Music in Schools: Launcelot School Summer Compostion Project (Lewisham 2023)
Brass Ensemble Prize (RAM) winners, Hannah, Meggie and Eliza of Solis Trio, have been sharing joy and inspiring others through our music-in-schools and music-as-therapy partnerships. From performances at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability and Merton Dementia Hub to projects within London schools, this dynamic trio consistently delights all ages. Hannah (horn) and Meggie (trombone) talk to us about their recent project at Launcelot School.
Tell us a bit about the Launcelot project
The nine-session summer term project involved two classes of 30 pupils each. It was The Musicians’ Company’s first project with this school, creating an exciting opportunity for us to hone our teaching skills and make music more accessible in the classroom. The aim of the project was to develop the music programme at Launcelot and to give the children hands on experience listening to and playing a wide range of music. Both classes got taught the same lessons, although we tailored them slightly to accommodate any pupils who had special needs.
Did you have a project theme?
At the end of the project, our year 3 classes had the opportunity to create something for a school assembly. We had worked on lots of different skills and felt a great way to tie in all their hard work was to have a good theme for their final composition. We asked the pupils to share their favourite foods, then as a class we chose our top three foods from the list. We then created rhythms to go with those foods and got the children to clap along.
Something we worked hard on throughout the project was pulse and rhythm and encouraging the participants to step outside their comfort zone, but they never once fell behind. Because it had been such a success, we decided to focus on this in the final composition. We even incorporated cross rhythms (when one rhythm goes over another) which they quickly grasped. To do this you need a good sense of pulse which was sometimes challenging when the children got excited but overall, they did an amazing job and created two great compositions out of food!
Had the pupils tried brass instruments before?
I don’t think the children had tried brass instruments before. They did know what they were though so that was impressive!
What’s with the garden hose?
The garden hose is meant to replicate the basic structure of a brass instrument. It’s a great (and indestructible) way to give primary school children a chance to play a ‘brass’ instrument. You cut the hose to the size the brass instrument would be, then cut up a used plastic bottle and put it in the end of the hose to act as the bell (1 litre bottles work best). You then put the mouthpiece in the other end and buzz through it to create a sound similar to a brass instrument. We brought in a wide variety of trombone, tuba, horn and trumpet mouthpieces for the children to try. The children absolutely loved this activity, and every single student produced a sound of some sort which is amazing!
How did you structure the sessions?
Although we regularly play in Solis Trio, this was the first time we’d worked on a school project together. It was great to have so much creative freedom when planning and structuring our lessons. Having said that, we seemed to find our teaching groove after Catriona, the Company’s music education and participation advisor, gave us some guidance after observing a lesson. She reminded us of the specialist skills we can bring as instrumentalists, such as performance. This led us to introduce aspects of music-making that may not be so accessible in a ‘normal’ school lesson.
Something we also found valuable was giving the pupils as much creative control as possible. We wanted to give them the tools to express themselves however they chose. Letting them take the reins on how we structured compositions or the rhythms we used allowed them to become musicians themselves.
What challenges did you face?
The main challenge for us both was keeping the children fully focused for the entire lesson. They were absolutely fascinated by the brass which was brilliant, and they especially loved it when we played to them (Spiderman was a firm favourite!). The children were so full of ideas and questions that we sometimes lost a bit of focus towards the end goal. We would incorporate games so they could get rid of some energy and then come back to the task at hand. We would however always encourage them to be inquisitive and it was great to see them excited by what we do as a career!
What did the pupils learn?
The aim of this project was to help the participants experience different aspects of music. At the beginning of each session, we played a game called ‘gimme 1’ which got them focused, engaged and making music together right from the start. They also learnt about music notation and could sight read rhythms including triplets. The participants also got to play the drums and our makeshift ’brass’ instruments.
Of course, performing is a huge aspect of what any musician does. By the end of the project, the pupils had developed a great understanding of rhythm and pulse which was beautifully demonstrated in an assembly attended by the whole school.
Any standout moments?
School projects with The Musicians’ Company are always very rewarding. Any moment where a young person learns a new skill or engages with something that you’re also passionate about is very special. On this project, having two hugely enthusiastic classes was amazing. It was great to hear a few pupils wanted to take up brass instruments – one boy was particularly keen to play trombone! Another standout moment was seeing a pupil fully participate, and at times lead the class, despite being told they usually show little interest in music and always wear headphones during lessons.
After a long summer holiday, we are both really excited to see what this year has to offer. I (Meggie) have started a postgraduate degree at the Royal College of Music and Hannah is going into her final year at the Royal Academy of Music. We also both play in Solis Trio and are excited to kick off this season playing at The Musicians’ Company master and clerks’ dinner.
Interview by Suzy Willmott
Suzy is freelance copywriter who works with the Musicians’ Company