Suze Pole interviews Dean Brodrick
In the second of her interviews for the Womenkind series, Suze Pole talks to Dean Brodrick.
It was a real pleasure to talk to Dean for Pukka Planet. I have seen Dean in action on several occasions at musical evenings where under his expert guidance, with little rehearsing, he pulls together professional musicians, gifted teenagers, small children and music loving adults into a joyful, exciting band for the night. His free thinking spirit and deep love of music are contagious breaking down formalities and wavering confidence and creating a wonderful experience for listener and performer.
Dean is an artist, composer and educationalist. He has an MA in Fine Art from the Royal College of Art and has been working as an artist/writer and composer/musician in communities, dance and theatre companies and schools for over 30 years. He has travelled frequently around the world to meet and work with artists and musicians from many cultures, and direct music and theatre projects. He is a mentor and teacher with South West Music School and with others has recently set up and is now teaching in a new democratic green school in Wiltshire where outdoor play, music and the arts form the central part of the curriculum from which everything else is taught.
Dean, I know much of your life revolves around composing, teaching and playing music. What do you think it is about music that makes it so important to us?
Music is a non scarce resource; if I write a song I can give it to you and I am not depleted of it. With most things that are substantial, if you share them out you run out. But music expands and grows. Music is made of a substance which we don’t yet fully understand. An acoustician would describe music as being the vibrations of sound in air but music is not just that, music is a language that communicates things that cannot be communicated visually or in words. It’s often called a universal language which is true although there are pockets of discrete musical languages around the world which you need to become familiar with in order to understand. Music existed for many years before our spoken language, it has always been here, its an intrinsic part of human culture; music is to people like singing is to the birds. Music is made of a spiritual, otherworldly substance and is impossible to pin down and quantify; our response to it is not rational which is why certain music has such a profound effect on us and is so highly regarded and still played and loved many hundreds of years after being written.
Every one of us has been exposed to music since before birth; we heard a drum while we were in the womb for nine months so its not surprising that the heartbeat rhythm which gives us a feeling of well being is the basis for music.
Existence is vibration; everything that appears to exist only does so because it is vibrating. Music is vibration, and so part of the giant cosmic symphony; the vibration of the whole universe can be seen as singing, a piece of music.
Tell us about your experience of mentoring and teaching talented teenagers
When I first meet a young student I’m always struck by how busy they are; they attend school in the day, they have homework and then clubs and weekend activities so trying to fit music education into a child’s lifestyle is a bit of a conundrum.
My sessions are one on one. I need to take time to get to know what will help the student; usually they have been encouraged too hard to take big steps to pass grade exams and they have missed out on some very basic things like a deep understanding of rhythm and the relationship of the body to the instrument. I get them to put the instrument down and to work to get the music into their body before they play it. We do lots of aural exercises and singing and drumming and basic postural concepts based on Alexander technique to gain awareness of where they are in the body. I also encourage students to listen to as much music as possible from their fellow brother and sister musicians making music around the world.
The kids I work with are teenagers, they are just coming into the realization that their life is music and they want to live from it. Some don’t have such an easy ride especially if they appear to have sprung from nowhere as a musician in the family and there is pressure to get a ‘proper’ job. Students need a lot of support on that. Nearly all my students have been encouraged to see money as the object in life and to think they can’t do their music seriously, that they have to get a job and earn a living. So when I meet them we talk about what we think music is and what it is to be a musician and I describe my own life to them; I point out to them that if you are in the arts you have to be very self contained and self disciplined as you probably will be self employed and that it's key to make your creative work your centre and not the financial rewards that come which is the opposite to what society at large is doing.
You’ve been involved in teaching for many years, what has motivated you to play a key role in this new school that has recently been set up?
I see music and art and play as central to education not subsidiary. There’s a revolution going on at the moment with the ecological crisis and the crisis of mismanagement of the planet, everyone has his own role to play in that and I feel mine is in education which has been of primary interest to me ever since watching what happened to my own children once they started school and I saw their confidence being limited. My focus is now on working with children in a way of education where creativity is seen as the primary condition of the human being and to encourage at every stage and allow people to find their creative language and be free to make mistakes.
We learn in different ways and the job of a teacher is to pay close attention to the child and discover with her the ways she finds most beneficial to learn.
Children should be allowed to have a chance at lots of different areas and to make a mess in each area before they find themselves. So often I meet people who have had their creativity inhibited and limited by an experience that happened when they were very young where they were told they can’t sing or draw or dance and as we know children don’t have to hear that very often for it to have a profoundly inhibiting effect.
I am all for encouragement and celebrating the so called mistake and the mess and allowing an order that may not have been able to be predicted by the teacher to come out of the chaos, so letting the student find their way on their own to what they love doing.
How are you going to help the children at school connect with nature?
The first step is to get the children outside; children need no encouragement to go outside, in fact it’s usually hard to get them to come in. The energy of children outside is so much more open and free; already by touching the earth and breathing the air they are being exposed to the energies of the plants and the trees. The children start to relate to nature with their bodies by climbing trees and making dens and making bows and arrows out of the bits of wood they find.
In our school we are project based, we take a project and learn many things through it such as teamwork, maths, nature, engineering, and using tools. For example we are currently looking at making buildings for the school and the children are looking at the softer rounded form that feels good to live in and feels good for our health; this is how people have always lived until recently and the children see that nature shows us that the sphere is the natural shape as shown in the earth and the heavenly bodies.
My role at school is to help the children look with an artist’s eye at the world around them. That eye is only differentiated by its intention to see and the time given to seeing; most of us glance at things, we never look. We learn from looking at nature, listening to nature, - the birds, the wind, the water, and the sounds you can hear in trees and then we might make music based on the natural rhythms we have seen and heard.
If we allow the great resource that is in all of us especially in children to emerge, and their creativity to be given free reign, if they are encouraged in all the arts and the sciences without such a big division being made between them, if they are not pigeon holed at an early age then this very holistic approach to learning makes the child a polymath, exposed and comfortable with everything.
We try to teach the children to show all plants and creatures respect, to respect all of nature from the tallest tree to the tiniest insect from an early age. We can only do these things by our own example we can’t tell children to do these things. Children don’t appreciate being told, my preferred method of education is to show them and best of all to enable them to participate fully in an activity so they can learn for themselves. I believe that nature is the greatest teacher and that guided observation and communion with nature is the greatest education a person can have.
Dean, thank you for giving your time to talk to us. We wish you all the best with your ongoing musical journey and your exciting new Wiltshire school.
Dean can be contacted by email: deanbrodrick22@gmail
For more info on the new school….http://www.growyourownschool.com/
For South West music http://www.swms.org.uk/