Music in Schools: A Spring Strings Project at Deptford Park Primary School (Lewisham 2022)

In Spring 2022 the Company teamed up with Deptford Park Primary School to deliver an ambitious string project. Involving two Year 3 (7-8) classes, and over 40 violins, the 9-session project was led by Young Artists Helena Švigelj (cello) and Elena Accogli (viola) with the help of volunteer and Company Liveryman Tim Johns. Helena recounts her experience of this very special event.

“The children had been learning the violin as a whole class for several months when Elena and I turned up. They knew the parts of the violin and how they work, and were able to pizz open strings. Our aim was to build on the lessons they were receiving in whole class ensemble tuition (WCET) across nine 25-minute sessions, which required a decent amount of planning! Luckily, we always had a meeting with Tim before each session to discuss it through.

While I knew what I was letting myself in for – I’ve done quite a few Company participation projects – this was the longest running project I’d done, and the first with a violist. It was also the first school project I’d delivered online, as while the school wasn’t in lockdown, it wasn’t fully in-person either. This made it harder to interact with the children, as you couldn’t easily read their expressions or feel the energy within the room. However, we persevered, kicking off the first two sessions with an interactive introduction to the different registers, ranges and roles of string instruments and string ensembles.

Thankfully session three was in person! This gave us a much better feel for how much the students knew. However, every child is different and while some had more of an aptitude for music or were getting outside tuition, it was our mission to deliver the sessions in a way that would engage everyone. Learning the different terminology string players use for different effects was new to them all, and most definitely an all-round hit!

While we’d touched on terminology in session one, session three went into sound effects in more depth. The children loved learning the Italian names: col legno, sul ponticello, sul tasto, tremolo (often competing with one another as to who would say it first!) and relating them to the feelings and images they invoke.

Their answers would always be so original, and of course the more scary, dramatic sounds such as tremolo always caused a bit of excitement in the room! The children also enjoyed playing pizzicato on one string in time to Sibelius Water Droplets and making rain drop sounds.

“You have developed a super working relationship and your approach to the children is both professional and exciting.” Rebecca Ogungbesan, Assistant Head

Music has a big impact on everyone, but I think especially at this age. The children were like sponges, taking in everything they were seeing and hearing, and really impressed by our playing (which is nice as musicians can be very hard on themselves!). At the start of each session Elena and I would play a piece or a little concerto that would invariably lead to discussions around melody, rhythm and sound.

The children also got to learn more about string groups like duos, trios, and quartets and about orchestras and how each instrument has a different role. This led to exploring rhythms on different strings and Ravel Bolero’s ‘ostinatos’, with Elena playing a melody on top of it that worked very well.

However, the cadenza exercise is where the children’s imaginations really came to life. Building on everything they learned, the children created a cadenza together using different colours to symbolise different heights for lower and higher strings and different symbols to indicate different effects. Composing was something they really enjoyed and were enthused by.

All in all, it was an amazing experience, with great feedback from the assistant head, and moments of humour along the way. Because my and Elena’s name sound similar, the children asked if we were sisters and because Tim, our mentor, came with us to every session, they thought he was our uncle! That said, we really did feel like one big family in the classroom, all enjoying creating and learning about music together.”

Interview by Suzy Willmott

Suzy is freelance copywriter who works with the Musicians’ Company