Creating a song for the Olympics is no easy task, which is why it makes a good group activity. Margaret Lawrence gets into the groove
With Olympic fever hotting up, why not ask your pupils to compose a catchy, inspiring song for the opening ceremony taking place in Beijing in August?
Adapting a "composer's notebook" idea that I heard about on a music training day, I got my Year 8 classes on the job. I divided them into groups of five or six and gave each group a carrier bag containing:
- A statement that the bag had been found in Tesco's and belonged to a composer who had died in the middle of an urgent project. Could they help?
- A letter from the International Olympic Committee to the potential composer (Ms A Schoenberg) that commissioned her to write the song.
- An incomplete, hand-written set of words for a verse and chorus (see panel), using the unity, harmony, participation, progress and dream theme of the games.
- A shopping list with scribbled notes of the musical elements the composer planned to include: four beats in a bar, unison, call and response, major key, drone and ostinato (a repeated bit of melody).
- A few basic percussion instruments, including two wood blocks, three boomwhackers and "junk" percussion, such as a Pringles tube, a crisp packet and bubblewrap.
As usual, keyboards, guitars and classroom glockenspiels were to hand when pupils were ready to use them. Each group decided who was going to be the leader, scribe, problem-solver and innovator.
By the end of the first lesson, all the groups had something original to perform, ranging from simple, football-style chants to raps over keyboard backing tracks and sung melody over guitar chords. All groups managed to include a drone and rhymthmic ostinati.
The following week, they were keen to compose. I played the official Beijing Olympic Games music with video and, working in pairs, they used ideas from the previous week to make up their own tracks on Cubase, the recording software, to go with the film.
This activity uses the "Mysteries" strategy from the Developing thinking skills at key stage 3 handbook for teachers, published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
Margaret Lawrence is head of music at Glebelands School in Cranleigh, Surrey.
The incomplete lyrics
We have a dream and work for peace
We know our fight will never cease
We are one world all together
We will succeed and win
Together we are strong
Together we belong
Together we can
Olympic site: http:en.beijing2008.cnculturesongs