Sounds like a fine resident

Jackie Cosh reveals why one primary jumped at the chance to work with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra for a year

Jackie Cosh

The small hall is full; standing room only. In front of us we have the choir; to the right 16 violin pupils, to the left four members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

When the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) approached Preston Street School in Edinburgh about becoming its resident orchestra for a year, headteacher Ann Moore needed no persuading.

"I said, `Fantastic. Where do we sign?'" she recalls with a smile. "We are a school with creativity and expressive arts at the heart of all learning. The pupils are very au fait with it and it made perfect sense. They made music we wouldn't have been capable of, so we grabbed the opportunity with both hands. We went to the SCO rehearsal and saw the new conductor. The children and I were transfixed."

For its part, the SCO was looking to build a relationship with a local school, to pilot a partnership where they were creative and got to know the community.

"We knew we wanted to work with a school in Edinburgh, near our venues - the Usher Hall and Queen's Hall," explains SCO connect officer Kirsten Hunter. "We worked out that this was the best school to work with as it is in the orchestra's community.

Tonight's event is called The Stories of Preston Street, the culmination of the year's activities and a showcase of the work created by the pupils. To celebrate the culturally diverse nature of the school the theme for the evening is family, friendship and transport incorporating journeys, whether that means a holiday or moving country.

From the SCO we have the cello, the violin and the flute. From the school we have 16 violinists, while other children take part in singing, Spanish dancing, and a bit of breakdancing. The orchestra plays graphic scores - musical maps that the children have written, telling stories which the musicians interpret and play.

The relationship began last August with school pupils attending an SCO rehearsal with principal conductor Robin Ticciati and school staff attending a concert.

"The first term we identified as a period of consultation," says Miss Hunter. "We got to know each other gradually, to find out what would complement the school and so that we didn't step on toes."

SCO musicians visited the school and met classes and the orchestra provided music for a school family ceilidh. In the spring term, project leader and composer Greg Sinclair began working with the children, taking workshops in the school every morning, telling stories, playing Chinese whispers, exploring graphic scores and song writing.

"We got to know each other and the personal stories of Preston Street School," says Miss Hunter. "Personal journey stories the pupils and their families have had - moving country, going on holiday."

Mrs Moore ensured that teaching staff were kept up date. "We have had staff getting together, developing skills and understanding of orchestras. We have had in-service sessions where we touched on what the expected outcome was, what we were hoping for and what we needed to put in."

Getting to know the pupils so well was one of the highlights of the project for Greg Sinclair. "Usually you are just able to pick up on one or two names, so it was good to get to know the children," he says. "It felt like a real two-way process. This was important to me and the orchestra.

"Earlier on, the workshops were about the children suggesting instruments, then it became more about how we could include ideas in the concert. There was lots on the theme of transport and we came up with a way to make an instrument sound like a car. We have created some lovely music; some of it in the concert, some didn't make the cut. The musicians have been great. They pick up an idea a child throws at them and run with it."

Feedback from the school has been positive throughout the year. Teachers say the children have been excited about the visits and they have seen an improvement in some of their language skills. Some pupils who had never contributed in class spoke up for the first time during the workshops.

"The children have been able to experiment more because the people leading have that knowledge and confidence," says Mrs Moore. "The workshops haven't been a case of `you take my class, I'm off'. Staff say they experiment more. So now it is about sustainability. We hope we won't lose touch with Greg."

Class teacher Laura Cassidy was released from teaching time this session in order to work on and help the project. "It has been great," she says, "wonderful to see how involved the children have been. It has made music seem much more accessible to them.

"I now feel able to teach graphic scores. I am planning to use what I learned to make the project more sustainable. I have learned a lot and as a teacher it has given me much more confidence," she adds.

"I have always used music in the class and this has shown me how we can create music using desks. The children realise they can create music anywhere. It has been fantastic for the children, for the teachers and for the community."

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Jackie Cosh

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