Since September, I’ve been co-creating a Singing Strategy in Lansbury Lawrence Primary School. I say co-creating because this project is a collaboration between Wigmore Hall, Lansbury Lawrence and Tower Hamlets Music Hub. It’s a partnership between myself, the Wigmore Hall Learning team, the senior management team at the school, the teachers and support staff, and Alison at THAMES. It’s true, it really does take a village.
In the second year of the Partner School’s Project, the Year 5’s wrote a brilliant and emotive opera. This was excellently performed at Wigmore Hall by the Year 6 students and subsequently inspired what the third year of this Partner School's project would look like: a whole school approach to singing. This would involve developing musical skills through using the voice, as much time singing as possible and the opportunity for everyone in the school (students and teachers) to explore their own voice.
The year started off with an inspiring INSET day at Wigmore Hall. It felt important to give the teachers the opportunity to sing together, to explore practical ways of how to sing in a classroom with thirty children, and also to think about what to sing, including existing songs and the possibility of writing new material. But it also felt a relevant time to explore their own beliefs about their voices, and in some cases the lack of confidence. We also had a really powerful discussion about making mistakes in singing and discovered that so much of the fear around bringing music into the classroom stemmed from, 'but what if I make a mistake?'.
In November I went into the school for the first 1:1 teacher mentoring session. Over the course of these two days I led music sessions in the classrooms with the teachers; I wanted to model from start to finish how one could go about creating music with a class. It was a really exciting challenge to create new material that was class topic specific (something that was really important if we were going to realistically get more singing in the classrooms).
The students (and teachers) were wonderful and had so many ideas. We wrote anti-bullying and healthy food raps. We rewrote the lyrics to Winter Wonderland. We composed a song about gardening. We came up with verses for Jack, Jack’s Mum and the Giant up the beanstalk. And we sang. Lots.
‘Lucy worked in year 4 during our anti-bullying week. Through her energy, expertise and enthusiasm she was able to illicit and compose an amazing song and performance from my class about anti-bullying. This was all child led; Lucy came up with a beat, some children wrote a rap, others a powerful chorus… it all came together to send a very powerful message about bullying. All the children loved it!’Tim, Year 4
Here is the anti-bullying rap!
The next time I go into the school I will plan the topic specific lessons (that will include singing) with the teachers, and then co-lead the lessons. And in the summer term, I will observe the teachers leading their own musical activity with their class. I can’t wait to see what they come up with! For a whole school approach, it’s been very important to work closely with staff, up-skilling them and helping build their musical confidence.
‘It was great because we built a song together as a year group; it increased the children's confidence because it was broken down into an easy structure. It's easy to find pockets of time during the school week to sing the songs we wrote and now sing other songs as well!’Bernie, Year 5
A huge part of finding your voice is hearing how others found theirs. I think one of the most exciting parts of this Whole School Singing project has been bringing other singers into the school. Over the academic year all the children will have heard (and sung in) different vocal styles including: Opera, Early Music, Bulgarian, Musical Theatre, Singer-Songwriter, Folk, Beatboxing and Spoken word.
The day starts off with a whole school assembly with the visiting artists that will include some participatory aspect. Then we have a series of bespoke workshops; depending on the artist and the genre we might work on harmony, performance, songwriting or singing as a chorus. It’s really important that we use these sessions to develop musical skills but also to talk about vocal health and singing as a practice. These days are such a highlight and are a really good indicator of the children’s increased confidence in their voices, as well as their singing technique.
On these Visiting Artist days we attend a different school in the afternoon- another school in the Poplar School Partnership. It’s a lovely reminder of how important it is to share the work that we are doing in Lansbury Lawrence, and these days, along with the teacher mentoring sessions, will really impact what the Singing Strategy CPD for teachers in the surrounding area will entail in the summer term. Of course, the Lansbury Lawrence teachers will be doing the majority of the leading!
We know that singing in schools is beneficial – it has been proven time and time… and time again. It’s essential in helping students with their learning, building a school community and increasing confidence, in students and staff. This creative skill is accessible, cheap and special – everybody has a voice, and it is everybody’s right to have the opportunity to find, and use it.
Over the next six months myself and the other partners will be thinking about the legacy of this Whole School Singing project. This project is merely the start of what is going to be an exciting future for Lansbury Lawrence, its students, its staff and its wider community.