The sweet sounds of super Sonic

29th August 1997 at 01:00
Susan Scarsbrook remembers a magical experience

Brays was an all-age school for pupils with physical disabilities, many of whom also had learning difficulties. Progress did not come easy. But for one group of pupils something magical happened, something that a short while earlier had been beyond my wildest dreams, and theirs too.

A couple of years ago, a group of Year 7 pupils of widely differing abilities, both physical and cognitive, created a musical composition on the theme of water. The children performed the work live at The Beat - a concert of electroacoustic music held at the Midlands Arts Centre - on the same bill as renowned composers such as Trevor Wishart. Parts of the composition have been played on Radio 3's Music Matters programme.

The project taught the children about the power of IT in composition, form, dynamic structure, and, perhaps more importantly, about co-operation, self-worth, determination and success.

How was all this achieved? A "Teachers and Artists Working Together" grant from Birmingham council enabled us to link up with the Sonic Arts network, whose education officer, Paul Wright, suggested that composerperformer Duncan Chapman work with the pupils at Brays. This was perfect as Duncan's knowledge of music technology augmented the success we had already had in improving physical access to the musical curriculum for pupils with physical disabilities.

Duncan made four visits to our school, each a day long. The first day was spent exploring sounds using amplification, an effects box and a digital sampler. The pupils relished "messing about" with sounds, although it was obvious they were doing much more than playing. By the afternoon, each pupil was making decisions and expressing preferences.

The pupils were not the only winners. I saw my efforts to introduce music technology into our day-to-day music curriculum bear the most satisfying fruit. I learnt a great deal about music technology in the classroom, and for me the project was a more potent learning experience than any amount of INSET.

Teachers and Artists Working Together is a powerful educational scheme. Visiting artists can have a very different relationship with pupils than that between teacher and pupils. Our students deserve variety in their educational experiences, and this is one way they can get it.

As teachers, our horizons are widened and in some cases we might be prompted to remember why all those years ago we chose to immerse ourselves in music. I came out of this project refreshed and ready to find yet more accessible ways to present the curriculum to my students.

Susan Scarsbrook was music and arts co-ordinator at Brays School, Birmingham. She has been teacher adviserco-ordinator for music at Birmingham LEA since January 1996

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