Together Songs

A song writing project with Marine Park Primary School

In September 2020 I was invited to work with all the children at Marine Park primary school in South Shields. This was a song writing project and the brief was to get all the children to contribute to the creating and recording of a song that carried a positive message about being friends and supporting each other. It was not a Xmas song! It had been a little while since I had done anything like this and my approach was ‘I will learn as much from you as you will from me’ and I certainly did. It was a joyful experience and one I will treasure.

I started by visiting all the classes from nursery and reception all the way up to Year 6. Working with the early years it all came flooding back, some points and observations …

  • Be prepared to abandon all you have prepared
  • Be flexible ... be very flexible
  • No activity can last more than about 10 minutes if you want to sustain whole class engagement
  • Be active … sitting down is boring, unless of course it’s time for a little sleep and some giggling!
  • Movement and dancing are brilliant
  • Sing, sing, and sing again ... repetition is good but children also remember quickly, keep it simple but keep moving on.
  • Teachers and support staff must participate
  • Be prepared to answer any question or respond to any statement … ‘what happened to your hair?’. When asked ‘what’s the name of your guitar?’ I said Gary (no idea why) and for the whole of the term there were frequent enquiries as to how Gary was and if he was asleep in his case!
  • I am privileged to be allowed into their world … it is another world ... let’s not spoil it

Working with Key Stage 1 there was a greater awareness of what was happening and that what I was offering was a little different to the usual routine. The first thing I noticed was a much greater collective energy with the children/young people being more aware of each other, that sense of doing something together. There was a lot more talk of we instead of I ‘we’re all smiling’ and the importance of friendship, for many this is where friendship begins, who was your ‘[best friend’ in primary school?

Moving up into Key Stage 2 was different but I tried to build on the work done with the years below. When do children become young people? A key factor I suppose is respect and the valuing of each child/person’s contribution regardless of their age and then maybe it doesn’t matter. We need to acknowledge and make room for all the differences. Some points and observations …

  • Allow space and time for ideas to develop
  • Eye contact and connecting with everyone in the room is so important. I wanted everyone to feel involved and to want to contribute. Invite but never force engagement.
  • Remembering and recognising how difficult it can be to speak up in front of all your peers.
  • I must have got something right because the young people were so supportive of each other’s contributions and when that begins to happen it is a very significant moment in a child’s development. This acknowledgement of lives other than their own and the parental bond are the first steps into community and society. They are learning to be empathic, accommodating, and willing to adapt for the sake of a collective rather than a singular contribution.
  • The power of music and musical inclusion should never be underestimated. The joining in and being part of a musical experience is wonderful but being challenged just a little bit is good too. The children felt something and so responded. The rewards and gratification are there to see, the deep breath that was needed to put your hand up, step forward and offer an idea builds confidence and self-esteem.  
  • Music can change the dynamic in a group of young people. Suddenly someone who struggles in that little social hierarchy can start to shine because he/she suddenly finds a voice and the rest of the class start to view that person in a different light.

From my sessions with the younger groups some words appeared … smiling, laughing, dancing and from that point on we were off. Melody wise my good friend Jane Lindenberg, an old colleague from Sage Gateshead advised playing in D for pitch and a simple melody evolved as we sang words together. I took this to the older children and gave Year 5 the task of developing some verses and simple rhymes. They worked in small groups and I moved from group to group chatting through their ideas asking them to make a group decision as to what their completed verse would be.

Year 6 were interesting, entering that transition stage into secondary leaving lots behind but taking so much with them. They liked the song and how it was developing but I could sense they wanted their own thing too and during my first session with them one of the young women wrote some words that built on the theme of the first song. The rest of the class were keen to explore this and some volunteered to add some beat boxing. A different song was developing and we went with that as well as well as adding some ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ to the whole school song.

The next and final stage was to get the songs recorded. I prepared a couple of backing tracks and then visited each class with some mics and recording equipment and we made like we were in the studio! Concentration levels were high and I got everything I needed to be able to mix the tracks. I think one of the reasons for this was because the children had a vested interested in the song(s) and had all contributed to the creative process.  

It was great fun and perhaps my only error was telling one of the classes that they could look forward to hearing their music on a CD, to which a number immediately asked … what’s a CD?

Whilst I think all the children enjoyed the music sessions there were definitely some who got more out of them than others and benefited from this informal ‘teaching’ environment. As I said earlier, I personally got a lot from working with the children. In terms of next steps, working with smaller groups and targeted those most likely to reap the wider benefits of this music experience (confidence, self-esteem, self-expression, transferrable skills) would be my preferred route. I would also like to involve some of the children in the recording and mixing process.

Finally I would like to say that this project would not have been possible without the amazing support given by the Head Teacher Alison Burden, class teachers, support staff and artist in residence Paula Turner.

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