We often hear that primary school teachers are frightened of delivering music. But what I saw this week shows how well music can be linked into literacy and science. I was visiting a Year 2 class to observe a student teacher and noticed what seemed to be elaborate and brightly coloured scores propped against the window.
"Those are our sunflower stories," the student teacher said. "We are doing the life cycle of the sunflower in science, and I thought that this would make a good story to set to music, with a variety of different and contrasting episodes." Janice Smith thought about the different "stages" of a sunflower's life, from planting the seed, being warmed by the sun and watered by the rain, the seed germinating and a shoot breaking the surface. Her pupils had grown seeds for the science lesson.
"I am not a real music teacher," she explained, "so I had to think the way I do for creative writing." She produced a "writing frame," with spaces laid out and supporting questions for the pupils to be asked, describing each of the stages, which they could use as a "playing frame".
The pupils worked in groups of four and decided which percussion instruments would make the most appropriate sounds for each part of the story and what patterns each instrument had to make. When they were happy with the music they had composed Janice Smith helped them to wrie it down as a score. They drew the instruments on the frame where they were supposed to be played, and wrote the names of who was playing alongside the instrument, and time during which anyone was playing.
The pupils were keen to play me the finished piece. They took their preparation and performance very seriously and made sunflower decorations out of tissue paper and shiny yellow foil for the instruments, and played with great commitment. There were individual sounds for each raindrop in one piece, played on the highest note of the glockenspiel. The sun was played on gold instruments in another composition, using gold-coloured cymbal, bells and a bright yellow tambourine.
Assessing their music is easy. They had selected sounds carefully in order to deliver a specific effect for each part of the story. They controlled their instruments well and listened carefully to each other to play with the same effect at the same time. They are all keen to make more music.
I am not sure whether Janice Smith is a member of the Schools Music Association yet - but she should be. She does not see herself as a teacher of music, but I do. We would be pleased to have her in our association to meet other confident and creative people, to share ideas and make music.
Jay Deeble is press officer for the Schools Music Association, 71 Margaret Road, New Barnet, Hertfordshire EN4 9NT. Tel: 020 8440 6919. Web: www.schoolsmusic.org.uk