Tom Deveson applauds a complete primary music course that draws much from the natural world around us. Carousel has been designed to guide non-specialists down truly musical paths and to offer support in a subject that many teachers still find frightening. Will it work?
It is certainly attractively de-signed. A large discussion book of 30 bright A3 pictures, a teachers' book organised into 15 units based on topics such as Ourselves and Toys, and a set of clearly-recorded tracks are available for each year group. The units are planned to cover two lessons of about half an hour each, though more time may be needed for every child to get the most from the ideas offered.
To these are added some admirably lucid charts, illustrating how the elements of musical language and the requirements of the national curriculum will be encountered on a journey through the year's activities. These are backed up by useful planning charts and sensible advice on such matters as instrument care, use of signs and symbols and practical assessment.
Each unit is set out in similar format. There is a plain statement of musical aims and the resources needed, suggestions for discussion with children focusing on the pictures, descriptions of what to do next, what to listen to, what to sing and how to sing it, plans for musical developments led both by teachers and by children, and some thoughtful pointers towards parallel work in art, dance, design or writing.
The tapes are delightfully varied. You get children's choirs performing a set of specially-written songs which mainly illustrate the musical points in the unit; or natural sounds like leopards growling, hens clucking and rain falling on different surfaces.
You get the sounds of many instruments, from classroom percussion to orchestral virtuosi, not forgetting examples of world musics. There are also short and carefully-chosen extracts of many composers, from Bizet and Britten via Mussorgsky and Madness. The tapes can be adapted on stereo players to allow only the accompaniments or voices to be heard.
The picture stimuli are equally challenging. Photographs of Antarctica's vast barren ice-floes or a camel caravan in a trackless desert, homely classrooms and Victorian dolls houses, together with musical instruments from across the world being played, will not only provoke discussion and give pleasure, but are relevant to the musical suggestions with which they are linked.
The effect of all this in real classrooms should be that music really happens, that children perform, compose and listen in many different new national curriculum orders. Enjoyment and opportunities are brought to life in ways which teachers can share with their classes.
Musical concepts are brought into purposeful contact with one another and revisited at later stages of the programme. Throughout there are straightforward suggestions as to when teachers' guidance is necessary and when children should take the lead.
In Year 2 the opportunities become more exciting. From simply hearing and then using different timbres, children are encouraged to organise them while using the distinctions between long and short notes. The encounter with musical elements is given added power when it is put in a context of using musical skills. Improvisatory work on echoes and fading sounds is linked to attentive listening to the echoes in Purcell's In a Deep Vaulted Cell. A straight Vivaldi and a jazzed-up rendering draw attention to the elements that stay the same (tune) and those that differ (rhythm and timbre) in performance.
The message to teachers is try it! And your children will enter the juniors equipped with a rich budget of enthusiasm and skill.