Haytor View Early Years Music Project, Spring Term 2016 – Blog 8

Haytor View Early Years Music Project, Spring Term 2016 – Blog 8   23rd March 2016

This morning the Choral Engineers again came in for a session and we had a wonderful hour together with the Foundation stage, before I went on a picnic with six of the children, staff and mums.

The hour consisted of the new choral engineers song which was based on the children’s ideas from my last session at Haytor View, which was all bird-based. The new song has actions and is called ‘Flock’n’Roll’


Billions of bustling birds

Sparrows in their eyes

Billions of bustling birds

Chattering in the sky


Birds up

Birds down

Flock’n’roll flock’n’roll

Birds up

Birds down

Flock’n’roll flock’n’roll

Billions of bustling birds

Starlings sparkling free

Billions of bustling birds

Murmering in the trees

We sang it once, then got the children to join in with words and actions and then I asked who would like to come and join the choir and two-thirds of the group came over and joined the choir. We then spent the rest of the morning all together, a big family band, choir, singing, making up dances, playing instruments, putting boxes on our heads and more. There was real engagement, smiles and sharing.

Our walk and picnic was not very musical, even though one of the original suggestions from ‘A’ was that we could go on a musical tour to all the houses and perform a concert, but when it came to it, the young children had other things to focus on, and so our conversations and enjoyment of the outside together was quite enough..

We were following the leads of the children and they took us to their houses, they directed us, even when it felt as if we might not be going the most logical route! We collected mums and siblings and chatted with grandparents as we went. In the park we sat together, played on the swings and climbing frames and had an easter egg hunt. It felt as if we were beating the bounds and exploring their environment in their way. They really did not want to leave and several wanted to return to their homes on the way back to school.


There was one musical moment with a three year old sibling. I had my guitar with me and had sung an improvised picnic song as we ate together. But it was not taken up in any way, and so the song fell asleep in the grass. I went hunting eggs with the children and then noticed that one younger brother had sat on my guitar and was playing it. He was exploring the strings and singing. We played a game together sliding fingers up the string and tickling each other and then he began putting daisies into the guitar (I think they are still there). This felt an appropriate way to end the term and to begin easter, with a guitar full of daisies.


Looking for the Unexpected – Creativity and Innovation in Music Education

Looking for the Unexpected – Creativity and Innovation in Music Education – the 24th EAS (European Association of Music in Schools) conference 16-20 March 2016, Vilnius

Hugh Nankivell – BSO Associate

Four great days of debates, workshops, concerts, papers, dancing and much more. What have I come away with, and how do I respond to it?  Did any of us find the unexpected? I am not sure that I did, but did feel that I had some of my approaches confirmed and validated, and some of my prejudices amplified and ascertained at the same time as being confronted with new philosophies, different nationalities approaching the same dilemma in a different way and new ideas about how to think of the world. This balance of newness and comfort felt good to me.

There was quite an element of the conference on the importance of teaching as reciprocal. As music leaders we should both lead and follow and can learn from our students as we teach them. All three keynote speakers talked about the importance of music leaders as flexible and responsive beings. Pam Burnard spoke of the key to learning being a combination of enjoyment, autonomy and risk-taking, Gintautas Mazeikis quoted from Adorno on how ‘total organisation negates spontaneity’ and Magne Espeland related to us the importance of the teacher as an improvisor and not a bureaucrat. I was really glad in this context to be giving a BSO supported presentation about the value of an early years music class which moves from adult-led to child-led and then back again.

So did we listen to the voices of young people at the conference, or did we just hear them performing? There were many wonderful voices and groups of Lithuanian singers aged from about nine up to early twenties and they performed traditional, classical, jazz and original music at many concerts throughout the conference. While these performances were all gloriously tuneful, enjoyable and undeniably musical it was (mostly) hard to tell much about how or whether the young people had any creativity or control over decision-making.

There was also debate about what creativity (or creativities) now means. One Norwegian music educationalist explained to me how in the past creativity in music essentially meant composing, and while that was limited and exclusive, it was clear. If you composed you were being musically creative. Now it is claimed that creativity is be found in all musical activities and has therefore become meaningless.

However, we did have the opportunity to listen each morning to a short concert of original music by three teenage composers and, by both the old and the new definitions, we could say that we were witnessing creativity in music education. I was struck by something in all three concerts and my responses to these small moments, probably had most impact on me at the conference.

Each concert was at 8.40 in the morning and scheduled to last for ten minutes and then there were ten minutes for unpacking and questioning these nascent composers (and their fellow performers) about the music. The keynote speeches each day began at 9am, immmediately after the young people’s concerts.

Each day at 8.40 there were very few people in the concert hall – between ten and twenty, but by the keynote speech there were always well over a hundred in the room. So statistically it is clear that the young people’s voices were not being listened to compared to the adults. Also, this meant that as the students were taking questions on their work there was lots of noise as folks shuffled into the hall, often talking as they did so, apparently unaware that they were impinging on a concert and post-concert discussion, even though it was clearly stated in the programme. At each of the three events there were important moments and most of the adults present missed out on these potential revelations.

The first morning Simas Sakenis (aged 16) played one solo romantic piano piece and performed another more developed duet with a ‘cellist. Afterwards he was asked about what makes a good teacher. He gave a very revealing answer in perfect English. Simas explained that ‘the hardest part of being a teacher is to let the student do what he wants and at the same time to help to lead him. And if they can find that balance they will be doing their job.’ This felt a very mature response, and yet he said this in a hall that was not listening to him. We need to know when to follow and support when to lead and direct, and this was told to us from a young musician at the start of his career.

On the second morning Liucile Vilimaite played a solo harp piece and then a duet with a violinist. At the end she was asked about the first note in the duet piece, a long quiet bowed note on the violin. Her response was ‘yes I have been thinking about death recently’. The way in which she so confidently told us this was a useful reminder to me that all of us can respond to many different things in many different ways. As Magne Espeland told us (I think he expected us to already know about this acronym, and I certainly didn’t) about VUCA – the current climate that we live in and that we must (as teachers) be aware of. VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic and Ambiguous. He is right (and perhaps we have always lived in a VUCA world) and to attempt to wash away the difficulties is really damaging. We need to confront our problems and I thought that Liucile stating this so clearly was wonderfully assertive about her place in a society. Young people know what inspires and provokes them and must be supported in responding to those impulses, even when they are painful or difficult.

On the final morning there was another pianist, Beatrice Ganceviciute who played a solo piece and then had a quartet perform her composition based on a Lithuanian folk melody for violin, ‘cello, piano and voice. Their performance was really excellent, very together and beautifully played. After the concert and the brief Q and A, the Keynote speech was introduced with the words: ‘and so we begin the final morning with the keynote speech.’ No We Do Not! I wanted to shout – the final morning began with a concert twenty minutes ago at which very few people were listening to the voices of young people. How in a conference devoted to creativity and the unexpected could we so clearly put our hands over our ears and ignore  the creativity of young people.

Young people hold the secrets of the future of music (and indeed many other futures) and this is just one of many reasons why it is really important that we listen to them. There are many concerns that current education stifles creativity, and yet I think we can overcome this (and be optimistic – as we were encouraged to be on several occasions at the conference) if we retain our own curiosity in how things work, even if this means being subversive at times.

Thanks to Ruta Girdzijauskiene, the conference organiser for convening such a diverse event and, in particular, for praising all of us early birds at the 8.40 concerts as the ‘hardcore’ delegates. I don’t think we were – as what difference is there really in being in at 8.40am as opposed to 9am? I think we were the curious ones.



Babigloo Blog

Sam Mason, one of our Associates for Wessex, is actively involved in Babigloo, a sensory theatre show for babies and toddlers aged 0-15 months. Babigloo is an 18 month long research project looking at news ways of presenting music for babies in partnership with the BSO, JAM and SAMP, Portugal.

This past week I have had the pleasure of collaborating, exchanging and developing ideas with a truly inspiring team of Portuguese musicians and dancers, led by the wonderful professor Paulo Lameiro, a leading expert in developing musical learning experiences and concerts with babies.

We had joined together with the rest of the Babigloo team, a fantastic creative mix of theatre producer, director, actors and wordsmith, to explore specific methods of working with babies from 0 – 12 months and to start developing our ideas for a new musical performance for babies “Babigloo”. This is a joint collaboration between Jam Jar Theatre Co and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra participation department.

We spent two days based in the Lyric Theatre in Bridport, discussing methods, exploring creative starting points and learning from the wealth of experience our Portuguese friends so generously imparted with us.

We discussed how babies react to sound within the womb and how their understanding of pitch and intonation develops not only from the voice of the mother but also from the rhythm of the heart beat and the manner of the movement of her body. We looked at the practical needs of running a music session with babies. Actually you need to do a lot of exercises with 1 hand as the other is holding a baby! Which instruments and sonorities worked best with babies and which musical styles were more effective in their learning and responses.

In a way it felt like going back to square one. There were so many aspects to consider and when you actually thought about how a baby listens, learns and reacts to sound it made me really re- question and think about how I teach music to all ages. It was going back to the beginning – literally!

babigloo team

The Babigloo Team (Photo: Sam Mason)

So, we had two days to explore these theories and to create some ideas for a hands on practical session on Friday. We had set ourselves a deadline to produce and run a workshop for babies at the Rossmore learning Centre, where we would present two sessions to two different groups of mothers and babies.  I can honestly say I was very nervous. I had so many questions in my head at the start of this session. How would the babies react to the session and how would the parents react? Would the mothers feel comfortable in the session, would they trust us, would they let us hold their babies, would they all join in?

Our session was a mixture of key pitch related vocal sounds, combined with improvisation taking it’s lead from sounds the babies made within the session and live or recorded musical repertoire.

The reactions to the session from all the participants was fantastic. The babies were so engaged, their huge eyes, following your every move, their physical movements reacting to the different sounds, and the mothers seeming genuinely touched and intrigued at how engaged the babies were. There was a real sense of trust, calm and enjoyment in the room as we witnessed the interaction of these little people to the sounds and sights of the session.

I have to say I feel I have been deeply touched by the whole experience. I very much enjoy working with early years, but had never worked with children below 12 months. To have had the opportunity to go back to the basics of communication and learning: sound, movement, inflection, intonation and touch, backed with a wealth of experience and pedagogy was fantastic. I very much look forward to exploring this area further and developing and extending our ideas for music making with early years with the “Babigloo” team and players from the orchestra.

Haytor View Early Years Music Project, Spring Term 2016 – Blog 7

Haytor View Early Years Music Project, Spring Term 2016 – Blog 7

March 2nd 2016

Such a wonderfully coherent session today which just flowed and flowed. We had nine children who stayed with the provocation and the process through dancing, song-making, instrument playing, sonic exploring, drawing, looking for birds at the bottom of the field and performing.

What was unusual was the way that, as the provocation led seamlessly into the exploration and then into a number of different sharings, the group stayed together for the whole time – nearly two hours. Usually some of them spin off into other activities, but this group remained having fun and focus.

I was interested in dance and pictures as a way of remembering and relating to a song (can a dance or a picture be a ‘score’ for a song?) as this had come up in the last few weeks. So I asked Hugh (the ceilidh dance caller who came a few weeks ago) if he would like to come and join me again. he was up for it and we were greeted very warmly by the class. ‘A’ in particular is really fond of Hugh. He relates to his movement and copies and works really closely with him. Is this because he loves movement and feels really comfortable doing that, or because when Hugh came in before and we had parents there, Hugh spent quite a bit of time with Aaron and his family?

The process today was that we:

  1. Danced a circle dance as I played (on accordion) the music for ‘This Is Our New School’
  2. Made a new dance for ‘The Rain Comes Down’ song while we sang it.
  3. Created (at ‘M’’s suggestion) a new song called ‘The Birdie’s Are Whistling’
  4. Adding a new line each time with movements and sound effects
  5. Then introducing instruments.
  6. Playing the instruments (with ‘The Birdie…’ song).
  7. Drawing on large paper images from ‘The Birdie Song…’
  8. Performing it for ourselves with the pictures.
  9. Saying goodbye to Hugh who had to go to the doctors.
  10. Putting wellies and coats and hats on and going outside and down to the bottom of the field in very strong wind (taking different coloured streamers with us) to where the starlings and the sparrows were singing.
  11. Back in the class sharing our song and pictures for the rest of the group.


The birdies are whistling    (whistle)
The birdies are eating        (munching)  leaves
The birdies are sleeping in their tree house (go to sleep)
The birdies are counting    (12345)
And when it is raining they get their umbrellas (put up imaginary umbrellas)
The birdies go shopping for some
milk… pizza… pears… oranges… chocolate cake… and instruments (get them out)

There was more to the song but once we had got the instruments out the whole nature of the play changed. It became about rhythm and sharing and noises and sounds.

FullSizeRender (2)

One girl really led the group today. As I had the accordion (which is powered by wind) we talked about listening to the wind and she said very early on ‘and the birdies’. After we had played our first song and we were talking about songs she said ‘even a birdie one’, and when we were about to do an adult led song (the third one) she again requested a birdie song, so we then spent the rest of the afternoon on this process. ‘M’ felt a real sense of ownership and several times said ‘that’s my song’. Not in a way that implied she could not share it, but in a way that was crediting herself and being proud.

Two examples that I noticed of her owning the piece that – in another person’s hands – could have been perceived as confrontational. We had just got the instruments out and had been playing for a few minutes. ‘M’ was swapping an instrument in the instrument box and meanwhile the group, sitting in a circle behind her, had decided that the next line of the song should be ‘the birdies read them books about the stories’. ‘M’ was focusing on the instrument box and so missed this bit of the process. When she came back to the group she realised that we had progressed the song in her absence and said ‘hey that’s my song’. She needed to say this and was very happy that we had added to it, but just wanted (I think) to acknowledge that it had been her inspiration. She needed this confidence and we could give it to her, supporting the fact that she initiated it, but it was now a group song. She seemed completely happy with that outcome.


Again at the end of the afternoon, when we were back in the classroom and sharing the song with others who had not been involved in the creative process, ‘M was the last to join us, and I explained that we would be singing ‘The Birdies are Whistling’ and again ‘M’ looked at me and said ‘that’s my song’ and I again affirmed that it was her song and it was our song. She again seemed happy to be sharing it.

Wonderful to go outside on a wild and stormy day with boots and coats to the bottom of the field. The children went wild and most of them didn’t really notice the birds. But I really enjoyed going down to a bit of the grounds I haven’t previously been and to share the real gale blowing through our heads.

Today it was great to have a bit of time with the two class teachers afterwards sharing thoughts and looking back at the film of the session together. We learn so much more when we can have this time to look and share and contrast our thinking in a mutual way.

Gloucestershire Strings Project – Finale

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra worked with a range of partners in Gloucestershire on an exciting strings project that saw 180 young string players aged between 7 and 21 rehearsing and performing Fiddler’s Hill by professional composer and violinist Jeff Moore. Jeff has written his thoughts of the concert day.

The big day’s finally arrived, and I arrive at Cheltenham Town Hall expecting chaos. There were 172 children at yesterday’s rehearsal, and the logistics of getting them all registered, tuned up and seated with the right piece of music in front of them are just too immense to contemplate. I hadn’t taken into account the immense organisational skills of Caz, the BSO’s Participation Programme Manager, along with Glyn, Jon, and the rest of the Gloucestershire team. All the chairs are set up and marked, and everyone’s ready to go in record time. We’re making music within minutes. And what a fantastic sound it is! We’ve finally got our BSO musicians alongside the young players, and the difference they make is huge. My music is designed specially for a mixture of different levels of ability, and it only really takes shape when they all join together. The set-up is unusual: we’ve got the older children and the BSO players on the stage, and all the smaller ones behind me on the floor of the Town Hall. It involves 360 degree conducting, and the sound is indescribable! Few other composers ever get to hear their music in glorious surround sound, as I am right now! But now, down to the nitty gritty of rehearsal: things to tidy up, rough corners to be smoothed, and ensemble to improve. No mean feat with an orchestra of nearly 200! But I can tell it’s going to work, and I can relax and enjoy the experience when we get to perform it in the afternoon.


So, a very quick lunch and we’re on! Jon’s Celtic Fantasia sounds gorgeous, and there are big smiles all round from audience and players when it gets to the fast folky stuff, complete with foot stamping. Then it’s my turn, starting with a bit of public speaking (thanking various people and introducing the different elements of the orchestra), always the most nerve wracking bit for me. And now it’s here, the chance to show our audience what we’ve been working towards for all this time. I know that it might sound immodest as I wrote the piece in question, but I think that it sounds glorious. The opening for the professionals is full of atmosphere, and when the children enter with the folky tunes, the energy is electrifying. I’m riding high as we reach the soaring climax and the music brings us gently back to earth before the final flurry of the coda. I always find large orchestras and choirs exhilarating, and often find the sensation of large groups of people singing or playing together for a common goal an emotional experience. This is definitely no exception and I’m utterly overwhelmed by the end. Everyone seems happy and so am I, but I’m also sad that it’s over. Some children and their parents thank me afterwards and tell me how much they enjoyed it, which means a lot to me, and as they all bustle out of the hall I want to do it all again. Time to get planning for the next piece!

Supported by Make Music Gloucestershire