Thoughts from the Singing Ringing Tree – Ben McCabe

Music Leader from the Songs from the Singing Ringing Tree, Ben McCabe, recalls his experience…

Looking Back

I have, of course, moved on or at least over to, various other projects now whilst the Songs from Singing Ringing Tree quickly becomes a fuzzy but friendly memory.

We’ve just had an evaluation meeting at Mid Pennine Arts which included viewing videos we’d made and thinking about ways forward. It seemed pretty obvious to build on what we’ve done – playing, chatting, composing, exploring with children, staff and parents in nurseries in Burnley and Brierfield.

I’ve had a mixture of feeling confident and like the right person in the right place, and then feeling like a fraud with nothing to offer. Often within a space of a few minutes.

Now we’ve finished, my main sensation is that the project was a bit too long for me to maintain focus and energy, and to stick to what I felt the brief was – improving life chances for nursery children through developing speech and language skills and confidence through music making, all through the method of being inspired by a visit to a work of public art and then responding to that.

It was great to get comfy in each setting and to get to know the children and staff so well and we certainly were able to pursue some pleasingly playful and creative avenues of song writing, storytelling, performing and arranging. Becoming part of the rhythm of the week meant that some of the specialness and engagement from all directions wore off – although not in one to one interactions. I feel I should have more willingly to let go of referring back to visits to Halo or Singing Ringing Tree and just made new music every week – following our noses. Gladly there were many occasions when a group or a particular person steered sessions out of my control and into more interesting in-the-moment play.

Going on a Trip

My first outing with Stoneyholme Nursery was wisely delayed for quite a while as the children had only recently arrived at nursery and were still finding their feet. The staff felt that they wouldn’t be able to offer much of a response to a visit to Halo if they were too stressed out dealing with getting through the day.

So we waited a while and I therefore adjusted things a little. Looking at pictures of where were going to go and trying to work out what on earth it could be.

Loads of ideas sprung up and we were always drawing pictures in our discussions and then turning them into songs. Sometimes songs would emerge in the moment with tunes supplied in response to the question “can anyone sing how this one goes”. Sometimes we couldn’t get the thing moving so with smoke and mirrors we’d move on and I might write a little music myself to match our words in the staff room just before lunch. I think this mixture of shared compositions, and stuff I know I can make work, is fine. Working quickly seems important. Keeping going back to the beginning works well too – feels like a game.

We prepared messages – actually pictures – to tie to the legs of the Halo which we decided was a spaceship and then we’d send them off into space when we eventually got there.

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fullsizerenderWe also prepared a disco tune – I can’t remember why but we certainly danced in the breeze once we made it to Halo.

The journey is just as important as arriving for many of us.  It’s nice to get excited about things we know about. So we wrote songs about getting the bus, going on a trip, playing I-Spy on the way there

As we’d learnt on the Wonderful Things in Song project, that this team had delivered previously, it was valuable to have reminders up around the nursery for children and staff to refer back to in groups or during a more open session. We developed this a little more at Stoneyholme, recording songs as a group as well as versions which I recorded in the staff room. These were available for children to play back in nursery as well as becoming backing tracks in our sessions as well as being the soundtrack for our coach journey to Halo.

 Fliers and Weepers

The groups were a nice size 5 – 8 children with a staff member and me as well as one to one sessions with me plonked in a bit of the nursery as the children went about their day.

Each day I seemed to challenge myself to try and get the balance right on allowing children to lead us through a session but still cover enough music making that would seem meaningful to the staff that were with me. Hoping that they’d see the value in what we were doing as well as any leaps, bounds and increments that individual children might be making.

It was lots of fun to be guided by particular children who were having fun with taking the lead – sometimes completely dominating a session, sometimes talking themselves stuck, sometimes getting carried away and getting a little too cheeky for the group to be able to continue down that road.

And I always feel a really strong urge to make things FAIR for everyone. I suspect this isn’t that fair of me and probably coming from my own experiences at school?  So I’d invite someone who’d not had a turn or not given us a lyric yet to have turn. Sometimes this was too much to have asked and there’d be tears or just frozen silence but often we’d get a quiet word, picture or a tap on a drum. Tiny moments of progression that could open the door for a lot more interaction and involvement as the weeks went by that build on the resulting trust formed.

Ben McCabe

You can read more about the project and view the documentary film on our website.

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