Workshops - In Schools
The ‘workshop-CV’ page gives an outline description of participatory music-making activity over many years so please read this first.
A listing of projects alone fails to give the unique flavour of each. So here are a few fuller descriptions of favourite projects. Please use these illustrations to imagine how practical work in music and other arts might evolve from the seed of an idea you may have for something exciting to take place in your school…….
FEN SOUNDSCAPE for BRITTEN SINFONIA AND HUNTINGDONSHIRE DISTRICT COUNCIL (2009-10)
(much of the following is extracted from Susan Potter’s evaluatory project report)
Jane worked on one strand of this project alongside composer, Mike Challis, and instrumentalists from the orchestra. She led workshops with 55 Year 2 children and some family members from Spinning Infants’ School in Ramsey to create both sounds and songs inspired by the local Great Fen. To stimulate their thinking, the children visited Woodwalton Fen where they learned about the plants and creatures living there. The children listened to and were helped to record the sounds around them which included birds singing, insects buzzing, reeds rustling, a faraway tractor, a bird scarer, a plane overhead and their overall favourite sound – squelching through the mud!
Slosh! Swish! Slosh! Swish!
You can slosh in the mud and swish in the grass.
And listen to the birds twittering in the trees,
And the wind in the branches fluttering the leaves
In subsequent workshops the children referred to their recordings in order to recreate some of the sounds they had heard using a range of both familiar and unfamiliar instruments. A number of the Year 2 children, along with siblings and family members, then wrote songs inspired by the Fen landscape in workshops that took place after-school and holiday family music workshops. Four songs in particular were brought back to the whole group of 55 children. They included instrumental interludes designed to be played by all the children along with singing and a performance was given to the whole school.
“I remember the Wiggly Bridge Song. That was my favourite. We sing it in the garden and the car. We keep going back to the Fens. Sometimes we take our dollies there in their buggies – they really like it there too. We’ve all been noticing the birds there more now, haven’t we Mum?” Yr 2 participant.
As a final touch Jane added in instrumental parts for four Britten Sinfonia instrumentalists to accompany the songs performed once again as part of a final celebratory event at St Thomas a Becket Church in Ramsey alongside work from a teenage group who had meanwhile worked with Britten Sinfonia musicians and Mike Challis.
“The girls are always inventing when they are playing. I quite often hear little snippets of the songs when they’re out in the garden. They’re all in our heads now, so yes, we sing them together. I like the contrasts in the songs from bright and sunny, to dark and dirgy…. We all know them now. They sounded so good when they were sung by everyone together with the Britten Sinfonia musicians accompanying – really professional!” Parent.
An unanticipated outcome of the project was the publication of the four songs. This was due to the enthusiasm of Dr Frankie Williams (Cambridgeshire’s Head of Music and Culture) who attended the celebratory performance and said that she would like to see the songs circulated around all infant, junior and primary schools in the County. An external sponsor was found to fund the production of the publication and, after much work on scoring and recording a teaching CD by the professional team, the Little Song Book for The Great Fen was printed and launched a year later. (see shop)
BREAKING THE RULES
This was an early Creative Partnerships action research project (CARA) that took place in 2005. Jane collaborated with drama teacher, Joc Mack, at Framingham Earl High School in Norfolk to explore this question with students: “How does a group of gifted arts students from Years 9 and 10 respond to the challenge of making original music and theatre which does not conform to familiar rules?”
A copy of the full 13 page report including detail of activity and student and ‘staff’ responses can be emailed on request but here are a few extracts from the report.
To explore how the students responded to making pieces of music and drama free from various constraints of school timetable, limited space and prescriptive rules.
To find out what effect it had on the students to be asked to ‘break rules’ in the context, and in terms of the quality, of creative activity.
In the course of the activity to measure student self-perceptions particularly with regard to the unpredictable, spontaneity, ‘failure’ and persistence, leadership and control.
To explore ‘tutor’ best practise when working creatively with gifted and artistically inclined 13-15 year olds.
The school wanted an opportunity, through this project, to give able students their heads and to free them from the constraints of, for example, exams, grades, sheet music and given texts.
Working in after-school time gave students access to unlimited space, free form time, and ample resources in contrast to their larger in-school classes where they work in more limited time and space and with fewer resources. The time commitment was in itself challenging for these students in a term which also contained Year 9 SATS exams and other out-of-school productions. The school’s music teacher was fully signed up to the project and took part in planning meetings, observations of early and late sessions and attended the performance.
For the students:
2 introductory after-school music/drama sessions ‘playing’ through short exercises presented ‘non-linearly’ around ideas to do with the recognition and breaking of rules. Only in the second session did the tutors introduce a traditional ‘protest’ ballad (‘Rigs of the Times’) as a basis for more extended creative exploration.
1 concert and 1 play (evening visits) to prompt exploration of form, structure and performance conventions within their own work. Responses to each event (one conventionial, one challengingly unconventional) were formally fed back and shared.
5 after-school and weekend ‘creating’ and rehearsal sessions working in pairs and small groups leading to
A 50 minute weekend early evening promenade performance of ‘Breaking The Rules’ to parents and friends
An evaluatory day which took place around 4 weeks after the performance when semi-structured interviews were used: verbal recall of students’ perceptions and strategies were prompted by viewing photos and listening to audio recordings of the performance.
Beyond several students dropping in and out of activity, around 15 students followed the project through most sessions and into the final event.
For the teacher and creative practitioner:
Formulation of the research question and 3 formal planning meetings in which the school’s music teacher and the project’s (CARA) mentor were also variously involved.
Presence at all the student sessions, leading and supporting the activity as appropriate, ALONGSIDE ‘monitoring’ students in terms of how they thrived on, or coped with, some pre-selected characteristics of creativity which were:
Predictability vs the unpredictable
Planning vs spontaneity
Failure and minding vs not minding and persisting
Following’ vs leading (including the dynamics of working in small groups)
Preparing and undertaking the evaluatory day in which a sample of 12 students were asked questions that revealed more about their experiences – particularly the creative processes – of taking part in the project.
Reflecting, analysing data, report writing and exploring impact on further practice.
The students were asked to characterise themselves against the chosen traits of creativity (1-4 above) by placing themselves on a continuum within the spectrums. Eleven students did this twice, once during the 1st project session and again during the 9th project session (other students missed one of the two sessions and did only one or no ‘characterisation). The project partners were then able to compare any shifts in their self-perceptions alongside observation, further written feedback from most students, and semi-structured interviews with twelve participants at the evaluatory day.
“…um, best part…..I think it was actually when we weren’t with the instruments….I think it was at home with me and Tom, we were just talking about it, we came up with all these ideas with the walkie talkies and we thought about recording loops and things and we thought about all these things we could do… It was good.”- student
Main findings and conclusions
Using the concept of ‘breaking rules’ as a basis for creative activity drew out good quality processes and product from the students.
Two out of the four creative traits monitored were clearly more evident in the students and their work by the end of the project.
Students gifted artistically would benefit from more opportunities to adventurously and non-prescriptively explore arts ideas creatively both in and out-of school hours.
On balance the action research approach helped all involved to collaborate well and to intelligently monitor activity-in-progress and to review the project overall.
The starting point research question was never going to be one that could be answered definitively, but the findings indicated that building the project around the idea of ‘breaking rules’ (lateral thinking) drew out good quality creative processes and product from the students. In many ways even these gifted students were remarkably conservative in their outlooks and would benefit from more provision of ‘safe’ teaching environments, both in and out-of-school hours, through which they could adventurously and non-prescriptively explore new (to them) creative ideas. The majority really took advantage of the opportunity for which, it must be remembered, they had to muster extra time and energy on top of school work and other commitments.
And here’s the inevitable list of some more in-school workshops and projects undertaken:
Composer leading a short creative project with St Martha's primary school children and the Badke String Quartet for the King's Lynn Festival. The children contributed a short composition to the quartet's Festival subscription concert at the Arts Centre in November 2014.
Musical facilitator for a Creative Partnerships ‘enquiry’ project at St William’s Primary School in Norwich involving sound recording and creative music-making with a range of instruments including the participating Year 5 childrens’ own wind, brass and string instruments. Along with photographic work, the project outcome included a ‘trail’ where sound recordings of the children’s sound edits and compositions were featured from outdoor locations in the school playgrounds. (through Norfolk & Norwich Festival/Creative Partnerships 2011)
Composer leading a week’s residency with a group of able secondary school music students with involvement from three instrumentalists from The London Mozart Players. The project took the idea of carnival as its starting point and the newly created music-theatre piece was performed - along with puppetry animation by Year 7 children working with Blunderbus - in the orchestra’s concert at the Palace Theatre where the programme also included Saens-Saёns Carnival of the Animals. (through London Mozart Players 2010)
Musical facilitator for a Creative Partnerships ‘ change’ project at Burnham Market Primary School where the Year 5/6 class explored the coast from a sound point-of-view through trips on Norfolk’s Coasthopper buses! Explorations provided the basis for in-school sound installations (through Norfolk & Norwich Festival/Creative Partnerships 2010)
Project leader for the first year of Norfolk Music Work’s two year programme, Rural Rhythms. Music-making took place with children, young people and families in Mundesley led by a team musicians from Norfolk Music Works and the City of London Sinfonia. Funded by Youth Music through Powerplay. (2009-10)
Music facilitator of a short composition project for two affiliated schools in the Norfolk fens where the teachers chose to involve around forty children in the creation, performance and recording of a school federation anthem. Recorded and broadcast by their local radio station KLFM (2008)
Musician undertaking creative residencies in Cambridgeshire schools and communities for the Vital Communities participatory arts and research project. Music-making within varied residencies at schools and communities in the city of Peterborough, the town of Ramsey and the villages of Fulbourn, Parson Drove and Wisbech St Mary (2006-2009).
Project leader with Derek Paice, musician, for The Rondo Project in East Lindsey, Lincolnshire, which brought together children from four primary schools to learn a refrain and create original episodes around the theme of April Fools. Culminating performance at mablethorpe Primary School (through the Firebird Trust, 2002).
Musician on a multi-arts team working with children in 5 different primary schools to create episodes that were included in village hall performances of A Songline for East Anglia with Hugh Lupton (writer/storyteller), Helen Chadwick (composer/singer), Sian Croose (singer) and Liz McGowan (visual artist). (through the Peddars Way National Trail, 1999).
Musician leading the Time and Tides project on a Huntingdon estate involving older people and top primary children together making puppets, art objects and music during a five day residency with puppeteer, Meg Amsden (through Cross Border Arts and the Firebird Trust 1999)
Project leader of Project Remix with the East of England Orchestra (now Viva) involving Year 7 secondary students who created new instrumental music which was additionally given an orchestral framework by Jane composed out of the students’ ideas. Performed within the orchestra's concert at the Birchwood Community Centre in Lincoln. The concert also included youth club attenders (latter working with Mat Anderson) playing original songs (through Lincoln City Council and with the Firebird Trust 1997)
Instigator and director of a series of three events under the title of Music In Unusual Places, one of these events included schoolchildren creating music to animate rooms in a stately home. Supported by a PRS Composers-in Education award (through a Lincolnshire County Music Worker contract, 1996)
Musician working on the Sea Change project with Linda Cotterill (storyteller) and Denise Turpin (visual artist) involving primary and secondary school students (including some with learning disabilities) in creating an installation in the Fermoy Gallery at King's Lynn Arts Centre (through the King's Lynn Festival 1993)