How & What?

What is a cranky?


Marji accompanies the Newport String Project crankie performance.

My friend and colleague Ealain McMullin at Newport String Project describes cranky art best. “For the uninitiated,” she says, “a cranky is a kind of scrolling picture show also known as a ‘moving panorama.’ Crankies have a fascinating history and variants can be found dating back to the 19th century. (New Bedford, Massachusetts is home to one of the most famous moving panoramas of all, ‘Grand Panorama of a Whaling voyage Around the World’, measuring a whopping 1275 feet!) Crankies are also enjoying a mini-renaissance in the folk music world thanks to Anna and Elizabeth – check out their Tiny Desk Concert here.”

What do crankies have to do with Bach?

Historically, cranky performances were accompanied by music, storytelling, or both. For these workshops, I choose to accompany not just the cranky performance, but the entire communal creation of the banner that becomes the cranky, with selections from J.S. Bach’s solo sonatas and partitas. Here’s why: last summer, I used movements of Bach’s C Major violin sonata as prompts for active listening at a workshop I gave in Mexico. I was thrilled by the vivid images, poems, memories and choreography that the music inspired in the listeners; however, I had come without a visible, tangible way to weave listeners’ responses together. This past winter, while preparing for another similar engagement, it dawned on me that a good ol’ cranky could serve very nicely as a tool for documentation and community-building. So far, so good!


The banner dries after the students at Newport String Project illustrated their “listening for colors” with watercolors.

Target participants

The Cranky Bach workshop is for groups of 5-30 people of any age or mix of ages, from preschoolers to adults. It is for:

  • a group searching for an exciting way to strengthen its bond as a community
  • a community that wants to expand its collective, creative voice
  • a group of people who want to learn to truly listen to each other
  • and/or, a community that desires a fresh entry point into classical music listening.

It can happen in classrooms, places of worship, clinics, prisons, after-school programs, community centers, offices, homes…this workshop is really for any group of people (the more diverse the merrier) in any gathering place with ample, quiet space!


A student at Welcome Project responds to music in colors and textures.


The workshop is 90-120 minutes long, and can be accomplished in one fell swoop or over the course of two sessions.


I come with all necessary art supplies and musical materials. The hosting organization/group is responsible for providing:

  • one or two support staff (depending on the size of group)
  • a quiet space ample enough for all participants to move their bodies widely and easily without collisions
  • open hearts and minds
  • and a snack for everybody to share at the end. 🙂

Acquire your own community crank!

Beginning this fall, after the workshop, I will leave a handmade crank with each group to use during my future visits, but also for the group to use to generate their own independent cranky projects! Check out the incredible directions Newport String Project’s crank has taken since my visit in December 2015.

Take a look at the Cranky Bach Workshop Outline!