Skip to main content

Music for global friendships

Lawrence Williams describes partner schools' creative uses of ICT to bring young musicians together across the world

Have you noticed that abbreviations are expanding?First, there was IT. Then there was ICT. And now, there is ICFT - the F stands for "Friendship".

For the past six years, the Holy Cross School in New Malden, Surrey has enjoyed a successful sister-school relationship with the Ikeda Junior High School in Osaka, Japan. This link grew out of a visit to Holy Cross by Professor Hiro Tanaka of Osaka Kyoiku University, whom I met when I gave a presentation on a Holy Cross science project at London University. Much of the resulting work has involved sharing music and drama ideas by email, and working and performing together over an ISDN video-conferencing link. Music created in one country is sent by email to be developed, performed, or simply enjoyed in the partner country.

The first major project was the performance of Douglas Love's play Kabuki Gift, with original music and dances added, but performed with a difference: scene one was performed in London, and seen by video link in Japan; and scene two was performed in Japan, and seen in London. Japanese students performed in English; English students performed in Japanese.

As a beautiful finale, the Holy Cross School choir sang the love song from the film Titanic, accompanied on piano by a Year 9 student and, in Osaka, Ikeda students danced to this. Background music was created in Japan and emailed to London, and the introductory electronic music was played on a computer in Japan, and heard live in London.

Head of music at Ikeda, Ryu Tanaka said: "Our students were moved to tears when they finished."

International friendships were formed as the performers worked to solve the usual problems of any school production and much was learned about international collaboration and the use of the new ICT tools.

This production was followed by a Festival of Enlightenment. Michael Spencer, who was playing with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) contacted us on the recommendation of the Japanese Embassy. The LSO's support enabled the schools to create an International Music Workshop, again using video-conferencing. The music was developed through improvisation on Auld Lang Syne, as this Scottish song is well known in both countries. During the day, members of the LSO supported Holy Cross students as they explored the pentatonic scale, and in Osaka, members of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra gave similar help to the Ikeda students. The improvisations were later shared, and displayed on a 55-inch colour monitor.

At Christmas, the two schools perform a charity concert, but with a difference. The Holy Cross choir sings and is applauded in Japan, and the Ikeda students sing and are applauded in England. The chosen charities then receive two donations, from two different countries, but for the same event. And they share cultural information, Christmas readings and short drama performances. As student Joanne Bielby remarked: "Mongolian throat singing is a bit weird."

Our link activities have got us on British and Japanese television and, on one occasion, Holy Cross was asked by EBS, Korean Television, if a demonstration video link with the US could be arranged. Choir director, Steve Byrne comments: "We wanted to link with our teaching partners at Baylor University, but unfortunately they were on holiday. However, they linked us to a professional development school, which had similar equipment. In all the rush, we did not ask the ages of the student choir involved, and were delighted to find, when we connected, that we were listening to a Walt Disney number performed by the most charming group of US six-year-olds."

For the future, there are plans to link the online music of the two schools with science work through a new Science Through Arts (STAR) project, involving NASA scientists in Cleveland, Ohio. Devised by Holy Cross, the aim is to use NASA web-based science materials as the stimulus for music, art and language responses. Ruth Petersen, educational coordinator for NASA, with whom Holy Cross has now been working for three years, says: "The STAR project will be multi-disciplinary and multi-lingual, and will connect students from three continents to real world science." She says that working with Holy Cross is "the impetus for extensive and exciting work."

For example, musical accompaniments will be added to PowerPoint stories about the exploration of Mars, based on web-based NASA information. Work in progress will be emailed around the world for collaborative development in the USA, the UK, the Czech Republic and Japan. The results, in several languages, will be posted on a specially created NASA website - a great incentive for the students involved.

It is a happy accident that Joe Kolecki, NASA Pathfinder scientist, and the online tutor for this project, also happens to be a church organist and composer.

Students of all ages love to perform, whether in music, dance or drama. But now, using ICT tools, the audience does not have to be sitting even on the same continent as the performers.

Useful websites Cross-curricular projects

Virtual Teachers'Centre

For performing with ICT www.performingwithict.netpublicindex2.html

For general advice on using ICT expertise

Email: Michael Spencer at

BooksLearning to Teach Using ICT in the Secondary School, edited by Marilyn Leask and Norbert Pachler, RoutledgeFalmer (1999)Price: pound;17.99Issues in Using ICT, by Marilyn Leask, Routledge Falmer (2001) Price: pound;15.99

Lawrence Williams is director of studies and assistant headteacher at Holy Cross School, New Malden, Surrey

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you