Mar 262013

Texture, touch, tone and timbre

Supported by the Lucille Graham Trust, the Red Socks Charitable Trust and the schools

Since Christmas Scott Bywater and I have had the privilege of delivering workshops at three schools for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties. In January and February we visited Rutherford School in South Croydon and the Surrey Teaching Centre at the Children’s Trust in Tadworth. Then, in March, we returned to Tadworth for a further two days at the School for Profound Education.

Staff, pupils and parents were moved and uplifted by your sessions and we had so many positive comments. We were so touched at the effort you put in bringing so many instruments and building in responses from one week to the next, not to mention your totally thorough planning and evaluations.

Jackie Winter, Deputy Headteacher, Surrey Teaching Centre

Scott and I had first devised our percussion project at the behest of Stephen Haylett, Music Therapist at Rutherford School. Most of the children at Rutherford have no access to spoken language, suffer some degree of visual impairment and are nearly all wheelchair users, and Stephen had suggested that we could engage them initially by appealing to their sense of touch.

Our starting point in devising the project was that we would explore different textures for their sound-making potential, show ways that staff and children together could create simple percussion instruments in class, and then use the children’s own shakers and drums in our hands-on music-making sessions. It was delightful to see the range of instruments, mostly shakers, that resulted from this, including some that were beautifully decorated with beads or paper butterflies, and even two water bottles that had become a tiger and a leopard, complete with eyes and a tail! However, it has to be said that in the end it was the quality of Scott’s many large and exciting orchestral percussion instruments that carried the sessions, and the compelling power of  some great music, chosen from classical and modern repertoire, including such percussion-rich warhorses as Ravel’s Bolero and Bizet’s March of the Toreadors.

Throughout our days at all three schools the greatest thrills were from experiencing the wonderful range of percussion instruments that Scott piled into his van for each visit. We had always planned to make a big feature of the vibraphone, and the tremulous magic of its unique sound did indeed fascinate many of the children. Some were able to see the vibraphone’s fluttering mechanism and one young lady accepted her own pair of beaters and joined Scott to play Twinkle, twinkle; others were able to join in by playing gentle chimes or bells that matched the mood of gentle pieces, including Chick Corea’s “Crystal Silence” that allowed each session a moment of repose. Progression from one visit to the next was difficult to guage at Rutherford School, but Stephen Haylett commented on the greater confidence that grew as children became familiar with us and the sounds we were making. It was especially exciting to see one pupil’s response to Scott’s bass drum; this is a boy who usually enjoys his music sessions, and on both our visits Scott was able to take direction from his increasingly excited gestures, mostly indicating “faster” or “louder” – the school staff said they had not seen him so animated for a long while!

I felt that the activities in which the responses of the children dictated the style, pace and direction of the music were most effective.  For instance, some of the groups seem to prefer a softer, more reflective style of music-making, using bells and chimes as the predominant musical texture.  Other groups revelled in boisterous and extrovert playing, especially when featuring cymbals, bass drums and timpani.  There were some wonderful examples of musical interaction between Scott and the children, enabling some of them to experience at close hand the vibrational and distinctive sounds of the larger percussion instruments.

Stephen Haylett, Music Therapist

Sharing activities together was also especially important to the children at the Surrey Teaching Centre, and we were able to develop ensemble work with several groups. We had been asked to support some curriculum work with a group of young people working at Key Stages 3 and 4 who were studying music from around the world, which we felt gave us a cue to hand out maracas, guiros, cabasas, a cowbell and an agogo and to layer rhythms in a Latin-American song, something we developed on our second visit into quite a sophisticated samba. Their teacher Cath wrote:

These sessions worked especially well for a student with severe memory difficulties and it was evident from her high level of independence and her animation in the sessions. CB

I was glad to be able to play melodies on my clarinet to suit the wide range of percussion sounds that Scott made available, but perhaps the most moving moment for me was to watch Scott working with the two boys at the Surrey Teaching Centre who had suffered tragic brain injury in accidents, helping each in turn to hold a stick and strike the kettle drum, and then wait for each one to initiate the next stroke with the tiniest flicker of a sign that this was what they each wanted to do.

We can’t thank you enough… come back again.

All our good wishes,I hope you continue to have fun with many more pupils, children, students, parents and staff for many years to come.

Jackie Winter, Surrey Teaching Centre

Sep 152012

This new project was devised in January 2012 by Margaret Archibald and Julia Desbruslais for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties at Rutherford School. The project is being offered to The School for Profound Education at Tadworth in April, and to St. Nicholas School in Purley in May when the project will be adapted for young children with moderate learning difficulties, speech and communication disorders and autism.

A Mood Music workshop at The School for Profound Education, Tadworth Court

Margaret Archibald describes the project at Rutherford School:

Julia and I visited Rutherford School for two linked workshop days; on the second day we aimed to bring to performance level music explored on the first day.

Our primary aim was to explore contrasting moods through imaginative use of music, words, lighting, props and percussion, and thus to immerse the children in a multi-sensory theatrical and musical experience through participation in works by great classical composers

We have enjoyed close links with Rutherford School over more than two decades, for many years as musicians with the London Mozart Players and more recently with Everyone Matters. Our aim is always to build on our experience at previous workshops in developing each new idea.

An important goal was that we should work collaboratively with Rutherford School’s three regular visiting Music Therapists, with their detailed knowledge of each child’s response to music, and also with the Rutherford School care staff with their intimate knowledge of the children day by day.

We were also keen to develop creative use of great classical repertoire by some of Western music’s greatest composers, each piece powered by its own characteristic rhythmic momentum and providing a safe musical space within a logical framework.

Thanks to the experience gained when Everyone Matters delivered workshops alongside Stephen Haylett at Rutherford School in spring 2011 we retained what we had seen as a clear benefit to the children of working with small group sizes and mixed age ranges, thus giving them a different experience from their daily routine in the classroom.

Hello and Goodbye Song

In this musical “hello” we played a sequence of well-known tunes with linking music between each one. The cello provided a continuous accompaniment and with my more portable instrument I was able to play the linking music and walk to each child in turn to perform that child’s special “signature” tune. We used this device as a “goodbye” at the end of the session, and on Day 2 we developed the idea further by adding a special percussion instrument for each child so that they could use it to say “hello” and “goodbye” to us.

Mood Music

A few lines of poetry introduced each item and set the scene through vocal tone as much as through meaning. Coloured lights (available at Rutherford) bathed the room in colours to match the mood of each piece.

Props and costumes helped to tell the story behind each piece of music, with a special role for lengths of brightly coloured silks that sometimes draped the floor and sometimes were worn by being draped around the children themselves, and because these children’s lives are often so static we sometimes asked the adults to create movement in the room by swirling the fabrics around.

Percussion instruments were matched to the style and character of each piece and were chosen so that children could experience them, if possible by striking or waving the instruments themselves, or by feeling the vibrations against their skin or through their clothes where they were unable to manipulate them. The adults were always on hand to back up the children so that, if at all possible, the children could choose when and how sounds should be created.

The Swan

Introduced by a few lines from The Silver Swan.

– blue fabric “river” and feather boa “swan” – dream chime that helpers could hold for children to sweep their fingers through to create a gentle chiming, creating a peaceful, floaty mood.
Sequence: The Silver Swan – chimes – fabric – gentle bluey-green watery light – clarinet ripples from behind – cello melody


Introduced by a stanza from West Side Story.

– bright red-orange fabric – Latin-American costume – castanets and maracas to establish the characteristic Latin-American dance rhythm.
Sequence: – establish rhythm– add children’s different pitch maracas –introduce red-orange fabric and lighting – add cello accompaniment – clarinet rides in with tune.


Introduced by a few Lines on Westminster Bridge.

– golden fabric and lighting – jingles, either held or worn around the wrist, for a sparkling sunrise effect. Sequence: – establish cello pizz – add golden dawn lighting effect – add jingles – add arpeggios on clarinet – cello swings into the tune.

Cushion Dance

Introduced by lines from A Piper.

– multi-coloured fabrics – large and small drums struck by hand or with beaters for a mood of celebration. Sequence: – shifting coloured lighting and coloured fabrics give a disco feel – the cello establishes Bartok’s dance rhythm – drums join – clarinet adds tune.

On Day 1 we introduced four contrasting pieces of music, two peaceful items (The Swan and Morning) and two lively pieces (America and Cushion Dance). We performed each piece for the children while at the same time associating each piece with a few introductory lines of spoken poetry, with brightly coloured sari lengths of fabric and with ambient coloured lighting (thanks to being in a room which made this possible). We then engaged the children and their helpers through atmospheric use of different types of percussion as we performed each piece for a second time. The Swan was accompanied by gentle dream chimes, America featured Latin-American style maracas, Morning used tinkling bells and oriental cymbals and Cushion Dance provided a chance to play drums, large or small as appropriate to each child. The children were invited to play the percussion instruments to whatever extent was possible for them, or at least to experience the sound of percussion at close quarters through their adult carers enabling the sounds for them. Strong rhythms were provided thanks to the participation of Rutherford’s Music Therapists Sarah Kong and Victoria Brock, underpinned by our own orchestral instruments and, in the case of America, by my drumming feet!

The pre-planned groups of children necessarily changed as the school adapted to cope with each child’s individual needs throughout the day; I suspect this was a headache for the Rutherford staff but it was not a problem for us as we were always helped by the staff to work with each child in ways appropriate to them. I was very happy to be able to build on the experience gained last year of keeping group sizes small, something that enabled us in each session to relate to individual children. We began every session with a hello song devised by Julia in which a short linking phrase led to a special tune personalised for each child in turn, and this was a lovely device for giving each child a sense of being special; eye contact was achieved with several of the children, especially at the end when each child’s special piece was used to say goodbye. Because group sizes were so small it was always possible to achieve giving each child their own special musical moment but in a short space of time.

Our aim on Day 2 was to work at specific pieces requested by each group, developing percussion effects and rhythms, making more vivid use of scenery, props and lighting, and bringing the whole together into a satisfying performance that enveloped the children in a multi-sensory and multi-art-form experience.

Julia and I developed the hello and goodbye songs by finding a special percussion instrument that each child could play, perhaps with some extra help; we took care to repeat each child’s special tune from Day 1 and so hoped to create a link and a sense of progression across the two days, separated as they were by only one intervening day in the same week.

We introduced a few new pieces of music and used them in short performances to enhance the mood of each participatory item; thus the slow movement melody from Dvorak’s New World Symphony created a still, quiet “darkness” from which “Morning” could grow, “Consider Yourself” from Oliver provided a rousing introduction to the strong rhythms of “America” and Mozart’s Rondo alla turca involved the children and their helpers in playing jingling percussion as an introduction to some energetic drumming in the “Cushion Dance”.

Music Therapist Stephen Haylett supported me and Julia throughout Day 2, using percussion to enhance our musical ideas and using his intimate knowledge of the children from his music therapy sessions with them to guide us in helping each child to join in to best effect.

All three of Rutherford School’s visiting music therapists completed detailed evaluation forms on our behalf, avidly read by me and Julia, and invaluable in helping us develop the work in the future:-

Here are some of the comments offered by Victoria Brock:

“I expected an interactive music session for the children, involving instruments for the children and music to listen to. My expectations were exceeded; the additional use of moving fabrics, lights and enthusiasm from both Margaret and Julia created a captivating ambiance and created a supportive atmosphere for the children. The spoken introductions/ setting the scene worked well for both staff and children.

I enjoyed the whole atmosphere created and was really impressed by the way Margaret and Julia spoke to the children – they used a tone of voice that was exciting, engaging and yet not patronizing.
I felt staff knew what was expected of their role and everyone joined in whole-heartedly.

For me as a music therapist it was useful for my own professional development of new ideas etc.”

…and by Sarah Kong:

“Music is key to Rutherford’s profound education curriculum and accessed the child’s learning in prominent areas such as:-Communication, social, life skills, sensory cognitive and motor….all these were covered, but feel that communication was highlighted the most with response to sound / voices / touch / motivation / initiation / turn-taking.”

…and by Stephen Haylett:

“I thoroughly enjoyed working with Margaret and Julia in the second of the Rutherford School workshops, and was impressed by the enthusiasm, professionalism and child- centred approach that they both brought to their work.”

…and here is Julia’s response:

“Living in the 21st century where life rushes by and there seems to be so little time to make people feel valued and important, it is a real privilege to work for an organization that lives out its name Everyone Matters.

I have really enjoyed helping to create a workshop directed at children with profound and multiple learning difficulties and feeling a real connection with them through the shared experience of music-making, the common language we all share. The response of the children at Rutherford School was a varied as the personalities we played to and so moving to be part of.”

Julia Desbruslais (Co-principal Cello, London Mozart Players)