We always say that musicians play music, or play their instruments, but the Griffyns took this to a whole new level last weekend when they presented their “Giant All-Ages Instrument Playground” concert. Were we surprised? No, because this was the Griffyns, after all …
However, being prepared to be surprised also meant that we didn’t know what to expect. Here are some of the descriptions they used to promote this concert, which, they explained, was created by them and their “crackpot team”! You get the drift:
Griffyn have brought in Jim Sharrock (famous for his Musical Mushroom Gardens), and visual artist Byrd (one of Canberra’s pre-eminent mural and graffiti artists) to join West Australian Mark Cain (of AC/PVC fame), to collaborate in making this unique collection.
We’ve transformed satellite dishes, PVC pipes, foot pumps, balloons, skis, tin cans, fence-posts bicycles, wooden boxes, garden utensils, and more into some of the most incredible musical instruments you’ve never seen!
The Circularsawruses have come to town – Roll up to Belconnen Arts Centre to experience the launch of the Griffyn Ensemble’s Instrument Playground! The Griffyn Ensemble have assembled a crackpot team of musical musicians and makers from across the country and the Canberra community to create and compose on some of the most curious sounds to have ever hit the capital. Hear such wondrous musical inventions such as the wintry Ski Bass, the Bicycle Hurdy Gurdy, and the Flutes of Many Mouths.
Although this concert has been in Griffyn director Michael Sollis’ mind for some time, its timing was perfect because it followed the recent three-part ABC documentary, Don’t stop the music, on the importance of music education for children. One of Sollis’ hats is Music Viva’s Artistic Director for Education, a role which involved him, at least in the beginning, working with the late (wonderful) Richard Gill.
Anyhow, some of the concert was beautiful, some exciting, and some – yes, we have to admit – challenged the ears, but it was all good fun. It started with fun, in fact, with a musical pun sort of fun, when soprano Susan Ellis, supported by other members of the ensemble, entered the performance space singing a “Walking Bass” complete with hiking poles. From there Susan Ellis featured again, singing Cold Chisel’s “Flame trees”, with Kiri and Michael Sollis on “flutes”, and Holly Downes on her quad bass – but look, there were, at my rough count, some 13 or so pieces performed, so I’m not going to list them all. Instead, I’ll just share some representative highlights.
The audience was flummoxed when asked to identify the Bicycle Hurdy-Gurdy version of the Beatles “Blackbird” and was entertained by the Flutes of Many Mouths (or was it Many Hands?) version of “The little drummer boy”. The Surgical Glove Bagpipe was a sight for sore eyes – and, well, what it was for the ears depends a bit on your attitude to the bagpipes – but I recognised the tune, which was a start! Most of the pieces were familiar, or recognisable, which was probably a good thing given the instruments were all invented. Best to ease us in gently!
However, there were some original pieces, such as Michael Sollis’ “Baloons” (the spello remaining because, he said, it’s hard to erase highlighters, in which the music was written). It was performed by Holly Downes, Michael and Kiri Sollis, and Chris Stone on their chosen, more-or-less appropriate-to-them instruments. Audience members had copies of the colourful score and were asked to identify which “line” was for which instrument. We passed – just – I think!
There was, in fact, quite a bit of audience participation. Jim Sharrock, on a sort of slide-guitar-with a tin-can soundbox, was joined by Susan Ellis, to lead us in “Tannenbaum”. Towards the end, young students from Aranda Primary School, who were scattered around the audience, joined in, playing their parts, as conducted by Michael Sollis, on tiny wind instruments made of PVC pipes.
And I must mention an appropriate piece for the time of year, “Cicada”, composed by Paul Kopetz, and from his Australian Backyard Suite. The words go:
A hazy Australian summer. A scorching stifling day. All creatures of water, bush, and sky are still, awaiting the coolness of sunset. All except one – the cicada. His relentless tune defies stillness and is stillness. His metronomic song drips from gum trees. His symphony of survival deafens our senses.
It seemed well-suited to a “buzzing” performance on the Griffyns’ invented instruments. (You can hear a version on YouTube.)
This might all sound a bit “silly” but it wasn’t. It was fun – and it was about serious musicians showing us how you can make music out of just about anything, and how it’s more important to give it a go than to stay on the side and watch (as we did, skedaddling before the audience was let loose on the instruments at the end. We did, in our defence, have another event to go to.)
For a little introduction to what we experienced, check out this promo video:
Once again, it was something completely different from the Griffyns. It wasn’t the most restful concert we’ve been to, but it was one of the most joyful, not to mention inventive. And we can all do with a bit of joy and invention in our lives, can’t we?
Griffyn Ensemble (and Friends): Michael Sollis (director), Holly Downes, Susan Ellis, Kiri Sollis, and Chris Stone with special guests Jim Sharrock, Mark Cain, the Circular-sawruses and some children from Aranda Primary School.