For the 5 week project at Riverside Special School I have composed music tracks and elements in the style of the Victorian pleasure gardens. Along with the composed music, live bassoon and voice are used to interact with the children and through the story of the Victorian Pleasure Gardens in the Museum of London.
The music has been composed specifically for the children’s needs, with use of repeated patterns and the ability to dissect the elements of the music into its simplest form so as not to overwhelm the children depending on what is appropriate that day.
Here is an ibook I’m developing for the children
At the end of the session we had feedback from the children’s teacher, which was particularly interesting. He noted that:
The music and activities are operating on many levels. You are letting the students take the lead and going with them. You are doing what feels right and going with what’s working. Encouraging the children but not pushing them. Everyone was able to join in their own way and on their own level.
Child 1 came into the group, went away and came back again. Child 2 was in and out: Joining in, watching, joining in, watching.
It was nice to see different things like the Skoog empowering the children to make choices and the vibration speaker, making the experience sensory.
Here is a selection of some of the things I’ve noticed as we’ve worked.
At the end of our first session at the school, child 3 suddenly stood up and clapped in time to the music, walking in a bouncy way around the room. It was a real moment, his whole body language and energy seemed completely connected, engrossed and enthralled in participating in the music.
In the acrobatic section of the pleasure gardens, the whole class were on their feet and intertwined in one continuously piece of colourful plaited rope. Everybody was pushing, pulling, dancing, moving and interacting with each other. The music had built slowly from segmented parts of balancing, juggling, laughing and circus style baseline. I stood at the side improvising on the bassoon noticing peoples interactions and playing with the tension and copying, reflecting, extending and interacting with what they were doing. John the teacher was slowly pulling the rope towards child 1 and his face was delighting in the moment. As I noticed this I played a chromatic scale going down building to a crescendo and heightening the tension of the moment.
As I looked to the left the teaching assisant and child 5 were dancing and I played rhythmical music to emphasise this dancing interaction.
Throughout the acrobatic dancing section, at the height of the music making, child 1 and child 6 were holding hands to dance. child 1 was smiling and laughing a lot, this is a big development, there are many times when he’s not been happy, so to see him in this smiling state is wonderful.
As we played the pleasure gardens walking music I noticed child 5 gently rocking backwards and forwards, so on the bassoon I pulsated on one note in time with his body movements and he began to notice, as child 5 moved more I increased the pulsating on the note. Through the music making and the music of the pleasure gardens we were interacting.
As we gave out the pieces of grass so the children could feel the texture of grass in their hands, I watched the children’s fingers and played flutter tongue notes on the bassoon to reflect the rough texture of the grass and I used rhythm and phrasing to copy and mimic what they were doing, to make the experience even more sensory and interactive.
At the beginning of the acrobat session we passed around the acrobatic toy. Child 3 delighted in pressing the toy and watching it flip in the air. As I watched and waited each time she pressed, I played looping phrases on the bassoon to add a sonic element to this playful moment. Child 3 was completely transfixed and engaged in this activity.
In the fireworks section we made up our own vocal sounds to represent different types of fireworks. Child 7 began to make noises in reaction to our fireworks, the teachers told us that child 7 was enjoying herself. We counted to 3 as a group and all made our sounds together. The pleasure gardens fireworks scene become an interactive group vocal activity exploring sound.
As we explored the Victorian hat feathers, Pamela the teaching assistant gently brushed the feather over child 2 face, I watched the interaction and began to play bassoon phrases to follow and mirror this activity. Through our three-way interaction child 2 was smiling as he experienced this multisensory experience.
To enter the pleasure gardens I recorded the sounds of the edges of coins and the sound of ripping paper. The children often communicate very quietly in sounds that people might think are simply noise (John the teacher told me), but in fact it’s a very complex world of interaction. The very light sound of the ripping paper and the coins was at a dynamic level to interact with this world of communication. child 4 has particular sound she likes and I began to make them in a game of call copy. The theme of entering the pleasure gardens, Exchanging coins and tickets had become a complex quiet world of interactions that allowed us to enter into the world of the children’s communication.
The bassoon and it’s low frequencies can be very therapeutic. There is a field of work called low frequency therapy and this can be like that. When playing the time travel song at the start of the workshop I play very low frequencies in the room in an aim to settle the children and let them know the session is beginning. The time travel song has become familiar to the children and child 8 has begun to smile when he hears it, this is fantastic as previously been unsettled. Child 6 begins to make sounds that we now know are sounds of joy as she hears the song and the sound of the bassoon.
Child 3 was quite quiet in the session but he did participate in the dressing up section and wore the Victorian hat. The teaching assistants told us that this was good for him.
At the end of the session the teaching assistant told us that the classroom next door had asked what is all that musicmaking, can we have some too please. Our pleasure garden music is filtering into the school and we hope to do a procession and sharing assembly on our last session.