Alan Shellard drills his new regiment at St Mark’s, Bromley!
Our unsuspecting audience at Musical Offerings on Wednesday 26 October found themselves marching and playing “Turkish ” percussion too.
Margaret Archibald recalls some highlights of her day at Rutherford School where she and harpist Alexander Thomas were contributing music workshops designed to explore this year’s summer club theme of “Water”.
It really is astonishing how much stuff I manage to take for one day of workshops!
It was 1st August, there was no school-run traffic, and I arrived at Rutherford School with more than an hour and a half to spare to set up for a full day of workshops with harpist Alexander Thomas. This was already the second week of the school’s Summer Club, and we would spend the day working with five different groups of children all with profound and multiple learning difficulties. Somehow the time flew by as I unpacked lots of small percussion suitable for the school’s holiday project “water”, raided the music therapy percussion trolley, created a watery décor with water-blue silks and colourful umbrellas, and laid out the props and percussion ready in appropriate batches to be used for successive music items.
Alexander Thomas arrived early too, having allowed plenty of time to drive from Dalston with his harp, the very special instrument chosen to be a new experience for the children. We were conscious that summer club should be fun and engaging, and we hoped that the chance to hear a harp and to feel its vibrations would be a thrilling experience for these wheelchair-bound children. We also wanted the support staff to have fun too, and the ratio of staff to children was mostly 1:1 so it was important that everyone was having a good time. Manoeuvring the wheelchairs really close to the harp was rather tricky, and we needed to be very careful not to damage the harp’s pedal box, but nearly every child was able to get close enough to be able to reach out with staff help and touch the pillar of the harp, feeling the strong vibrations flowing through as Alex played. One little girl, whose head we were told is nearly always down on her chest, lifted her head to gaze at Alex and his harp, and at the end of the workshop during our goodbye song she waved us her farewell.
A favourite piece at each session was “Mists”, a dreamy and evocative piece for harp and clarinet that we elaborated with the sound of rainsticks, wind chimes and a thunder drum. First we explored the sounds that could be made with the percussion instruments, and then staff helped the children orchestrate the piece with imaginative, atmospheric sound effects. The opportunity to take part by adding additional percussion sounds and visual props to the music was noted by several members of staff as especially enjoyable for everyone, and by the end of each session we had added ‘seaweed’ (green plastic bag strips tied to coat hangers!), a plastic diver, ocean drums, pebble bag scrunchers, sea shells in a bucket, frog guiros, seed pod rattles and castanets to the list of atmospheric additions to enhance a deep ocean-scape, a pirates’ hornpipe, and the song of boatmen heaving on their oars as they pulled a heavy cargo up the river. Finally we invited a free choice of percussion so that everyone could join in our final goodbye song playing their favourite instrument.
As Alex and I were packing up our gear and gradually returning the school room to its former state, we reflected on how lucky we were to be able to play such lovely music, and to share it with these very special children who cannot share their thoughts in words but whose responses mean so much.
Sarah Stuart and Margaret Archibald were at the Children’s Trust on Monday 23 February before the canteen opened for breakfast, so the bacon sandwiches had to wait! Both were keen to get the large percussion instruments in place for two full days of workshops enabling children and young people with profound and multiple learning difficulties to explore large orchestral percussion instruments. These workshops form part of a series supported by the Lucille Graham Trust and the Red Socks Charitable Trust, their generosity enabling us to visit four schools for children and young people with special needs.
Margaret Archibald writes:
Our hello song had a Latin-American flavour, and Sarah kept the momentum going with a large guiro while I played a short riff on the clarinet as we skipped from one learner to the next, and then sang in harmony with Sarah as we greeted each learner in turn.
Sarah began her demonstration of percussion with the side drum, and we were able to involve learners and staff in joining our marching band with small percussion, and also with two suspended cymbals that hung comfortably just above the level of the tray on each learner’s wheelchair.
Claire and Tim, the resident Music Therapists, both commented that moving wheelchairs across the room in order to get really close to the tam-tam and the bass drum gave learners the cue that something new was about to happen. The muffled thunder resonances of these very large instruments created a palpable change to a darker mood, and when our next item came it was a relief to imagine ourselves jumping on a sleigh with everyone playing bells to accompany the clarinet and xylophone in a musical ride across the Siberian snow.
Having encountered the xylophone the learners were invited to relax and simply listen to a piece featuring the xylophone and clarinet, and then it was time to take part again in “team timps”, with groups of learners in their chairs clustering round each kettle drum to share in creating an exciting and festive noise.
We rounded the session off with a return to our Latin-American song, this time to say goodbye, with everyone playing a favourite percussion instrument.
One of our aims was to create a sense of rehearsal leading to performance.We wanted to establish this pattern early in each session and develop it with each successive repertoire item.
There was a trade-off between allocating time to allow individuals to explore instruments, and covering the full range of musical items to give variety. At our first Monday session, perhaps because everyone was fresh, and with a smaller group of just four learners present, we covered all the items. Later in the day, especially with slightly larger groups, we found we were making choices between items, lingering more on items where learners were taking turns to play large instruments such as the tam-tam and the bass drum. By the Tuesday we found that a pattern had begun to establish itself whereby we spent a lot of time early in the session exploring sounds, and then gathered momentum towards a climax with everyone playing the timpani together.
The hypnotic effect of soft sounds on the tam-tam and bass drum, separately and together, seemed to capture many of the learners, and several showed especial pleasure on hearing the clarinet tones set against the deeper rumble of these very large instruments. Nearly everyone experienced the physical sensation of the tam-tam or bass drum vibrations, either by touching with hands, or through beaters, or from close proximity to the source of the sound through careful positioning of wheelchairs. We were told that this experiencing of vibration tied in with other resonance work that the learners undertake in school.
Wherever possible we created ensemble effects, and at the last session on Monday we discovered that we could effectively cluster groups of learners around each kettle drum, creating a very effective Indian War Dance with everyone drumming together. This was such an exciting sound that we developed this at almost every session on the Tuesday, and one of our morning sessions on Tuesday finished with especially rousing versions of La Réjouissance and the Indian War Dance, the kettle drums giving so much pleasure to staff and learners alike that we continued to use them for the ensuing Goodbye Song.
The Music Therapists told us that the learners are not used to music sessions that last as long as a full hour, but that on this occasion it was good for them to have time for a wide range of activities.
The lunch-time session on the Monday was spent playing folk fiddle music to a large group in the hall, with maximum participation from hand percussion led by the two Music Therapists Claire and Tim who were both able to give their lunch-hour to share this time with everyone. The lunch-time therapy session on the Tuesday was also devoted to folk fiddle and clarinet; we worked in a therapy room with a smaller group of learners who were mostly lying down, some on resonance boards, and for these learners staff were energetic in drumming rhythms on the boards to match the tempo of each new jig or reel.
The school has an open door policy for parents to share time with the children, and it was delightful that one of the younger boys was able to share his session on the Tuesday afternoon with both his parents who took great delight in the chance to play the wide range of instruments. It was lovely to see how much their mood was lifted by sharing in the fun.
Sarah and I were impressed throughout by the willingness of all the staff to engage with each activity; staff help was invaluable in enabling each individual learner to access the different instruments and the different playing techniques to best advantage. We realised that it was important for us as the visiting musicians to make it clear to staff that we really did want them to take part in the music-making in their own right, and not just as support for the learners, as we wanted them to enjoy themselves too. In this way everyone in the room was contributing to the music, lifting the mood and giving greater energy to the results.
Percussion Play at Rutherford School
Margaret Archibald writes:
Rutherford School, under the umbrella of the Garwood Foundation, caters for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties. Sarah Stuart and I visited on three separate occasions in late January and in early February. At our preliminary visit we spent a morning popping into the children’s classrooms; we were able to hop around the building easily with Sarah on folk fiddle and me on my little C clarinet, and we were helped by Music Therapist Sarah Kong to carry several bagfuls of small handheld percussion for the children to play. We performed a varied selection of folk tunes from England, Ireland and the USA, and staff and children together joined with each on different styles of percussion to suit the mood and tempo. It was lovely for me to meet the children again, many of whom were familiar from previous workshops at the school including most recently in 2013 with percussionist Scott Bywater working alongside Music Therapist Stephen Haylett who spends every Friday at the school and who has become our own Everyone Matters Music Therapy Advisor. For Sarah Stuart this was her first encounter with the children and she showed herself both sensitive to their needs and very encouraging in enabling their participation.
Sarah’s ability to come alongside the children was increasingly in evidence as we progressed through our two full days of percussion workshops during the first two Wednesdays in February. Sarah arrived early for these in order to have time to unload her van that was stuffed with large and exciting orchestral percussion instruments. She brought a full-size chromatic xylophone, two kettle drums, a bass drum, a tam-tam, a side drum, suspended cymbals and, perhaps smallest but by no means least effective, a set of sleigh bells. Our programme was devised to give each group of children an experience of a wide range of tones and timbres of percussion, with maximum opportunity for participation, and wherever possible giving children experience of playing the large orchestral instruments themselves. The smaller instruments could be placed on a lap or a wheelchair tray, held by a teacher, or strapped to a wrist or an ankle to make each new type of percussion as accessible as possible; with the big instruments we found ways to turn the wheelchairs, change the angle of stands, or hold sounding surfaces close to feet or hands. For many of these children access is a constant issue requiring creative solutions to enable them to enjoy experimenting with the sounds on offer; they may find gripping a beater impossible, or they may suffer a degree of visual impairment. Our aim with each new piece of music was to lead the children through changes of mood, pace and style, encouraging different responses and eliciting varying degrees of motor control in order to produce appropriate sounds to match the music’s dynamics, tempo and character.
One real highlight came on our last day when one teenage boy took full advantage of a short extra lunchtime session that Sarah offered for him alone. We were able to manoeuvre his wheelchair so that his knees fitted neatly under the xylophone and for the next ten minutes he experimented with striking at the wooden bars, stroking a glissando with the soft end of the beater, then switching to a glissando with the hard end of the beater, adding strokes on a suspended cymbal, returning to the xylophone, realising that it was not so effective played with feet, and then finally adding side drum that he played alternately with a beater and with his hand. It was thrilling for us musicians, and for the school staff who knew him well, to see how much he was able to choose to experiment with different types of stroke to access different types of sound, truly a revelation for us and clearly a source of enormous delight to him.
These sessions were made possible by generous financial support from the Lucille Graham and Red Socks Charitable Trusts and with a slab of funding from the school. We were happy that the headteacher was able to join our sleighbell group for a rendition of Troika, played on clarinet and xylophone with a posse of bells jingling away from everyone else in the room, children and staff alike.
Friday 20 June was National Care Homes Day 2014. Coloma Court Care Home was celebrating in style, kicking off in the morning with a junior school art group sharing its enthusiasm for painting with like-minded residents. Meanwhile, a few miles away at Bishop Justus C of E School, Katie Clemmow , Christopher Newport and I were starting an intensive morning of rehearsals with a group of wind players and singers from year 9. With some ten or a dozen items to rehearse we used the morning to the full. Our programme had been chosen to show off the group’s strengths, and featured a number of songs from the shows…
Singers Lucy, Jess and Sophie serenade residents at Coloma Court
… interspersed with a medley of short instrumental items. These included Handel’s “Ouverture” from the Fitzwilliam Museum and adapted for oboe, clarinet and horn by Katie, Margaret and Chris from the original for two high clarinets and hunting horn, and special items featuring the brass section and the woodwind section that included some old English jigs and reels.
Joy Corbett, Activities Organiser at Coloma Court, had been in touch with Everyone Matters months in advance, to request a return visit by young musicians from Bishop Justus School following our previous visit there during our project “Conversation Pieces – words and music uniting young and old” that had been supported by the National Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund. It is always good to make new friends, but even better to revisit old ones, and we were greeted in the upstairs room by a most welcoming audience on this return visit.
“The national care home open day concert which was on friday 20th June was an enormous success!” wrote Joy afterwards. “The combination of the professional musicians from ‘Everyone Matters’ and the students from Bishop Justus school worked beautifully. The variety of the pieces played and the high calibre of all the musicians created a highly enjoyable concert.”
“Our residents were amazed by the talents of all concerned and had a thoroughly marvellous time listening to them all,” Joy continued. “The room was packed to capacity and many positive comments were made afterwards by our residents. Comments such as; ‘how good it was to see the two generations playing so well together’, ‘how lovely that they came here and gave their time for us’, ‘I wish I had learnt to play like that’ and ‘will they come again, I really loved it’. These were just a few of the comments said, there were many others! I would just like to finish by sincerely thanking both the students from Bishop Justus for taking the time to practice and play for us and special thanks to Margaret for all the time and effort she puts into these events as without her professionalism and dedication to giving back to others this concert would not have happened!”
This one-day project was the third collaboration between Everyone Matters and Bishop Justus, bringing professional musicians into school to work alongside different groups of young musicians in order to perform at local care homes and day centres. The group of year 9 students who took part on this occasion were the youngest yet, and they worked hard to rise to the challenge of putting a programme together so quickly. They entered with good humour into the spirit of working efficiently with a group of unknown professionals pushing hard to get the results that they wanted, and as the morning turned into afternoon one or two players seemed to think that lunch would never come! Nonetheless it was impressive to see the way the more secure players gave support to their friends whose instrumental skills were less advanced, and the programme gradually pulled together. Before we knew it the rehearsal time was up, we were packing music, piling music stands ready for the minibus, and double checking that none of the percussion was left behind. Afterwards Gemma Sheppard, the Subject Leader for Music, wrote “Friday’s workshop was another fantastic experience for a different group of our students from Bishop Justus. They got so much out of rehearsing with the pro players and it was brilliant the level of detail Margaret went into. It really pushed some of our top end students. The performance itself was very gratefully received by the residents of Coloma and it is so worthwhile for students to perform in the community. It is so brilliant that we have been able to work with Everyone Matters for a third time and create such a top quality, well thought out performance together.”
The climax of the concert, and an item that had been given great attention during the rehearsal, was the three movement “Toy” Symphony, long considered to have been the work of Haydn but now believed to have been written by Mozart’s father Leopold, himself a professional violinist and composer as well as an incredibly proud dad. We were performing an arrangement created especially for the assembled forces, and our young lady vocalists agreed to join the percussion section on warbling canary (rescued from a Christmas cracker), rattle (taken from an old pram set) and triangle (from the Bishop Justus percussion trolley). Christopher excelled on toy drum, forming an excellent trumpet and drum team with Alex, and Emma gave the whole ensemble a firmly rhythmic and characterful bass line from her trombone.
Year 9 Brass players take the lead in Leopold Mozart’s “Toy” Symphony while Christopher, our professional horn player, forsakes his usual splendid instrument for a brightly coloured plastic drum.
John Webber and his Elm Singers shared the platform at St Mary’s Shortlands with Stone Road Single Reeds on Saturday 17 May for a Summer Concert in aid of Everyone Matters. Reverend Morag Finch welcomed us all to her spacious modern church that on this gorgeous summer evening was flooded with both sound and light. Bromley Arts Society mounted an exhibition and the evening’s music juxtaposed Palestrina with Pinafore, Schubert with Shearing. The performers ranged from youngsters in their teens to seniors in their mid-80s, a real advertisement for the power of music to bring the generations together in a shared pleasure. Four young professional clarinet players from the Band of the Grenadier Guards gave their time to support the wind ensemble, and were especially featured in Mozart’s glorious Adagio for 2 clarinets and 3 basset horns K.411. Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock was sung by Margaret Cadney with Margaret Archibald on clarinet obbligato and John at the keyboard. There was an excellent turnout in support of the event, including one friend newly returned from a trip to Vietnam, and another whose house is almost within sight of the church. Barbara’s interval refreshments, the collection plate at the end, and subsequent postal donations have between them raised nearly £400 for Everyone Matters. The funds will help towards several projects requested for June including a new interactive workshop programme for young people with severe learning difficulties and on the autistic spectrum that is being devised at the invitation of Priory School;
A post-16 student launches into a spontaneous Cossack move during an Everyone Matters dance workshop at Priory School in South Norwood.
to be called “Changing Times”, it is to be a musical exploration of changing moods, styles, rhythms and tempi, and will celebrate the school’s move this term to a brand new building.
Ten players crammed into the music room at my house in Bromley on Sunday afternoon 27 April. Peter Nichols was making a welcome return after his jazz improvisation workshop last year, and many of the players had returned for another session when Peter would show them that they really could simply make it up.
The room became even more of a “jam” in every sense of the word as friends and family crowded in at 6p.m. to hear the results of our afternoon’s music making.
Many thanks to everyone who played, who listened, who stayed for the party afterwards, and who contributed to the funds of Everyone Matters to help towards the costs of our forthcoming intergenerational project on 20 June at Bishop Justus School and Coloma Court Nursing Home when we will celebrate National Care Homes Day.