Music Leader from the Songs from the Singing Ringing Tree, Zoe Greenhalgh, recalls her experience…
For me, the joy of working on projects such as this, is the wonderful human connections with the very young that are born out of musical play and exploration, without any need for speech. Singing is such a wonderful medium; no right or wrong, just variations which have infinite potential for development in a whole new direction.
In the settings the day comprised of working with all children in the nursery in small groups of 6-10 each supported by a member of the nursery staff which allowed the children and myself to become well acquainted and build a good relationship. It also enabled me to learn something of the children as individuals; how confident they were, their readiness to sing and make music, their ideas and interests, quirks and foibles. In these small groups I became familiar to them and they to me, meaning that I could structure my teaching to support their individual needs whether musical or otherwise. Progress and participation was good and much enjoyment was evident.
The Singing Tent
In one setting I came to know the children over a number of weeks working with small group and their key worker before creating and opening the “singing tent” for business. The groups were predominantly adult led so the tent was intended to redress the balance by offering the children the opportunity to initiate and lead the musical activities, for me to join in with their play.
The “singing tent” was constructed from a clotheshorse and some music printed fabric held together with clothes pegs. This was intentionally only large enough for me and two children to occupy at any one time thus maintaining a sense of intimacy that might elicit the engagement of even the most timid of children. Sometimes it was situated inside in the nursery, sometimes outside in the garden. I stayed in the tent with my ukulele and the children came and joined me as and when they liked. The ukulele turned out to be a good provocation for the children to respond to: they were attracted to the sound and wanted to play it, but were inclined to play with some delicacy, either listening intently to the sounds they produced or strum it as an accompaniment to their singing. It was often not played at all.
I had tried different instruments for variety – a small number of quality percussion instruments and chime bars – but whilst the children enjoyed exploring these, as a joint interactive activity it was not very fruitful. Likewise, me sitting in the tent just singing with no instruments was not as attractive, possibly because the sound of a singing voice is a familiar one in the setting.
Within the intimate, private space of the tent, these children recognised me as a play partner and offered me the crown jewels – magical musical connections with voice, sound and rhythm, spontaneous original song improvisations, musical play of all shapes and sizes. What an honour and infinite pleasure to be so accepted and trusted with their precious offerings.
Ways of working…
During this project I have worked in a more formal, adult-led manner with small groups of children as well as in a more informal, “free flow” way. Both are valuable in their own right but I believe that the impact is greater than the sum of its parts when the two approaches are combined. How important then that educators within the setting have the musical confidence and skill to scaffold and support children’s musical creativity and development, and that staff development is built into the project in a workable manner.
From my experience; Thoughts on project planning and delivery
All projects of this sort give a cohort of children access to musical experiences beyond those normally available in the setting; musical exposure and engagement that without the project they would not have had. Fantastic! What is more difficult is to build in longer term legacy for the settings in subsequent years.
I believe the most crucial and detailed part of all projects is the planning stage. There is this great idea to run a project doing “X” which would work really well with these leaders in this location and we could build in “Y” and “Z” – wow, how exciting! This is perhaps the easy bit. What follows is the contacting of settings and individuals involved to gain interest in being involved which is relatively straightforward, particularly where relationships already exist.
Then comes the nitty gritty of how it will work on the ground, what it will look like in reality, firm commitment to dates, time, staff availability, trips out, available physical space, parental/photo permissions, etc. etc. This is the really tricky bit. It is so important that all parties “buy in” to the concept and that the finer detail is worked out collaboratively with all partners at the earliest stage of planning, especially those involved in the day to day delivery. Settings are very busy with many demands upon their time and energies making this level of detail sometimes hard to sort out, but it is precisely this, along with the ongoing communication between the visiting music practitioner and the setting staff, that turns an ordinary project into an extraordinary one that leaves behind it something truly worth having. This collaborative, committed relationship means that the project activity is more than just a “bolt on” extra, that it is integrated into the setting beyond the allotted project time, extending reach to more children and developing staff confidence, knowledge and skill and impacting positively on practise within the setting and the experiences of its children.