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Artist in Residence: Cheryl L'Hirondelle

For the last three weeks, Canadian singer and sound artist Cheryl L’Hirondelle has been spending time at the Horniman as an artist in residence. Her work culminates tonight in a performance at the Roxy Bar and Screen at 
128–132 Borough High Street, London, SE1 1LB.

Cheryl has visited the Horniman several times over the last few weeks, focusing on gardens and musical instrument collection. As an artist with indigenous North American (Cree/Metis) and European ancestry, she’s been keen to identify instruments crafted by Native peoples in North America.

On one visit to the museum, she sang to drums and rattles in the Music Gallery and also examined items in the special studies collection, sharing her knowledge of musical and ceremonial practices with the Keeper of Instruments, Margaret Birley.

Since the early 1980s, Cheryl has created, performed and presented work in a variety of forms, including music, storytelling, performance art, theatre, video and net.art, at venues across Canada and beyond. She often follows a practice of indigenous ‘sonic mapping’, or singing land and objects as a way of locating herself in the environment.

"From the Sami Peoples of Scandinavia to the Aboriginal Peoples of Australia to Native Peoples of North America, we have used our voices to sing and engage and ground ourselves. By adding new and old technology and sharing the experience publicly, I am doing what my ancestors have always done by adapting and using materials as tools for survival." - Cheryl L'Hirondelle

Her visit is part of a research project running at Royal Holloway, University of London, led by theatre studies professor, Helen Gilbert. The project explores contemporary indigenous performance in different parts of the world and one of its aims is to make connections with museums in Europe that hold artifacts from indigenous communities elsewhere.

Cheryl’s work with us culminates today, 2 May, in a performance/presentation inspired by her encounter with the museum titled ‘Sing Land: SongMark and other Indigenous Illuminations’. The event begins at 8pm at the Roxy Bar and Screen at 
128–132 Borough High Street, London, SE1 1LB (next to Sainsbury’s) and will end with a walk to the south end of the Millennium Bridge and the raising of a tipi made of light beams.

Joining Cheryl for the performance is special guest Cree singer and storyteller Joseph Naytowhow. All welcome. Admission free.

This event is produced by the ‘Indigeneity in the Contemporary World’ project team and funded by the European Research Council.

Ethnomusicality with SELAN

Last year, South East London Arts Network (SELAN) member Phil Baird completed one of our community worker training days with fellow artist Carlo Keshishian. As a result, they devised a project for other SELAN members to take part in.

Here they report on the project and what it was like for the group working closely with the Horniman and our collections.


I enjoyed co-facilitating art and music workshops at the wondrous Horniman Museum, upon being summoned by fellow artist and friend Phil Baird.

Initially we had imagined basing the sessions at the Horniman's aquarium due to Phil and I's shared interest in the mysteries of ocean life and deep sea creatures. By the time our workshops came to fruition, however, it had all metamorphosed into another area we are both very much in tune with (pardon the pun), music and improvisation.


We entered the hands on base and quickly got the idea to set a rhythm going and made an amazing piece of improvised piece of music. One participant discovered an amazing gift for solo didgeridoo.

We began working with small pieces of paper and ink pens to draw the rhythms of different instruments such as the Irish Bodhran or African Djembe drum. Everyone created a way of capturing the sound on paper.

Carlo took on a Dr/Shaman role giving individual music treatments literal and metaphorical, each person laying down a track towards a group soundscape recording.

Everyone enjoyed these workshops so much, Phil managed to secure funding from Drake Music Connect and Collaborate to take the project further.  The group recorded the sounds of instruments in the handling collection to create a composition, and then created an animation to go with it.

The brilliant end result is entitled 'Ethnomusicality':

Thanks to everyone at SELAN – you are always a pleasure to work with!

At Home with Music gets ready to open

This week sees the launch of the Music Gallery's new display, At Home With Music.

A few weeks ago we shared a behind the scenes look at the new display being installed.

A lot has changed since then, and the new display cases are now home to an array of beautiful instruments.

At Home With Music will tell the story of the keyboard instruments we have invited into our homes over the centuries, as well as displaying a range of instruments and looking at how they produce such fantastic sounds.

Some of the largest keyboards will also be displayed outside the glass cases, allowing visitors to get even closer to some of their exquisite detail.

Some of the final steps toward the launch involve curator Mimi giving some of the Horniman staff a guided tour of new display.

The star of the display is a late 18th century English harpsichord by Jacob Kirckman. At the launch event, Composition Competition winners Adam Stafford and Tim Watts will have their pieces performed on the harpsichord, which has been painstakingly restored to playing condition.

At Home With Music will be open to the public from Thursday 30 January 2014. You can find it along the first wall of the Music Gallery, to the left as you enter.

At Home With Music

Mimi, our Deputy Keeper of Musical Instruments, explains some of the ideas that will be covered in our upcoming At Home With Music display.

Keyboard instruments form an integral and familiar part of our musical life, both past and present. Yet, of all the Horniman’s significant musical collections, keyboard instruments have been among the most under-represented in the Music Gallery.

At Home With Music will go some way towards redressing that imbalance, providing us with an opportunity to showcase some rare and exquisite examples from both our own and the V&A’s collections.

Each of the instruments in the new display has its own stories to tell.

Videos, drawings and explanations included in the display will get inside the instruments to show how they work.

But their design does not just display technical innovation. Style and decoration represent the artistic ideas of their creators, representing moments in the history of fashion and taste.

How people used keyboards, not only for private practice and tuition, but also in the rituals of courtship and status, can tell us more about past perceptions of love, marriage and social aspiration.

They can also represent social, political and even religious upheaval, acting as statement pieces for their owners and giving us an insight into contemporary minds.

The display will relay opinions and attitudes of those who knew the instruments and lived and played them. One of the instruments itself, a late 18th-century English harpsichord, has been restored to playing condition so that it can speak to us directly.

  • 1772 Jacob Kirckman Harpsichord, Once restored to a playable condition, this instrument will become a focus for lecture demonstrations, master-classes and concert performances.
    Once restored to a playable condition, this instrument will become a focus for lecture demonstrations, master-classes and concert performances.

At Home with Music will open to the public at the end of January 2014, as a free display in the Music Gallery.

Instrumental Photoshoots

Preparations are under way for the Horniman's new At Home With Music display to be added to the Music Gallery.

Moving some of the larger keyboard instruments into place offered the perfect opportunity to photograph each object to documentation standards. Horniman photographer Dani set up her studio in the performance space at the back of the music gallery and set to work.

Some instruments, such as this square piano had some special attention from the conservation team to get them looking their best for their photoshoot and new life on display.

Photographs taken for museum documentation purposes have strict quality guidelines. Each shot is examined closely to see it meets standards.

Sometimes getting just the right light in just the right places requires a bit of teamwork (and a large piece of Tyvek).

It's important to make sure the background is completely clear of even the tiniest specks.

Some of these instruments were extremely heavy and required specialist handling to get them in and out of the studio without damage.

It's not just a case of taking one shot; Dani takes multiple frames and later stitches them together to get the most detailed and true-to-life image. It's a lot of hard work, but the end result is a beautiful set of photographs showing each instrument from multiple angles.

Including some close-ups of the details.

And even some shots of the inner-workings.

These images will go into our object and image databases and will be available to anyone wishing to study the instruments in the future, as well as providing a valuable resource to the museum.

At Home With Music will be open from the end of Janurary 2014. Be sure to visit the Music Gallery and see some of these amazing instruments for yourself.

At Home with Music: Behind the Scenes

We've started work on our new display in our Music Gallery, which will be opening in January 2014.

The display will be called At Home with Music, and will feature keyboard instruments from the past five centuries that we have invited into our homes.

The display will feature rare and beautiful instruments from both the Horniman and the V&A collections, including all types of keyboard instruments: organs, harpsichords, virginals, spinets, pianos and clavichords.

At the moment, all the work is going on behind a hoarding (though you can get a glimpse through the other glass cases).

When the new display opens, it will greet visitors to the Music Gallery, running along the left hand side of the room.

At Home with Music will also see the introduction of live musical performances as a regular feature in the Horniman’s Music Gallery as we are restorating to playing condition a a fantastic example of a late 18th century English harpsichord by Jacob Kirckman, the most prolific harpsichord maker of his day.

  • 1772 Jacob Kirckman Harpsichord, Once restored to a playable condition, this instrument will become a focus for lecture demonstrations, master-classes and concert performances.
    Once restored to a playable condition, this instrument will become a focus for lecture demonstrations, master-classes and concert performances.

Some of these instruments are very large. The task of moving the is slow and steady, with the instruments carefully packed to keep them safe.

We're looking forward to seeing what our visitors think about this new display. Stay tuned over the next few month to see our progress.

Brazilian Capoeira at the Bandstand

This Summer we are celebrating Latin America through our Fiesta Latina programme. One of the first activities to do so is a Capoeira Workshop on Wednesday 31 July.

Capoeira originated in Brazil and is a combination of African and South American movement styles. It is a kind of martial art form that is sometimes called a game. In fact, people who practice Capoeira often call it 'playing' as really it is a demonstration of skill. Impact is avoided completely – a sign of being very skilful!

There is often a lot of music and singing as accompaniment. You can see an example of the main instrument, a berimbau, in our Music Gallery. It will be behind you if you are sitting at the furthest sound table.

Our very experienced capoeiristas will be giving you the chance to learn some traditional moves as well as showing off some of their own amazing leg sweeps and powerful lifts. This is a really great chance to try out a safe and physical art form that has spread all over the world from South America.

Why not come and play Capoeira with us in our beautiful gardens? The performance and workshop will be held at 1.30pm and again at 3.15pm on Wednesday 31 July - it's free, so just drop in at the Bandstand.

Florilegium Perform Bolivian Baroque at the Horniman

Next week the Horniman welcomes one of Britain's most outstanding period instrument ensembles for a performance in our Victorian Conservatory.

Florilegium, directed by Ashley Solomon, have given regular performances in some of the world’s most prestigious venues. They have a reputation for stylish and exciting interpretations, from intimate chamber to orchestral and choral repertoire.

  • Florilegium  , Photo by Amit Lennon
    , Photo by Amit Lennon

Since 2002 Ashley Solomon and Florilegium have been involved in promoting a unique archive of music from the Jesuit Mission churches in Bolivia. Each mission collected music for its worship, including masses and motets as well as instrumental and keyboard compositions.

The largest manuscript collection, in Concepcion, had 5,500 manuscripts. Some of this music was written in (and brought from) Europe, but mainly it comprised anonymous compositions, written by the local peoples.

The group's concert on the Horniman will feature a selection of this music, as part of our Latin-themed Summer Season.

Ashley Solomon will be playing the flute and recorder, Jean Paterson and Magdalena Loth-Hill play violinsJennifer Morsches plays the cello, and Terence Charlston the harpsichord.

To hear some of the music Florilegium will be playing at the Horniman, watch the video below or find out more about the Bolivian Baroque project on their website.

Be sure to book your tickets for next week's Florilegium Concert online.

Taming the Two-Slide Trombone

A delegation from the One Handed Musical Instrument Trust recently visited the Horniman Museum to examine a very unusual trombone. Classical Music Specialist Gavin Dixon contributed this guest blog to tell us how it went.

The One Handed Musical Instrument Trust (www.OHMI.org.uk) promotes the development of orchestral instruments that can be played with just one hand, and one trombone in the Horniman Museum's Collection has been adapted for just that purpose.

The instrument was invented by Eric McGavin, pictured above. McGavin was employed by Boosey & Hawkes from 1950 to 1970. He held a wide brief, overseeing the musical instrument museum at the company’s Edgware factory, playing an active part in instrument design, and leading a range of education programmes.

This double-slide trombone benefited from all these fields of expertise. Another instrument in the Horniman collection, a double-slide contrabass trombone was part of the Boosey & Hawkes collection that McGavin curated, and this may have provided an inspiration for his design.

The team assembled to examine the instrument included players, engineers and curators, and the morning was spent assessing McGavin’s solutions to the problems posed. The stand in the image above, which is probably a converted bassoon stand, does not survive, but from the photograph it is difficult to imagine how such an arrangement could be practical, given the forward and backward forces it would have to withstand.

Frank Myers, who is the Director of MERU, specialises in the design of equipment for use by disabled children. As soon as he saw the instrument he was coming up with his own ideas about how it could be harnessed and supported. So look out for his alternative design in the near future.

  • Experts assemble to examine the unsual instrument, Alison Balsom, Frank Myers, Stephen Hetherington (founder of OHMI) and Mimi Waitzman (Deputy Keeper of Musical Instruments at the Horniman)
    Alison Balsom, Frank Myers, Stephen Hetherington (founder of OHMI) and Mimi Waitzman (Deputy Keeper of Musical Instruments at the Horniman)

The trumpeter Alison Balsom was also present. She is an OHMI patron and has been advising on some of the brass instrument designs under consideration.

After our visitors had left, I couldn’t resist the chance to put the trombone through its paces. The 50-year-old slide was a bit creaky, and the double-slide arrangement only adds to the problem by increasing the resistance. Then there is the issue of the shortened slide positions. Anyway, excuses, excuses...I managed to get a tune out of it, just.

You can read more from Gavin on classical music and instruments at his blog, Orpheus Complex.

Horniman on the Small Screen

It seems the museum and gardens have been a popular choice for a spot a filming recently.

If you've kept your eyes peeled during several programmes in the last week, you might have seen some familiar sights.

CBBC's Totally Rubbish paid a visit to our Natural History Gallery, and left us something rather unusual in the conservatory!

  • Totally Rubbish, A new addition to our conservatory.
    A new addition to our conservatory.

In last week's Location, Location, Location, Kirstie and Phil brought along a couple looking for a new home for a look around our 'local landmark'.

  • Location, Location, Location, Home-hunters checking out the local area.
    Home-hunters checking out the local area.

And we loved seeing characters in drama Treacle Jr enjoying our Natural History Gallery and making use of our Music Gallery Hands On Space.

  • Treacle Jr, Characters from this drama make some music in our Hands On Space.
    Characters from this drama make some music in our Hands On Space.

Let us know if you have spotted the museum or our gardens anywhere on the small screen!

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