject of our recent relocation, and the issue in our hands and hearts became further pronounced. By the end of our time this week, Musical Arc’s voices were ready to yell for change.

Melissa Thompson