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High fidelity

An idea to help schools produce and sell their own cassette recordings is turning into a roaring success. Frances Farrer explains

An experiment in peripatetic recording of school music which began in the north west of England six months ago could become a national facility this year. The Rockenbay Song and Dance Company of Colne, Lancashire fields a team which records song, music, or speech, then edits and cleans up the recordings and duplicates them more or less according to demand.

To date this idea has been tried in primary schools, so the mode of the recording is designed around the expectations of a younger age group. One of the first sessions was done at Colne's Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Primary School, and the team returned last month for a second session with their refined new format: more fun, more explanation, and a recorded professor, in a quasi-roadshow mode.

The session begins with instructions about not coughing, shuffling, giggling, or making any other untoward noise while recording. Purists might wonder this late in the decade at finding the female caricatures named Winnie the Whinge and Whispering Wendy but the device works, as do the traffic lights which shut the children up. Front man Mark explains everything, gets them laughing and gets them behaving, and when he asks for volunteers almost every hand goes up.

Rockenbay director Sean Holly tells of recordings that they have made of poetry, prayers, solo instrumentals and short stories. However, the strong emphasis is on music. At the beginning the company simply recorded the pieces, now there is the introduction and some nonsense with a pretend professor (of whom more later).

The Colne Sacred Heart children were in eager anticipation of a second bite at the recording game. "I can't wait!" said a boy going into the hall, speaking for the universal excitement. Enthusiasm for solo work is also great. "Can I be on it?" is the cry of almost all children with voices or instruments to show off. The zeal to perform is matched by eagerness to be acknowledged. On parents' evening they all point out their parts of the tape: "that's my class!" or better still, "that's me!" Headteacher Peter Cunningham is enthusiastic. "It's entertaining and fun for the children, and it celebrates what they do," he says. "In that sense it's an historical document. Parents don't get access to schools as often as they might like, and this lets them know what we do here. They have been delighted with the cassette. One mother bought six copies."

Colne Sacred Heart's cassette is made up in large part of sacred songs. The inlay card, which the children designed, has a photo of them singing with musical notes printed over them and the words "Glory to God".

The sales of this first recording have been satisfactory to brisk, with more than one duplication session. The tunes are ones that please the parents: Whole School is credited on side one with "Glory to God", "In My Father's House", "Alleluia", and "Peter, James and John", along with a recorder showpiece and a couple of funny songs.

A recent addition to the Rockenbay effort comes at the end of the session in which five children ask scripted questions about the recording technology. The answers explain that the microphone collects the sound and converts it into electrical impulses to be stored on the tape ("like your brain") and replayed at will.

The shrieking voice that gives the answers also has a mock-German accent, and it frightened some of the younger children. The Professor is supposed to be situated on Rockenbay Island, able to answer only through the tape recorder, and one could not help but wonder if an open question session might have served the purpose better. Were these the only five questions? The children had shown enough enthusiasm for the project and gusto in the execution of it to suggest there would be energy for their own unscripted curiosity.

Peter Cunningham says the project has fulfilled several needs: it has provided the school with a little more focus on music, a subject which the governors had said could be developed; it has brought "entertainment and enjoyment" to both parents and children; and it has related to skills in other areas, such as maths (the lengths of the pieces had to be worked out), and art (the cover design).

Rockenbay is currently offering a deal in which schools receive a share of the income from cassette sales, which varies with the number of cassettes ordered. Each tape must be at least 20 minutes long. There is no official minimum order but they expect at least 150 units. The selling price of each tape is fixed at Pounds 3.99 (including VAT), and other aspects of the arrangement include the potential for local sponsorship, and selling tapes to raise funds for the school or charity.

Further information from Rockenbay Song Dance Co Ltd, 47 Albert Road, Colne, Lancashire BB8 0BP.

Tel: 01282 865617

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