Music in Schools: Thornhill Primary School Composition Project (Islington 2023)
Exploring city sounds was the theme for a Musicians’ Company project at Thornhill Primary School. Delivered by Young Artists Katie Lodge and Bradley Jones (part of Young Artist group Ibex Brass), the nine-session project for two Year 4s classes involved turning the sounds of everyday life into pieces of music. Katie tells us more about this Music in Schools partnership.
“This was the first time I’d led a composition project and I couldn’t have wished for a better team. Aside from Bradley, volunteers Dinah Nichols and Jan Yerbury came to support us. The teaching team were also amazing, striking the perfect balance between being present and letting us do our thing. Our sessions began with welcome songs to help break down barriers and set the tone for the day. Whether it was singing in silly voices or letting the pupils do a silly dance, we wanted the pupils to really let their hair down. The beauty of this 9-week project is that it gave us time to build the familiarity and trust needed to coax even the quieter ones out of their shell.
Delivering such a long project always calls for good planning. Bradley and I also wanted to tie the plan into the year group’s national curriculum needs. As such, we based our first three sessions on listening to and appraising music – thinking about how different music makes them feel and why. Sessions 4-7 were more about learning the elements of music composition. The final session involved performing their composition. The excitement of an end performance helped keep the pupils’ enthusiasm high.
As the Year 4s were about to start a project on ‘different kinds of places’, exploring city sounds tied in nicely with their learning plan. Having assisted on some wonderful education projects with the English Touring Orchestra and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, I knew I wanted to help the pupils create a (non-cheesy) pop song that was catchy, memorable and exciting. I was also adamant that it needed to be composed as much as possible by them, and to have variety and direction, not just loops. It also needed to be cool!
In the early sessions, the pupils were encouraged to use voice and body percussion to convey everyday street sounds. This led the children to explore onomatopoeic sounds such as the ‘swoosh’ of wind or the ‘crashing’ of cars, as well as actions such as the stamping of feet for thunder and tapping of knees for rain. The pupils enjoyed brainstorming all the sounds they could think of, which even included the jingle of the ice cream van.
From this, the pupils began creating a three-part soundscape that built on their understanding of music elements, such as pitch, timbre and tempo. The first Year 4 class chose to create a soundscape using rain/thunder and birds/waves and traffic. The other class explored rain, thunder and birds. Both classes celebrated the end of the project with an impressive performance in front of a large audience of parents, teachers and pupils. They received a big (and very well deserved!) round of applause. The day ended with a communal “goodbye” song and with everyone feeling they’d had a lot of fun. We hope to come back again for another project.
All in all, this outreach project was a great opportunity to help grow the pupils’ appreciation for music outside a formal setting. In using sounds they could identify with in addition to less familiar classical music sounds, we were able to engage the learners more easily. I hope the experience will inspire a few of them to feel confident when composing, to take up an instrument, or at least to continue exploring body percussion. The body is the one instrument we all have, making it the most accessible instrument of all!”
Interview by Suzy Willmott
Suzy is freelance copywriter who works with the Musicians’ Company