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Digging the beat

BBC primary music course The Song Tree: age 5 - 7. The Vanishing Hole. Radio 3, Fridays, 2.00-2.15pm. Set of five pupils books: Pounds 5.99. Teachers book, Pounds 2. Cassette, Pounds 5.99.

Time and Tune: age 7 - 9. Dig It! Radio 3, Wednesdays, 2.20-2.40pm. Set of five pupils' books, Pounds 5.99. Teachers' book, Pounds 2. Cassette, Pounds 5.99.

Music Workshops: age 9 - 12. Orpheus. Radio 3, Thursdays, 2.40-3.00pm. Set of five pupils' books, Pounds 5.99. Teachers' book, Pounds 2. Cassette, Pounds 5.99.

BBC Educational Publishing, PO Box 234, Wetherby, West Yorks, LS23 7EU

The BBC Primary Music Course is a three-step ladder of programmes presenting musical instruments, singing and a range of musical styles for the whole primary age range.

This term sees new programmes for each of the age-group strands; The Song Tree, Time and Tune and Music Workshops. For the first of these, The Vanishing Hole is well-planned, entertaining, imaginative and good to listen to, as much for the teacher as the pupil.

Each programme is structured so that the children spend part of their time listening, part singing, and part composing. A dull sound has been avoided without bending too far in the fun-at-any-cost direction. The arrangements have mostly got a jazz-influenced feel, along with a splendid variet of other styles.

The series comes with a pupils' booklet, containing words for the songs, some good imaginative pictures, and a stimulating set of activity sheets. The teachers' booklet is excellent: thorough, detailed and abounding in ideas for cross-curricular work.

The series for lower juniors, Dig It!, carries forward the underground theme of The Vanishing Hole. In this sequence, rhythm and tempo, timbre and texture are explored through such songs as "The Mole in the Hole", "Working in the Coalmine" and the delightful "Dung Beetle Boogie" (not really a boogie, more a bluesy crawl).

Again the development of musical ideas is well-structured, with "pause points", during which children are given time and stimulus to create some sounds of their own.

I have mild reservations about Dig It!. Whereas the presenter of the infants programmes seemed entirely at home with her material, the presenters of Dig It! do not always avoid a rather patronising tone. They are pleasant but seem a little reluctant, as if embarrassed by their material. Indeed it may be that the faultline in this series lies in the material rather than its presentation.

Orpheus, the third series is excellent, and the presenters are committed and convincing. It was a bold idea to explore one of the great myths; in these great repositories of human dreams and experience there is much to be discovered.

The Orpheus story, with its theme of music's power, was an ideal choice. The emphasis is again on texture and timbre. Instruments from all over the world are heard and the universal physical laws of music are discussed, with particular regard to the ancient Greeks.

All in all this is a fine trio of series each well thought out for its age group, with development from one to the next. The emphasis on listening and creating something worth listening to is heartening.

Although musical expertise would indubitably be helpful, the teachers' notes make it quite possible for a musically inexperienced teacher to use these programmes.


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