Haytor View Early Years Music Project, Autumn Term 2015 – Blog 5

Haytor View Early Years Music Project with BSO Devon Associate Hugh Nankivell
Wednesday 21st October 12.20-3.15pm

Today was the last session before half term and the school had arranged a concert for 2.30 for the Foundation Stage children to perform their songs. All of the children, except for three had parents/family come  along and they were very positive.

So what did I learn today?

That the children felt supported in the concert by me, and that it is completely ok for me to be playing alongside them on the stage. This supports them, makes them feel good about being a musician and gives them confidence to carry on being creative.

I had a very good conversation with the class teacher during the week and she persuaded me that at this stage the children need affirmation and support, and me singing the words, playing the harmonies, being in the space with them is completely ok and positive and that this is good modelling for them.

What else did I learn today?

That things can change at any stage. One girl suggested, just before we went into the dining hall, that before doing a concert we have to have a warm-up. And so I invited her to lead a warm up. And she did.

I also learned that the provocation from the week earlier of us wearing bat and owl head-dresses was very influential and all the children came dressed as bats or owls today. They looked wonderful. This reminds me that the nature of the provocation can be very powerful. The way you set up. The songs you sing. The instruments you play, the clothes you wear and much more.

Todays session reinforced for me that the longer you work with a group in a setting, the more you can become part of that community and, if your eyes and ears are open then the more you understand about it and the more that you can fully engage with it: – observing children and families in and around the shops down the road as I buy my lunch; talking to parents as they drop off and pick up their offspring; meeting someone working in public health who told me what he knew about the area; noticing when a child suddenly starts to talk after several months of being silent in the classroom; seeing the changes in the seasons as it changes within and without the school; getting to know the staff and the way they work and interact with the children; meeting a governor and a friend of the school; talking to the cleaners while they are tidying up and I am writing up and much more. I get to feel I am a part of that community.

Of course there is value in one-off sessions, and I often lead them in various setting, but at Haytor View, having tried to plan a project here for two years and now having been here for a term and a half, I feel as if I am just starting to get to know what is possible, what support I can get and how the project might emerge.


Music for a While – Blog 6

Music for a While BLOG
BSO Associate – Neil Valentine
Entry 6, 20/10/15

Music for a While – A session in a While…

During set up today I was approached by one of the specialist nurses who has been particularly enjoying the music sessions. One of the patients who had enjoyed a previous session didn’t want to come this week to the group. So I decided to take the music to him. This patient is a classical music fan, and although his speech is hard to understand and he has a dementia diagnosis he made it very clear he enjoys music.

After a whistle stop tour of Radetzky March, some of Bach’s Cello Suite no. 3 and Rondo all Turca he told me his favourite composer is Chopin (not quite ideal for solo viola, but a project to think about…) and clearly said ‘Thank you for the Music, I enjoyed it’.

He still wasn’t interested in the group however. The nurse suggested that it was the collaborative nature that he struggled with. He likes performance of music, being performed to but struggled with the group percussion and the ‘noise’ that comes with this. Which is fine, not everything is for everyone, but I hope that I will be able to persuade him to come down again, perhaps with some Chopin…

On returning to the group room patients were arriving and my normal method is to play music in the background whilst arrivals continue and tea and biscuits are served. This is always a crucial part, as I try to gauge who is in the room. I meet the patients and check in with the staff and hope I can get a sense of who and where we are together. I play a variety of repertoire and see the reactions.

The start was a little delayed so I decided to pass round some of our laminated lyric sheets. After a nice rendition of My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean (a Music for a While classic) and Skye Boat Song we were ready to officially begin.

We are sat around a large table with tea in china cups and open packs of biscuits, patients either sat in wheelchairs or transferred to regular chairs, nurses, a couple of volunteers, all surrounded by mobility equipment that is used on the wards.

We begin with the hello song, I strum this on my viola and sing hello to each person. It gradually catches on as the words are learnt through repetition. We are all singing and every time we sing to the next person a smile greets us. This is a very common reaction. Patients who are seemingly elsewhere or unengaged suddenly light up and focus in on the singing and their name. It is a way into their reality and also being sung to is just very nice.

I then like to pass a selection of instruments around the circle from one to another, giving time and space to try out some sounds. Returning patients know what is coming and you might think that varying the start would be useful, but this is such a ice breaking exercise that I stick with it. One lady says ‘I know this, it’s a shaker’. It allows someone to try it out, much like you would different colours if you were painting and get to grips with making some sounds. It is amazing how much patience is shown and space given with encouragement and appreciation shown amongst the participants. Shakers, drums, chime bars, wood blocks, bells all feature and all present different challenges. This also gives me a chance to see who gravitates to which instruments and who has particular physical challenges that may suit a shaker or a drum.

Whilst trying out chime bars, a lady said ‘This sounds like Do-Re-Mi’ and starts singing the famous song. It was fortunate as I had a lyric sheet for that song, which was a great connection. Its these kind of connections that can really validate someone, give them confidence and feel like they have contributed. This is a long song, but all we are really interested in is singing ‘Doe, a deer, a female deer….’ etc. I add in the intro just for context, then we sing around then chorus a few times. Smiles and laughter.

Then we are back to instruments and a game called ‘Start/Stop’. It is as it sounds, someone says ‘Start’ and we all start, sometimes they count in too to give a speed, and then when they feel like they place their hands up and say ‘Stop’ as clear as they can. I try to facilitate rhythmic and melodic playing, hopefully supported by someone who has a strong rhythmic sense on a drum which then can drive the music.

It is amazing how quickly the group catch on to this. This applies to those with varying degrees of dementia and confusion. Music starting and stopping is very clear and deliberate. Strongly rhythmical music seems to build around and inside the group. Whether playing in time or not, participants become part of what is happening, and then when we stop suddenly, the change is unmistakable. Eyes lift up, gazes look round, smiles are exchanged, we did something together! There are lots of looks to me seemingly saying ‘was that ok?’. Of course it was, it always is ok, better than ok in fact, it was perfect.

This time we passed the conductors baton around as a symbol of power. Just a symbol really as to most people a baton is a mythical thing that men with white hair and a serious face wave around whilst wearing a black suit and facing the wrong way. But to some it meant a symbol of responsibility, which is enough.

Before reprising the Hello Song as a Thank you Song we had a go at ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’, which is great fun all round, especially when instruments are added.

Closing a session with the same format and melody as the start, I find, bookends the session nicely, brings us to a familiar point that is always a nice place to end. I then played some more music as the group dispersed, with the amazingly enthusiastic staff taking them back with smiles and in good humour.

I have been asked to play Chopin twice this week so that is my next challenge. Watch this space.

Cornwall Careers Fair 2015

On Wednesday 14th and Thursday 15th October, I represented the BSO at the Cornwall Careers Fair, held at the Royal Cornwall Showground, Wadebridge.

The event was open to students from across the county aged 14-25, giving them an opportunity to explore possible career paths within Cornwall and further afield.

In conjunction with Cornwall Music Education Hub and Philharmonias’ iOrchestra project, the BSO attended the fair to promote careers within music and the orchestral world, with an emphasis on ‘Behind the Scenes’ roles, i.e. not performing.

Our vibrant stand at the fair including interactive career flow chart

Our vibrant stand at the fair including interactive career flow chart

Over two days, around 4000 students attended.

I spent time talking with hundreds of students, many of which had no idea what career path they were going to choose. Many had a general interest in music and for those who were keen to follow a career in arts, it provided me with a great opportunity to explain that behind every great arts organisation, there is a host of people in all types of jobs!

For me, the most satisfying part of the two-day fair was talking to a student who was passionate about music and classical music in particular. Shortly after our conversation began, she said that her ‘dream would never come true’. When asked what her dream was, she said she wanted to work within music but she wasn’t a good enough musician. When I explained that she could do many things other than perform, her eyes lit up as I had introduced her to a world that she had previously unheard of.

It was great to think that I might have planted a tiny seed that would grow into her future career.

BSO volunteer Louise Corderoy

Haytor View Early Years Music Project, Autumn Term 2015 – Blog 4

Haytor View Early Years Music Project with BSO Devon Associate Hugh Nankivell
Wednesday 14th October 12.20-3.15pm

‘Story-Squares’ and ‘Instant-Songs’

There is a valuable early-years process known as ‘story-square’ which I have engaged with over the last 5 years or so. This happens when a young person tells a story to an adult who transcribes it verbatim onto paper. This takes place during the free-play/exploration part of a session. Later, during the ‘sharing’ the adult who has transcribed that story might tell the story again. This time, the girl or boy who originally told the story might select some other children to be ‘actors’ in his/her story and they enter a taped off ‘story-square’ when their character is mentioned as the adult reads the story and they ‘act’ out the part. In this way the unabridged stories of the child are given a wider significance and everyone values that child’s voice through this playful process. Children at Foundation Stage – are often beginning to start to write and to read and the ‘story-square’ process for many can be a motivation to notate their own stories as well as developing many, many other facets of their development. They see the model of the teacher writing the words down and they begin to emulate this and this can be a wonderful encouragement to first steps towards reading and writing.

What is the equivalent in music? I am often engaged in ‘instant-songs’ with many, and various groups, and today at Haytor View I was partly responsible for several new collaborative songs that emerged rapidly after a performance provocation. The provocation was a short concert featuring songs involving bats and owls and the resultant songs all featured animals.

Words and drawing for 'Puppy Crossing The Road With The Police' by 'R' and Hugh

Words and drawing for ‘Puppy Crossing The Road With The Police’ by ‘R’ and Hugh

Here is one song created by ‘R’ as I transcribed it.

Puppy Crossing The Road With The Police

The puppy crosses the road
He’s on a lead
He sees a cat
The cat runs away
And then a policeman came
With a police dog
Then a bat and a owl came
The dog chased the cat
The cat chased the bat
And the bat chased the owl

I wrote the words on the top of the page as ‘R’ spoke them and as I wrote them down, he asked for a pencil and simultaneously drew a map/picture of the story on the same page (see accompanying photo). As he spoke the words I sang them back to him. (We had already discussed the fact that we were going to make up a song as we neeeded songs if we were going to make a concert.) We then played it together a few times on ukulele and percussion. Each time we got to the last three lines ‘R’ would join in, but otherwise I sang the song, while we both played along. In the ‘sharing’ at the end of the afternoon, we performed it as a duet, but again I did the singing. I also sang one other song created with the children and Steve (adult musician/colleague who worked with me today) also sang two songs that emerged through his playing with the children today.

We support the young children and co-present their songs in a semi-public setting (often in front of parents) and this is can be a very positive and powerful event, as in ‘story-square’. The children are being supported and their creative ideas are validated by adults and this is seen and understood by their peers and others in the audience. One noticeable and key difference between ‘story-square’ and ‘instant-songs’ is that the adult does not enter the performance area (the taped-off square) in story-square, and yet in ‘instant-songs’ the adult is also on the ‘stage’ with the children.

I wonder whether this ‘instant-songs’ process is empowering children to create songs for themselves.

We (the adults) remember the songs because we write them down, and our repeated seeing of them on the page, reinforces that for us, but the children speak the words once and thereafter hear someone else performing them. In this instance we, the adults, hold the power of the words and also – certainly in my case – the power of the accompanying harmonic material. Yesterday I was playing the guitar and chords that I understand (E minor and A for instance yesterday in ‘Bats Can Fly’ another song that emerged) whereas the children – if they are also playing chordal instruments – are usually improvising and not playing the same harmonic part as me (although rhythmically they might well be playing a similar part to mine). I am aware that my guitar can be a stronger instrument than a uke played by a child and so my chords support my voice and the accompanying improvising can be heard as a kind of enjoyable background noise to the song.

So, my question is – what can we do as the next stage to encourage the young people to take further ownership of the songs? Or is the ‘instant-songs’ model as detailed above the wrong model to be encouraging them to:

  • be the lead singers of the ‘instant-songs’ they just made up?
  • be lead singers of future songs they make?
  • create songs on their own?
  • write/notate songs or work out accompaniments and develop arrangement skills?
  • play repeatable harmonic accompaniments?

Is the ‘instant-songs’ process I have described in fact actually a disabling one in that we, as musically literate and competent adults, are always seen as the people who have control over the arrangement, dissemination and overall sound of that music?

Music for a While – Blog 5

Music for a While BLOG
BSO Associate – Neil Valentine
Entry 5, 15/10/15

BSO Associate Neil Valentine is working acute older peoples wards in Poole, Portsmouth and Hampshire Hospitals. He will be visiting the each ward once a week for 6 months.This is a collection of his thoughts, feelings, impressions and experiences.

Music and Delirium

This post recounts the most intense experience of Music for a While so far.

I was in the day room working with a couple of patients, we had a nice time, some fun singing and exploring of instruments. Smiles were around and eyes brightening up.

They went back to their beds and I entered the ward to play to a few gentlemen who were unable to make the trip to our session. This was lots of fun, one patient was singing and clapping along, the others smiling and enjoying. I had been warned that one particular gentleman was a little unsettled and to be aware of this. My colleague from the BSO, who was there to observe, sat with him, and had a great time laughing and joking.

I was then asked to play from outside a side room to a particularly distressed patient. This lady had come in for a fall, but in hospital had developed some severe delusion and paranoia, probably related to an infection.

Her speech was full of fear and anxiety. Determined to tell us about a disaster that was happening for her. Words were repeated as she tried to convey her distress. She had flooded the room and all her bedding needed changing, but this was nigh on impossible due to her distress.

I decided that playing from outside the room made me (and probably her) feel like I was just watching her, peeking in rather than trying to be present and to engage. So I went in and for the next 45 minutes I played non-stop, her own private concert so to speak.

During this time she focused on me and whilst I played she tried to tell me about the disaster that was her reality. Whilst focused on me, the amazing nursing staff were able to change her bedding, clear up the water and get her into bed.

I played my full repertoire of relaxing and calming melodies and songs, all aimed at bringing the level of anxiety down. I brought the volume and intensity down, thinned out my tone but kept up the sense of emotion through vibrato and expressive phrasing.

The dementia specialist nurse sat with her, stroked her hair as I played. Occasionally she sat up, distressed, but then lay down again. She was made comfortable and began to speak with less distress, quieter and calmer.

It was quite an experience for me. Determined to play constantly, smoothly, beautifully, no shocks or sudden changes, just calm and sustained. A bed of sound that had the possibility to help her calm down and feel safe. It had the added bonus of masking sounds from the ward, many of which can be intrusive. Trolleys clashing, doctors and nurses talking about patients, drugs being administered, other patients talking or shouting. The music created a sound buffer for her in the room, allowing the room to be protected, door almost closed, light off and sounds not penetrating from outside.

There got to a point when the lights were off that she would open her eyes, look around and see me. When she saw me she had something to focus on and the distress increased. When this happened I realised that what she needed was to be able to sleep, not more music. It had reached the point where her delusion had been calmed and reduced, and a person standing in her room (playing beautifully or not) would now be a focus for this delusion and anxiety.

So I slipped out of the room.

Later I was told she had slept well and had a much calmer night.

This is the first time I have experienced someone with such a vivid expression of an alternate reality to my own. Yes we all see our own version of the world, and in the wards I have met many patients who are confused or unsure about their reality. But not to this level.

On my way out a Junior Doctor thanked me saying “that was magic”.

No hocus-pocus I’m afraid but it certainly put my recent whinging about a sore wisdom tooth in perspective.

Neil Valentine
BSO Associate

Exploring creative music at Westfield Arts College, Weymouth

DSC_0023 (Small)Fun, Fun, Fun are the only words to describe a recent visit to Westfield Arts College in Weymouth!

Accompanied by the fantastic duo of BSO Percussionist Peadar Townsend and French Horn player Rob Harris, BSO Associate Sam Mason led a creative music making session with pupils from Westfield Arts College where they explored their voices, instruments and dancing skills, creating a fantastic new song.

Pupils had a masterclass from both Peadar and Rob in how sound is produced and how to play the various classroom percussion instruments and all these skills were put to great use when composing a brand new piece about a rather happy, dancing jungle beast!

We had such a great time at Westfield Arts College and the chocolate cake at tea time was to die for!

Thank you Westfield for your fantastic hospitality and your amazing talent and smiles. We look forward to visiting again soon

Haytor View Early Years Music Project, Autumn Term 2015 – Blog 3

Haytor View Early Years Music Project with BSO Devon Associate Hugh Nankivell
Wednesday 7th October 12.20-3.15pm

The work I am trying to explore with early years has a pattern which I am really enjoying developing and exploring. In the class session there are three stages to that:

Provocation. What is the starting point for the session? How do I initiate proceedings? This is usually in a semi-formal setting, perhaps we are sitting in a circle listening to an instrument or singing a new song or looking at a film… The provocation might be as short as 5 minutes or as long as 40 minutes.

Exploration. Immediately after the provocation – what is the response of the group and how do they take any of the ideas that emerge from the provocation and run with them. This is informal, the children are exploring in their own time and their own way, individually or in groups. At this stage it is my role to observe, and support, to follow and to play with them. Much of this time might not be music-making. This session can be between 45 and 100 minutes.

Sharing – to share with the group anything that has emerged during the exploration time, usually by asking the children to come and perform. Again this is in a formal/semi-formal setting, sitting in a circle together, or all facing a ‘stage’ area for instance. This normally lasts between 5 and 20 minutes, depending on the shape of the session and the amount of material wanting to be shared.

The fourth stage of the session is my challenge – to choose a provocation for the following week. This could be me looking through film of the explorations and choosing something to show them back about their behaviour/performance, or it could be me composing a song for them based on something they did, or it could be me bringing something in (a metronome, a music-stand, a viola…) or many other starting points.

The photo is of a leaf with the song lyrics on - when we were collecting leaves and making up the stage we had no paper to hand, so wrote on a leaf

The photo is of a leaf with the song lyrics on – when we were collecting leaves and making up the stage we had no paper to hand, so wrote on a leaf

A key thing for me is monitoring my own behaviour. I need to be clear at the start with the provocation, but then very open and accepting and listening and observing throughout the exploration. I then need to assist in the sharing and then often the preparing or the planning or and thinking about the next provocation is really where my ‘work’ lies. I need to analyse what has gone on with the group, listen back to audio recordings, look at film footage, talk to other staff, look at notes I made and much more. This change from being clear to being open to assisting to preparing is really important to remember. The hardest part is the being open session, as I need to be following the learning paths of many children who might not be being involved in music-making.

Yesterday our provocation was a film of the group performing from the week before. We watched it and laughed and joined in.

One girl then took the lead in organising the group and the exploration then consisted of me following her, and one other boy, as they took us on a journey of ‘organising a concert’. This involved many things including: writing an invitation, drawing a map, trying things out with unsuspecting adults, having wild ideas, working indoors and outdoors, collecting flowers, sticks and leaves, making a stage, engaging in dialogue, travelling into the car park, finding the ukuleles, going in the lift and eventually (after about 75 minutes!) making up two songs. There was very little in the way of music-making in this session, but music and planning a concert had been the provocation and was in our minds throughout.

The sharing was back in the classroom telling the story of our journey and the two songs with the rest of the group.

So the two things that really occupy my mind now are:

  1. how do I feel about following a child’s journey when not much music is happening and wonderfing if my constant interventions (am I like a fly buzzing in her ear?) about music are annoying or helpful? – and
  2. what should be my provocation for next week – so that I take the learning on to another stage.