Read the Episode #70 with Grand Ward, Part 1

Introduction

Debbie
Here is the Crescendo Music Education Podcast – Episode 70. Hello, I’m Debbie O’Shea. Welcome to this episode of the Crescendo Music Education Podcast. I talk to Grant Ward, musician/composer who lives in Melbourne here in Australia. A fascinating talk, I really enjoyed speaking to him. I’ve used his music before, but never actually spoken to him. So it was a complete delight.

Everything he said I agreed with, it was just amazing. In part one of our chat, you’ll hear quite a bit about his experience, it’s really so interesting. I think you’re going to love listening to Grant Ward.

About ‘Read the Episode’: Sometimes, we would rather skim visually than listen to a podcast! That’s a great way to learn too!
The transcript of episode 070 of The Crescendo Music Education Podcast is below.


Introducing Grant Ward

Debbie
Hello, and welcome to Grant Ward. Actually, you’ve got a J in there, do you like to say the J?


Grant Ward
No not particularly, I’ve just always had this thing you know, like as a kid, you go around the circle and clap your name. And it’s just like, Grant Ward, I’ve only got two claps, and it just felt like, not enough. So I just put the J in there but it doesn’t really matter.


Debbie
I can tell you all of the primary music teachers listening to this are gonna go I so understand that.


Grant Ward
I felt like I was a bit cheated somehow.


Debbie
You don’t have enough syllables in your name you’d just be ta ta, that yep, I get it.


Grant Ward
Very plain.


Debbie
But you are not at all plain. You are a very talented person. So I’m going to start by reading your biography. And then we’ll have a chat after that so that people who haven’t come across you get to know more, so here we go. So Grant Ward was drawn to music from a young age despite not growing up in a musical family.

For three years from the age of five he was so persistent in asking his parents for piano lessons that at the age of eight they finally gave in. Subsequently, Grant was very involved in music at both primary and secondary school and started writing songs at the age of 12. Wow, you’ll have to tell us about that in a minute. Anyway, by the age of 14, he was accompanying the school choir in rehearsals and performances, and at 15 started teaching private piano lessons.

And by this time, he was set on a path to music that just seemed meant to be. Grant studied a BMus at Melbourne University, and then went back to do his DipEd several years later, he’s been involved in music education for over 40 years, hey join the club, having taught music and choirs both in Australia and overseas. Grant has composed and arranged music for Antix Theatre Company, the Victorian College of the Arts, ABC Sing! is that it as in the song books?


Grant Ward
Mmm hmm.


Debbie
Wow, oh we miss them, anyway. Book Series and Just Life Music, Scorekeepers Music (USA), English Schools Foundation (Hong Kong) and Australian Girls’ Choir including Sydney’s Carol’s in the Domain. He has worked as a singer songwriter, and has also written the music and libretto for five stage musicals, including ‘Café Butterfly’. Okay, Grant has had a long association with the Australian Girls Choir, and is currently the Music and Production Coordinator and a Senior Tutor for AGC in Melbourne. Grant is probably most widely known for his published collections of original vocal rounds Spin Round and Spin Round 2 and the upcoming Spin Round 3. And that’s how I know you is through Spin Round. You’ve done a lot of things. Wow, before we go on, tell me about when you started writing songs at 12.


Grant Ward
I don’t have any of those songs anymore. But I just think that I’ve always approached music from the creative side of it. So I think it was very natural. I just started, I was a big ABBA fan back then. I heard songs and I thought, I think I could probably write something myself, you know, so I just basically started jotting stuff down on manuscript paper and playing at the piano and recording them on cassette tapes that were around in those days. I’d never used any of them at that point, but I do remember that process of starting and the first sort of couple of times that you maybe show someone what you’ve done as well, which is quite nerve wracking. But then I just found that a very natural thing to do. I think I’ve always approached music from that side.


Debbie
Yes. Yeah, it almost sounds like it’s something inside you wanting to come out?


Grant Ward
I think so.


Debbie
Well, listening to that brief bio, it would there be anything else you’d like to add to that?


Grant Ward
I really don’t know, I think I have really enjoyed the variety of what I’ve done, I guess. I didn’t start off teaching in schools. So did my BMus first and then there was quite a number of years before I did my DipEd and then actually became a school teacher as such. I did lots of teaching and other kind of realms, I guess, and did piano teaching and choirs and things like that.

And now I no longer do that. So I feel like I’ve kind of had a lot of variety. So that’s what I’ve enjoyed. And I tend to like a lot of different sorts of music as well. So that’s helped, I think, to be able to be involved in different things like in music, theater, and then accompanying, you know, more serious music. And then, you know, the pop side, the jazz side, songwriting choirs. It’s just the variety I think I’ve really enjoyed.

Sometimes I feel like maybe it’s meant that I haven’t really got very good at anything particular because I’ve done so many different things. But um, but yeah, I do think that’s probably what I would add. If I added anything into that little blurb. I’ve had different blurbs in the past couple of times, I really liked the ones where they’re a little bit quirky and funny, but they didn’t seem to last for as long as people said, but we want to know what you’ve actually done. Like yeah it’s funny but can you tell us what you’ve actually done? Yeah, so I guess humour has probably followed me around over the years as well, which is a good thing I think when you’re teaching young people a lot.


Debbie
Yes, I think you need it, I really do. So when you were in schools was that in primary or secondary, private, state?


Grant Ward
It was mostly primary, I did a secondary DipEd and the first job I got was in primary, which was actually three year old preschool all the way up to year six. And then once I did that first job I just thought I just love primary, I just wanted to stay in primary. And so really pretty much most of the sort of longer term job placements were primary. I did five years over in Hong Kong, and that was primary as well. So yeah, I just really have a soft spot, I think, for the primary years. And you know, they’re so open and ready. You can do anything really when they’re young, I feel like it’s only when they get older, they start to get a bit choosy and picky.


Debbie
They are so accepting and so loving. And it’s so important what so many musicians get it the wrong way around, I think to be influential and important. You need to be up with the great top level musicians. No, no, you should be down with these young kids. You’re laying these foundations.


Grant Ward
Absolutely. Yeah, I agree. I think that’s what I loved about it. Yeah. And seeing human beings do things for the first time in music is just so exciting, you know, discovering things or hearing a particular style of music they’ve never heard before or using an instrument they’ve never touched, you sort of get all of those firsts in primary, which is always quite magical, really, I guess.


Debbie
Yes, I think so. I couldn’t agree more. So when we’re thinking about your journey, as a musician, as a composer, what do you think would be your highlight or highlights? And also I’d really like to just hear for what you’re grateful.


Grant Ward’s Highlights as a Composer and Musician

Grant Ward
Highlights are interesting to think about because I guess when I think of a highlight, I think of something that sticks in your head, even though the years kind of pass on. And the very first highlight, which really doesn’t have to do with composing, it’s more of an experience. When I was 10 years old, we lived in the UK for a year because my dad used to travel quite a bit for work and this particular time, he had to stay for 14 months so we all went with him.

And I had a great experience at school in the UK because music was quite different there than I was experiencing at school in Australia. And it was a lot more integrated into everyday life in the school and they were choirs and there were things and I was getting involved, but I remember once going to a performance of the Baroque Choir at the Albert Hall and I can remember this as plain as anything. It was like a Christmas thing and at the end, apparently this is tradition, they invite all the children up on the stage to sing the last carol.

And I just remember going up with all the children. And when I look back on it, I think that was probably one of the really significant things in creating my love of working with choirs and choirs in general. Just having that experience because as a little kid as like, a massive choir behind and then all of us sort of onstage. I don’t remember what it was, it was probably Away in a Manger or something like that, like a really well known carol, we all joined in, and I just thought this is amazing, like this experience it was something I’d never experienced ever before. So that stands out to me as a highlight. I’m not sure if that’s the kind of thing that you mean?


Debbie
That’s amazing and that reinforces what we were saying, influencing young people. Yes.


Grant Ward
Exactly and that was on such a massive scale. I mean it was a few hundred kids that went up on the stage, there would be no way that anybody there would have known what that meant to me as an individual. Then as time has gone on, conducting mass choirs and doing things where there is a lot of kids and sometimes you feel like, it’s hard, you feel like you should connect more with them individually, but it’s so hard because there’s a hundred people in the choir or whatever it is, but then I think back to that time and think that it doesn’t matter, it does it for you, you know, it’s the experience, and the whole package of it is what creates that connection.

You don’t need words as such, or you don’t even need that one to one contact. It’s just the whole thing of it, which is so significant and so influential. Then I guess just generally as an adult, and in my adult life and doing composing and arranging is just hearing the music being used, you know, knowing that people are using it. Every now and then I get a message or an email, to say Hey, we won this competition, and we sang your round or something like that?

Or we’ve been doing this one and the kids really love it and all of that. And then other times with with AGC at the moment we’re just performing things that I guess you’ve had a hand in and then seeing it take on its own sort of life, like it’s possibly got nothing to do with me then you know, because a whole different person is conducting it, a whole lot of other people have taught it, a whole different person is accompanying, I’m nothing to do with it anymore. But it’s kind of got this life that’s going on, I find that really, I guess fascinating, but rewarding as well.


Debbie
Very special, I think, to be to be part of that even. And in your case, it would be you’d be even the catalyst like it wouldn’t even exist without you. Like, that’s amazing, like planting a seed and away it goes.


Grant Ward
It is amazing, isn’t it?


Debbie
Yeah it’s really special and that singing together is magical. Well, that’s one of the reasons why the lovely Deb Brydon and I have helped coordinate our Together Sing, which I will tell you about later, if you haven’t yet heard about Together Sing.


Grant Ward
I have heard about it, yes.


Debbie
You have?


Grant Ward
Yes I have, even though I’m in Melbourne.


Debbie
We had registrations in every state and territory and overseas last year.


Grant Ward
Oh, right, I didn’t realise that.


Debbie
So it was our inaugural year 2022 and we had over 150,000 singers.


Grant Ward
Wow.


Debbie
We’ve just released this year. It’s all free. We’d lost Music: Count Us In and we just felt that we needed a replacement for singing together and for music educators advocacy. So I will send you all the details.


Grant Ward
Please do.


Debbie
I’ll put the details in the show notes too. So all those people listening can register. It is free. It is free.


Grant Ward
That’s fantastic.


Debbie
Anyway. Look, I think that’s wonderful. But I’d like to get round to Spin Round because that’s my favourite and that’s how I found out about you. I just bought it somewhere. And it, oh, I love this piece. I love this piece. I’ve run out of time to further delve. I just keep using my favourites so I must shedule time to for it.

I have your second book, and I don’t think I’ve ever listened to it. But I will confess that ‘Morning Star’ which was the first one, it just grabbed me for some reason. It’s just magical. It is just the most magical piece. So now I’m sure there’s no black and white answer to this next question. All right, but I would love to know, is there a way that often these compositions come about?

Or are they varied so like in my head, like if I was going to write a round, go, Okay, I’ve got a couple of ways I could start with lyrics. If I’ve got an inspiration, I could start with a melody and then meld the melody into the chord progression that works. Or do I start with the chord progression and then Morning Star has the most interesting rhythmic components that once you hear it in cannon, it’s magical. So I’ve just said a whole lot there, which didn’t make a lot of sense.


Grant Ward
It made perfect sense to me.


Debbie
I think we should at this point, play the listeners Morning Star, would that be alright with you? If we played the Morning Star?


Grant Ward
I thought you’re gonna say we’ll sing it. I was thinking Oh, I haven’t warmed up.


Debbie
I’d be going Oh, my heavens, no.


Grant Ward
Probably not the top E flat, it’s a bit early.


Debbie
Oh but when the children sing it. Oh, my goodness. And that’s the other thing I love about your CDs. Well, I should stop saying CDs because people if you want to buy this, it’s digital downloads.


Grant Ward
Nobody buys CDs anymore.

There’s no CD players anymore. I got to hang on to my old computer. Yeah. So if anybody is loving the look of this, we’ll put your website in the show notes and people can go and have a look, have a listen to the samples, and they can buy digital downloads. So without any further ado, let’s have a listen to Debbie O’Shea’s favourite Morning Star. (Plays Morning Star)


Grant Ward’s Composition Process

Debbie
Okay, now let’s get back to my question. Tell me how you write these rounds.


Grant Ward
Well, generally, the rounds came about because I couldn’t find anything that I liked to be honest. I mean, there was a few. But then once I had kind of done those, I was spending so much time trying to find things that I felt like were through-composed melodically as well as being great as a round. That’s what I felt was missing. Sometimes, I felt like this is gonna sound a bit like, I’m not judging other people’s rounds or anything like that.

But just from my point of view, my favourite rounds are the ones that when you just sing it as a melody, you could stop, you could just sing that melody and go, isn’t that a beautiful little song, you don’t need to do anything else. Then obviously with them, when it comes together as a round it works beautifully, as well. But I think there’s a lot of rounds that sound great in a round, but because in the through-composed way, they’re not super kind of, I guess, logical or melodic, they’re actually hard to teach, because they’re not logical for the people learning them either.

They’re not simple, they don’t kind of feel like that sounds like a logical melody. So that was kind of where it came from in terms of getting rounds together, I had no thought of doing a book or anything like that. It was just for my own teaching and just thinking well tomorrow, I want to do blah, blah, I’d love to have around in my warm ups or something like that.

And, you know, this is the theme of the repertoire we’re covering. So how about I do it in the same theme or something like that. But then in terms of actually the composing process, most commonly I write the lyrics and the melody together. For me, I like it when it sounds like they’re inseparable. So for me to write it in that way, tends to make it from my ear anyway, sound more like the lyrics complement the melody and vice versa, I haven’t always done it that way. But that’s, that’s probably the most common way I’ve done it.

And then in terms of writing a round, it’s quite a theoretical, almost mathematical thing as well, in terms of then the lining up of the parts. And it’s interesting that you say about Morning Star in the interesting, rhythmic situation. I really like sometimes playing with that a bit as well. And so that it doesn’t just sound like a chordal you know, everything’s sort of happening together. Some of the rounds are like that. But I like that kind of feeling of like the voices popping in and out at different times, depending on what’s happening.

So you don’t feel like any one line of the round is the most important line or is like the stop one line. You know what I mean? It doesn’t have any hierarchy in terms of the line. So I think to to vary the rhythm and the melody in that way so things are popping in and out. I like sort of playing with that as well.

And then a lot of it was also about music style, because probably if anyone’s already familiar, you’re probably aware that there’s lots of different styles in the rounds as well. I find that really interesting in young kids, because as adults, you know, we can just say, Oh, it’s like a 60s doo wop or something, and then straight away in our head we know what that means. And then we know how we’re going to perform it.

And what sort of sound is that but, of course, to say that to an eight year old or a ten year old, that means really nothing. So I found that, in my teaching, in general, I was really becoming very interested in, I guess, immersing the kids in different genres, different decades, different periods different, and starting to get that sort of thing building up in their brain and their psyche as a musician.

So then that sort of encouraged me then that with the rounds to kind of think in the same way and think, oh, you know, let’s, let’s do a kind of, let’s do a 60s kind of one, let’s do a something that sounds a bit more maybe classical. I’ve just actually written one last year about pasta, that’s called The Pasta Opera, and it lists all the different pastas, but I’ve done it like in Mozart operatic sort of style so I think it’s another sort of layer that I just kind of a had in there in terms of introducing style and genre to children as well.

And also, it’s just fun. It’s just fun to sing in different styles. And I felt like traditionally, rounds weren’t really in different styles. They were kind of more, kind of choral, whatever that means. But yeah, I don’t know, does that answer the question?


Debbie
Absolutely. That’s brilliant. I’m just so following what you’re saying, and I’m so going to listen to the whole CD. And can I stop saying CD, I’ll say, audio? Magic. And I’ll tell you what this is going to send everybody that’s listening, straight to your website, you actually have a backing track, as well as the vocal model.

And can I say the vocal model, beautiful, the number of times that I bought things that you just go, oh, that’s like I can not stand that singing, you might listen to it for yourself but you’d never play it to the kids. But you know, your models for both the backing and the vocals are just just so beautiful. So I’m certainly going to go and listen to all of those different things now and see where I’m going to plug it in.

But I know what you’re saying, so many rounds, well cannons I guess, as well, one that’s based around dough. Oh, now, here’s the part that’s based a third above all, now we’re in the third bit, which is choral work, let’s put it together, we’ve got a cannon we’ve got a round. So what you’re saying makes sense. And it just comes across the beauty of the line is there. I think that’s wonderful. It’s just reinforced everything I felt about your work. So that’s wonderful.

Ways to Use Spin Round in Your Music Program

Grant Ward
That’s really nice. Thank you, I think too, like and I’ve done this a lot as well, it means that then you can use them as concert pieces. You can put them in your program, especially if you don’t have an accompanist, you’ve got the track, you know, everything but you can kind of create, I know people that have done quite different things to what I’ve got on the track as well and done different kinds of arrangements and put them in more parts than what they are and that kind of thing and maybe done a unison and done some parts and gone back to the unison at the end or whatever.

And you can kind of mix and match and make it into a little concert piece. And use it in that way as well. It sounds very impressive, but because it’s a round, it’s actually not that hard to get an even inexperienced group to put it together.


Debbie
I have absolutely used your pieces in competition. I have not hesitated, sing it beautifully in unison, some nice phrase shaping, layer up the round and it’s just beautiful. And I think that often, especially us working in schools full time, you don’t have a huge amount of time to spend on your choral work. You certainly don’t have the time to do all of the preparation. I’m really lucky where I work we actually employ a choral conductor.

So we have Katherine Ruhle, who comes in and takes our choirs and she’s amazing. The planning, I often sit in and support usually, and she just blows my mind the amount of preparation that she’s put in and the hours she works with the choir. I don’t think I’m an appalling choral conductor, I quite like doing it. I just know I can’t put in that time to do it well, that takes a lot of time. So I think having things like a few magical rounds can add to your program with, I don’t want to say very little work, a lot less work, say, than a full three part you know, octavo thing, so I think they’re magic for us who work in schools?


Grant Ward
Yeah, well, I’ve I’ve used them with a whole heap of different ages and ranges. And in the book, as you know, they’re sort of graded as well. So we say which ones are the easy ones and the harder ones and the medium kind of ones. And obviously, with an inexperienced group, you wouldn’t go with the super hard, harder ones, but it’s that thing of like, you’re almost tricking them into singing harmony.

It’s like a bit of a magic trick, which I think is really cool. And it’s such a good introduction to singing harmony as well, which is why I think even before I started writing rounds myself, I just loved using them because I thought that was such a great step from unison singing to part singing, you know, sort of like that thing in the middle. Where you can kind of let everybody know it’s not tricky. It’s not too hard. It’s not scary; it’s you know, we can do it. And then from there, you can kind of move into more advanced two and three worry and four part work, I guess. But yeah, I just love rounds, I just really like them.


Debbie
So do I, they are one of my favourite things. I’ve had a half hearted go at composing some and I’ve gone No they’re really terrible. But one day, I might get back and give it another go.


Sign-Off

This podcast is brought to you by Crescendo Music Education connecting supporting and inspiring music educators. In the show notes you’ll find links to Crescendo’s social media platforms. Please connect with me and be part of the Crescendo community. You might consider becoming a Crescendo member, for a low annual fee you can access hundreds of files worksheets, printables workbooks, repeat workshops and webinars and receive great discounts on events. So come and connect with me Debbie O’Shea. See you in the socials.


Just for Laughs

As we know laughter relieves stress. Don’t lose sight of the funny side of life.

You probably don’t know this about me but I have a pathological fear of two letter words.

I get terrified just thinking about ‘it’.


Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Grant Ward’s Website: Seize the Tune

Together Sing with Debbie

Where to find me:

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