Over the last two school terms Drake Music have been delivering a primary schools project called Tower Sounds.
Tower Sounds was an inclusive music ensemble, working with mainstream Tower Hamlets primary schools and in partnership with Tower Hamlets Special advisory teacher team.
The music ensemble worked across 2 schools and was made up of 50% disabled young people and 50% non-disabled young people in mainstream education.
Its aim was to address the lack of inclusive music-making activities for disabled and non-disabled young people to work together, by providing the opportunity and expertise for them to learn, create and play music as an ensemble.
Here is a reflection on the experience from Sophie (otherwise known as Pixie), our DM trainee Associate Musician who delivered the project alongside Charles……
Last week I sat in a room of committed, ‘Musiccy’ people and felt happy; I also felt a renewed sense of purpose and belonging. Oh it’s been a journey DM fans! Like all good tales, let’s start at the beginning…
How it all began…
Imagine the scene: I receive a little email. It’s from Daryl at Drake Music! Pixie doesn’t know The new Regional Manager very well; their paths have crossed and she knows he’s this mega talent and bloke about town but that’s about it! He asks if she’d be interested in co-facilitating some sessions for Drake in schools, as part of the Tower Sounds project.
Pixie rereads the mail at speed, heart a flutter and bruised brain trying to engage. Surely there’s a mistake/ Daryl’s got the wrong pixie & does he know her lack of musical whatsit??
Then comes a flashback; an almost black & white scene (because the weather was so bad that day) apart from her neon pink hoody, with her Rubiness ON STAGE IN A BAND last summer. Her mind’s eye sees an IPad with that wondrous thing called ThumbJam. She was singing “AMT!” – Assistive Music Technology with the coolest group ever, Sonic Vistas… She had made music, been happy.
The next bit of this tale goes thus; Pixie says yes to Daryl-Boss “if you’re sure? I haven’t been well”! Etc. Boss says “cool” (in a professional manner). Pixie meets Charles and they begin to plan.
Week one finally & yet suddenly comes, despite access issues, broken bones (not mine for once!) and lost instruments at the back of Mayflower’s music cupboard. Myself and Charles have first night nerves; neither of us have previously worked with such young musicians, they arrive and are all just a little bit wonderful…
The next 3 months fly by. We lose some participants but gain others and there are more broken bones (Charles’s this time!), plus access issues. Yet our tower is building on firm foundations of a percussive rainstorm, soundbeam, hi-tech & tambourines.
Finding solid ground
The moment we really knew we were on solid ground, was with the Minnions’ (who needs Pharrell Williams?!) version of Happy.
I remember clearly the first time we played it to the group and invited them to move to the music; 3 or 4 little boys froze, like older boys Too Cool for School at a disco. Then gradually the music magic worked and sooner than later, they were all bopping about.
We re-wrote lyrics, using words the group associated with summer and this went into a composition played via loops on a soundwall. One week we were joined by Charlotte, a Visual Artist and we had a beautiful blue sea right there in the dining hall of our Towered Hamlet.
Meanwhile, I work with Graham as my Pixie mentor! I learnt about apps, apps & more apps. My world was opening up to real musical possibilities, both for my own creativity and hopefully for the benefit of others. Pixie likes learning and confidence was growing.
A moment of clarity
We were asked to monitor any ‘disability stuff’ that came up in the sessions in an informal way.
For me, there’s something about spending time with other short people. It’s a different interaction. After one session I was waiting to use the accessible loo and was suddenly surrounded by a class of slightly taller short people!
Over the years I’ve become fairly adept at telling apart the ‘cheeky children’ from those that are genuinely curious. Having deemed one of the class to be the former, I answered the obligatory “How Old Are You?” question, with “A hundred!” and was promptly told I look like Yoda. I probably asked for that one!
In truth, I had a double whammy to achieve; getting our group to not ‘be shy’ of me alongside engaging with me as an adult. Of course there were more questions. Tower Sounds was a truly inclusive project, where half the young musicians are disabled and the others, their non-disabled friends. Once I was asked if I could stand; one of our wheel-chair using boys who had been fairly reserved, the first few sessions, piped up with “I don’t stand!” He didn’t need to add “and it doesn’t matter”…
It was a joy to feel all our confidence grows along with the Tower. When we introduced our dance map the group made themselves, that same 5 year-old confidently shuffled around it on his bottom, out of his `chair. His shoes came off and I was worried the others would trip over him. He however, remained undaunted and it truly gladdened my heart when his little band of brothers all sat down together and shuffled with him…
It was a joy to see all our confidence grow along with our music and much laughter-filled, tower sound.
We were supported by the Teaching Assistants and together, we came to Show Time. Everyone was really excited at the idea of our Sharing in a proper theatre and so the great day came – off to The Space at the Isle of Dogs we went!
There were hiccups, of course; half the instruments didn’t get there so our rain storm had a lot of thunder and not much sun musically!!
The group made up for that.
Personally, I felt like I’d really achieved that double whammy, with everyone interacting with me as well as looking for guidance throughout the performance.
It’s a cliché but faces of the parents really did light the tower, yet no sooner had we begun than it was over. We had to say goodbye, which was sad because we really had all been Happy, together.
Back to reality…
So last week I sat in a room for a Drake training day and there I was with both Charles and Graham, plus many other committed, Musiccy people. I again felt happy with a renewed sense of purpose and belonging.
Through a tower of sound, this Pixie had risen above all those horrible `esses once upon a Time.
Happy Endings aren’t just for fairy’s and I hope there will be many more tales…