Dorothy Walker on how music technology is unlocking children's creativity
A talking book is the latest conversation piece at Christ the King Primary School in Birmingham. "A Day at the Beach" was made by a group of pupils aged four to ten. They dreamt up the story, acted as narrators and conceived the music and sound effects. This term they will introduce their CD to classmates, with newfound confidence gained from a scheme that encourages children with special needs to express their creativity through music.
Christ the King is one of more than 20 schools to have taken part in Access All Areas Through Music, run by the education team at Symphony Hall in Birmingham. For two years the initiative has been bringing together children and professional artists to work on projects ranging from DJ-ing to the production of music videos. The common thread is the use of music technology, a great way into music-making for those with no experience of traditional instruments. Schools have made use of Symphony Hall's Patrick Musictech Studio, which is equipped with the latest hardware and software.
Work is now under way to create templates that will help teachers run similar projects in their own classrooms.
The Talking Book project ran for five days in November, and was carried out by 11 children from Christ the King, which has a resource unit for visually impaired children. Assistant head Jean Richmond says: "We thought carefully about who would get most from this, and the group included children who are totally blind and some with severe visual impairments. Some have speech and language difficulties, cystic fibrosis or behavioural or emotional needs."
A storyteller worked with the children, introducing some of his stories before asking them to suggest their own. Teacher Jenny Place, who accompanied the pupils to Symphony Hall, says: "Their initial reaction was to talk about traditional tales they knew. The real breakthrough came when they realised they could choose characters and create their own story." The storyteller helped weave together the ideas into a heroic tale that recounts how a group of animals come to the rescue of a seal that is being bullied by a shark.
The children used keyboards to work on the music, experimenting to evoke the sound of crashing waves and the crunching of feet through sand. A musician helped them use software to capture and tweak the sounds they liked and blend them into a composition. Jenny says: "It was very simple.
The children pressed different keys to find what they wanted and the musician helped create something really effective."
The pupils took on character roles and recorded the dialogue. "The older or more vocal children were very supportive of the quieter ones, who found the confidence to speak into the microphone," says Jenny. "The project has given everyone a tremendous sense of achievement. It has opened up the children's imaginations, unlocked their creativity and helped develop their language skills."
At The Pines in Birmingham, a special school for children with autism, Sarah Lucas and her Year 4 class took part in Pipe Up, a multimedia project that captured the sights and sounds of the magnificent pipe organ at Symphony Hall. The 12 children explored every nook and cranny of the instrument. They had a go at playing, and recorded the notes as well as the clunks, clicks and rushes of air that were to be heard round the back. They filmed one another moving around the auditorium before heading back to school, where visiting musicians with laptops helped add an extra dimension. The pupils recorded their voices for use on a keyboard, so that they could make music with their own sounds. Sarah says: "One girl sampled her favourite word, rabbit. They took pictures to go with the music, and when they saw themselves they laughed so much that they nearly had hysterics."
Everything was brought together as a video piece screened at Symphony Hall, at a premiere that showcased the work of five schools. "We took the whole school, and parents and governors came too," says Sarah. "When our video appeared a massive cheer went up. The whole project was brilliant. It improved the children's self-confidence and communication skills, and linked to topics they are doing in science, art and ICT. They worked well as a team - at the premiere they were saying: look, I took that photo and you did that bit!"
The children have continued using digital photography in class, screening their own photo-presentation as part of the Viewpoints topic in art. Sarah says: "Symphony Hall have offered to advise us about getting music technology, and I plan to have it by Easter."
All the projects were overseen by Andy Vine, Symphony Hall's accessdisability co-ordinator, whose post was funded by Youth Music, the charity which provides music-making opportunities for young people. Andy says: "We now want to help schools replicate what we have been doing, using their own resources and equipment. We will be running training sessions for teachers, producing teaching resource packs and support materials on our website."
Most frequently used software at the Patrick Musictech Studio
Final Cut www.apple.comfinalcutstudio
The studio features Casio computer-linked keyboards and Soundwall, a giant illuminated keyboard designed for primary children and those with special needs. A MIDIcreator unit (www.midicreator.com) enables children to use gestures and body movements to make music.