Cygnet Early Childhood Artist-In-Residence, July 2013

Hot on the heels of July’s school holiday workshops, I hurtled headlong into a week-long Artist Residency.  Last year Mirjam Holthuis from Cygnet Community Childrens Centre (CCCC) was successful in securing a grant to employ three local artists from the Cygnet area, including myself.  Each of the artists were asked to offer creative experiences to the kindergarten students at the three local Primary Schools – St James, Cygnet Primary & Peregrine Community School, plus some younger children from the CCCC.

I have been living in the Cygnet (TAS) area since 2007, and have worked with Cygnet PS and Peregrine on many occasions, teaching both cartoon drawing & percussion.  It was Cygnet PS music teacher, the remarkable Katherine Fairs-Morris, who first prompted  me to teach percussion on a regular basis, which led to me directing two successful Cygnet community drumming groups for 4 years.

So when Mirjam invited me to submit a proposal for the residency, I jumped at the chance to re-engage with my local school communities.  With the project aimed at mostly 5 yr olds, I decided to offer a smorgasboard of creative experiences over 3 x one-hour sessions with each kinder group.

prgne drums montage
prgne drums 3

Session 1 was an interactive rhythm / percussion experience, in which I introduced the kidlets to an array of (mostly African) drums: djembe, dundun, talking drum, darbukka, cajon (& balafon), plus a selection of miscellaneous tribal percussion toys including agogo bells, seed shakers, shekere, woodblocks, tibetan bells and more.  We talked about how each instrument has a different voice, how they resonate to create sound, and a little about where each instrument originated, and the various materials they’re made from.  The kids of course were busting to make some noise, so I followed this up with some interactive rhythm games – exploring vocal sounds & rhythms, and co-ordinating hand-clapping & foot-stomping rhythms.  Then we translated these simple rhythms to the instruments themselves, and I was amazed at how well the kids held it together – no mean feat for that age!  We had a ball and made a truly joyous racket!

montage 1
montage 2
cyg mus 1

Session 2 was more of a listening experience –  I introduced the kidlets to some of the stringed instruments I play: a European mandolin, a Russian balalaika, and three different varieties of ukulele, including a metal resonator uke.  I talked a little about each instrument’s origin, about how sound resonates in the sound box, and the unique voice of each instrument (picture of appreciative audience at right).

I demonstrated a few exotic styles of instrumental music from around the world, and played a few silly kids songs that I wrote for my own kids years ago.  The kids were hilarious & such a delight as they joined in!  Here’s one of them:


The Cygnet Primary kids followed up this session with DIY instruments using papier mache & rubber bands.  And the Peregrine School kids reflected on their session by creating drawings of the instruments I had played, which they then compiled into a book and presented to me as a thank you gift.  Thanks guys!

book montage

Session 3 was a cartoon drawing workshop – a simplified version of the facial expressions workshop I use in the Creative Communication program.  Again I was surprised at how well the kids interpreted my suggestions, as guided drawing is often too challenging for this age.  We drew (and pulled!) some expressive faces and discussed a few different emotions as we drew them together.

Some feedback from Cygnet Primary teacher Judi Rhodes: 

“During the cartooning workshop the children stayed focused and on task for at least an hour which is a very long time for 4 year olds! They loved drawing the faces with different emotions. Lots of parents have commented on the detailed and quirky drawing that their children have produced…they simply can’t believe that their children have done them!!”

faces montage 1

Judi’s kids compiled their face drawings into personal books for further reflection in class.  They looked fantastic!

face montage 2

The last session for the residency was with the Cygnet kinders and we finished off on a relaxed note, with me drawing a few cartoon requests – in this pic they asked for an octopus, and then kids took turns in suggesting what each tentacle was holding:


For many years my work in schools has been mostly focused on middle to upper primary & secondary ages, so it was really refreshing to return to this age group and PLAY – thanks so much to Mirjam Holthuis and the Cygnet Community Childrens Centre for enabling me to participate in this residency, to the fantastic and dedicated staff at Peregrine, St James & Cygnet schools (and the CCCC!) for all your help & enthusiasm, and of course to all the gorgeous preps and kinders who were such a delight to work with!