Something to sing about

6th October 1995 at 01:00
Team Recorder and Team Percussion, Age group: 5-14, Pounds 7.50 each, International Music Publications, Southend Road, Woodford, Green, Essex IG8 8HN.

The Song Sampler, Age group: 9-13, By Sandra Kerr, Pounds 11, Folkworks, 69 Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 1SG.

Listen to This, Age group: 5-11, By Christine Richards, Vols I II, Pounds 19 each, Saydisc Records, Chipping Manor, The Chipping, Wotton-under-Edge, Glos GL12 7AD.

Sounds Topical, Age group: 4-7, By Jan Holdstock and Christine Richards, Oxford University Press, Teacher's book, Pounds 18.50. Pupil's set of three books, Pounds 10.50. Cassette pack, Pounds 19.95

Tom Deveson applauds a fine collection of music materials for mixed age groups. Music, for so long the Cinderella of the national curriculum, is now being showered with resources by a number of thoughtful publishers.

The Team Series provides a relatively inexpensive set of materials for instrumental teachers, with tutor books for individual lessons and interchangeable arrangements for a variety of ensembles. Synthesised sounds on tape provide accompaniments for exercises and pieces as well as seasonings of good humour like the baa-ings that go with "Shepherds Hey". The recorder tutor takes pupils up to about grade 1 standard, via the "Eriskay Love Lilt" and the Coronation Street theme, visiting many other styles en route. Percussion students will be taken to about grade 4, with opportunities to practise on classroom instruments as well as learning damping, paradiddles, rolls and flams on the drums.

Song Sampler is a marvellous book of 25 songs for choir, but much more than that. There are good warm-up pieces and many suggestions for developing vocal skills and ideas for harmonising. Techniques include the use of sustaining notes to act as drones like the Northumbrian pipes, or the open-throat singing of Bulgaria. The repertoire is generous and eclectic, drawing particularly on the folk traditions of the British Isles.

The accompanying tape, with Geordie schoolchildren, is a living example of music presented with vigour, style and pleasure untainted by bel canto diffidence.

Music from the North East also features in Listen To This, as part of an engaging and comprehensive collection gathered from many places and times. Saydisc is known for the range of its recordings and Christine Richards for the enthusiasm of her teaching. Their collaboration has produced a set of very useful resources for the teacher who hopes to make listening to music more than a passive duty.

Each collection comprises 30 or so extracts of music, each about two minutes long, backed up with helpful information on historical and cultural contexts, genres, and what to listen for in what's heard. This is turn is explicitly related to suggestions for "making our own music". There is great variety of timbre (tapping stones, pianola, breathy zampona, hypnotic singing bowls); of mood (energy, contemplation, renaissance pride and religious awe); and of use (celebrations, worksongs, dances and lullabies). There are also many enjoyable challenges from improvising birdsong over pentatonic ostinatos to devising an accompaniment to a Sephardic song.

Christine Richards joins the ever-inventive Jan Holdstock in Sounds Topical, the first part of what promises to be a fine course to cover the entire national curriculum. Here, the lucky learners at key stage 1 are provided with 15 familiar topics (Water, Shopping, Families) from which their teachers can organise chances to compose, listen and perform.

This commonsense approach shows the authors' own closeness to the needs of real classrooms. Without being spectacular or controversial, they combine well-tried techniques and constant inventiveness, all set out with laudable clarity of purpose.

Much of the music is derived from the everyday. Compositional grids are taken from T-shirt and rug patterns, leading in turn to the exploration of musical shapes and decisions about what timbres to use to realise them. Family likenesses are the starting point for a look at instrumental groupings, which in turn introduce methods for allowing rhythmic distinctions to discriminate between similar sounds.

Throughout they show the virtue of fostering complexity through simplicity. A clever reworking of "This Old Man" uses four different animal names, each with different numbers of syllables and each with a different melodic pattern. Even the youngest children are thereby able to play and hear what they have learned.

Listening is explicitly linked to children's own playing, and the sources here are once again wide-ranging. Some of Saydisc's world music and historical collections feature prominently. It's pleasant to note the presence of the three Bs (in this case Bart"k, Berio and Berkeley) in contexts where their music can be heard repeatedly and with enjoyment reinforced by understanding. Other uses of modern idioms include Minibeast minimalism (making tiny motifs "swarm" together) and aleatoric devices (improvising around the movement of fish or the bursting of bubbles). With such fairy godmothers, infant classrooms will be full of aural magic.

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