In the summer term, we visited Piper Hill School, Brentwood School, Springwood School and Springside School, working with pupils aged 4-19 with a range of special educational needs. The students were paired up and then allocated to a project with two of our experienced musicians. They were asked to reflect on their experiences as part of the evaluation of the pilot, led by Dr Keith Phillips for the RNCM. These reflections showed the depth of understanding the students were able to gain over the placement, for example:
‘There was a child who displayed slight interest yesterday from afar but today I played chimes with her and she began to get the rhythm which was really rewarding for us and for her to be able to play with Tom, the teaching assistants were also really thrilled by this. In contrast to this, one of the children who displayed great interest yesterday had to leave the class today, Tom explained how we don’t know what has happened in the child’s day prior to coming into the session. This was important to know that we don’t know how each child’s day has gone and how this can affect their interactions within a session. I also have been gaining more confidence in each session, with a new child in one of our sessions today who liked to stay behind the curtain, he displayed lots of smiles towards the music but was very shy. I decided to take a drum towards him which he apprehensively played behind the curtain, this then gradually became a musical conversation with him coming out of the curtain to tap on the drum before hiding again, I remained patient and could tell he still wanted to play, I found by putting the bongo at an accessible place he would willingly tap the drum. I then began to imitate his tappings and we had a musical conversation, I used the techniques we had learnt in training earlier this year through imitating and adding new ideas in gradually. This was really rewarding and the child also enjoyed this interaction as well.’
‘Seeing music being used as a universal tool to help children of any ability in inclusive ways has been something I have found a passion for which Jessie’s Fund are at the forefront of.’
‘I learnt a lot about facilitating, working with students with SEND and about my own approach to leading workshops or musical sessions, it was great to work with other RNCM students and learn new skills together and supporting each other throughout the two days.’
It was a pleasure to watch the students develop their confidence both with the children and musically. In the training course, the students were anxious when asked to improvise together as they were used to playing predominantly from written scores. However, by the end of placement our Director of Learning, Britta, observed that ‘they were happy to improvise over the music the children were making, which was fantastic to see. In the students’ normal day-to-day learning they are using pre-prepared material, and learning to use their instruments in a much more versatile and imaginative way is key to the training we provided. It is a central skill that we wanted them to see in action through the school placements.’
Overall, all the students shared that they had a positive experience on the residency, and that they had developed skills to take forward into their musical careers: ‘I felt able to lead some of the sessions and join in with the planning and running of sessions with the excellent, friendly Jessie’s Fund musicians.’
At the end of the project, we were pleased to find out that funding had been secured by the RNCM for an additional three years of Creative Residencies. Students are currently applying for this year’s places, with the training course due to take place in November at Priory Street. We are excited to meet the new cohort, and to grow this partnership further over the coming years.
Thank you to all the staff at the RNCM who have supported with this project, and to The Arts Society and D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust for your generous grants towards the projects at Brentwood and Springside Schools.