Live Music Now has been working in Princes Primary School in Liverpool since January 2013 as part of a Youth Music-funded Musicians in Residence programme.
The programme aims to support children’s musical development as well as their personal and social development through participation in group music activities and some 1:1 sessions. Carla Sousa – an LMN musician has been doing weekly half day visits, enhanced by termly concerts by Live Music Now ensembles and CPD sessions for staff.
Carla has worked very closely with the teaching assistants and class teachers to deliver the group sessions. She approaches the sessions using her flute and other instruments as tools for communication, particularly with children who are non-verbal.
She and the teachers have tracked the musical development of selected pupils using Sounds of Intent.
One successful activity involves children with PMLD ‘conducting’ Carla playing the flute – thus giving them a sense of control over the sound.
On the day I visited Princes to film the project Carla was using a drum with a group of children with PMLD. It was obvious from the point that Carla entered the room that the class were excited to see her. Using techniques derived from Intensive Interaction, Carla spent time with each of the participants, allowing them to dictate the volume and intensity of the drumming through gesture and vocalisation. Sophia Pullen, music co-ordinator at Princes, explained to me that it took several sessions for Carla to build up engagement and rapport with pupils. Teachers and TAs have been surprised by some of the responses and levels of engagement from particular pupils who are often non-responsive.
In the following session, Carla used flash cards and percussion to lead an activity based on weather. This class was made up of children with complex needs who faced no physical barriers to music. Again the rapport and engagement was obvious, with participants making confident choices about which instruments and activities they preferred. Three participants chatted to me afterwards about their favourite instruments and songs.
Carla is currently taking part in a 6-part training course on Sounds of Intent funded by Resonate Hub, Live Music Now and Brighter Sound. She feels this opportunity, which has come about through Resonate’s SEND network, has been extremely beneficial. Carla commented that Liverpool’s Hub is noticeably pro-active in its approach to SEND.
Carla feels that one of the key aspects of best practice in SEND settings is space, both in the physical and the musical sense. Rushing is always counter-productive. During my observation of the second session, for example, class members who find it hard to stay in one place were encouraged to walk around, taking an instrument with them, continuing to participate, but in a way that they felt comfortable with. Carla remarked that techniques such as these are often made possible by good TAs who are alert to the difference between disruptive behaviour and genuine exploration.
Carla also allows the young people she is working with to spend time exploring the feel of an instrument before the idea of playing it is introduced.
She feels that practitioners need to build a degree of flexibility into their planning – things rarely go exactly as planned, and responding to what happens in the moment is key.