An Improvisation Workshop at Mika Waltari’s School in Laukkoski, Pornainen


March 07, 2022

Last autumn, I and my friend Tuula thought it was time to put up an improvisation workshop at her school again. So on February 17th I went and spent another memorable day at Mika Waltari’s school in Laukkoski, Pornainen.

With the curriculum reform a few years ago, the kantele was included in the music education plan in Pornainen’s primary schools. Thus, Mika Waltari’s school has small kanteles for more than the use of an entire class: they have 5- and 11-string kanteles, one 11-string kantele with four additional bass strings and a built-in microphone, and they also have rented piccolo kanteles. In addition, I brought for the workshop a few 11-string kanteles that have bass strings.

We decided to combine the workshop with an ongoing nature theme at school. The 2nd grade children have been running the Pelasta pörriäinen (Save the Insect, like bees, beetles etc.) project since the autumn and the 4th grade children have been studying forests and biodiversity.

These subjects gave us natural topics for the workshops: the children themselves were able to think about a background story related to forest life, on which the musical improvisation would be based.

One aim was also to get audio material for a nature-themed exhibition to be built by children and opened in the spring.

At the beginning of the workshop, we discussed the effect of changing the place of the home tone(tonic) on the scale on the nature or atmosphere of the music: we switched between the first and second strings on the five string kantele and did a few improvisation exercises with them. We wondered how with the same tones we get a completely different perspective when we change the position of the tonic on the scale. Just like different people’s perspective on the same event.

The children were allowed to use different tools for playing as they saw fit: bows (which they themselves have made in previous years), mallets, pencils, spoons, plectrums…

Here, a 4th grade group practices a joint improvisation and tries out different techniques:

Here is their presentation that resulted in about 20 minutes of planning. At the beginning, they describe the story they had invented upon which the improvisation was built. They imagined a peaceful spring morning as the snow is melting. Suddenly, a bear shows up making loud noises. At the end, the bear is going away and the place quietens.

The workshops were full of focused energy and collaboration to achieve a common goal. The children understood the idea of improvisation in a very short time and with a quick introduction, and the great results seemed to surprise themselves as well. Top!

Without the commitment, participation and support of teachers, the workshop day would not have been such a success – so a billion thanks to Mika Waltari’s School!

We are planning to publish a more extensive article on the project and children’s improvisation process later this spring.