The Power of Three


The experience of teaching percussion in junior schools has made me aware of a new Power of Three to add to the already established writing, marketing and religious practices. This Power of Three is the effectiveness of pupil, pupil with teacher grouping (or teaching in pairs) that can be especially beneficial during the first stages of learning a musical instrument.

As Chi-chi Nwanoku explained in her conversation with Yinka Shonibare on the BBC Radio 4 programme Only Artists: musicians are educated, mainly on a one to one basis, to be soloists yet spend most of their time playing with large groups of people in orchestras. Early development of group performance skills can be beneficial for trouble-free integration into ensemble settings and having groups, bands and ensembles that early stage students can be encouraged to join is a necessity to aide musical and instrumental development.

A paper by Germany academics Allan Duarte Manhas and Olga Chindmes published in 2013 Instrumental lessons in pairs: Learning and/by performing together confirms the positive aspects of learning together. The research considered ‘abilities trained in the observed classes included: listening and reacting to each other, starting and finishing together, mutual musical feeling, critical judgment, playing in (and maintaining) the same tempo, technique, improvisation, prima-vista playing (together), duet playing, and working and finding solutions to different tasks together.’ (Manhas and Chindmes 2013)

They concluded that ‘teaching two (or more) students simultaneously is a very positive pedagogical approach, providing innumerable advantages for both students and teachers.’ (Manhas and Chindmes 2013) More current research is needed about this method of teaching and the results from this study have far more advantages than disadvantages to this method of teaching.

As well as a limited amount of research about the subject there are also limited resources so I set about creating more in two ways. One was composing and collecting music for the Dozens of Duets series of books and the other was to encourage the pupils to work together and compose their own works.

The pupils own works have been collected together and shared with all the others that took part in composing this year, they all now have music to perform at school concerts, and the book ones of the Dozens of Duets series are now starting to be published online.

I composed around one hundred pieces of music for the series and have/am adapting all these to work at the right standard with each instrument, Books 1 & 2 being easy/beginners standard leading eventually to Book 8 which will be advanced. Each collection aims to assist in enhancing listening and developing the empathy needed to perform in ensemble settings on each instrument and are being formatted for both screen and print uses.

The books in the series already published are:

Dozens of Duets for Bassoon Book 1

In US letter format

Dozens of Duets for Bb Clarinet Book 1

In A4 format

In US letter format

Dozens of Duets for Keyboard Percussion Book 1

in A4 format

in US letter format

Please have a look at the music by following the links and coming soon are Dozens of Duets for Trumpet, Cornet, Trombone and Violin, Cello, Bass and Oboe, Alto Saxophone and Flute. A musical resource to grow this Power of Three.

© P. R. Birkby 2017


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Pioneer – the Rotherham musical. Ambition and reality from a composer’s perspective.


Pioneer – the ambition

To involve as many children as possible in creating and performing a celebration of their home town (during one school year avoiding any busy periods completing the project from start to finish in seven months). The three creative areas to explore were composition/songwriting, drama and dance. The plan was that each school could develop a scene and/or scenes (as practical) that would be put together with others to create a review style production. These scenes would be linked by the story of the main characters. Creative writing was considered although including this would have meant the project could have taken months longer to get to an agreed script stage and this would have put the rest of the project back some months.

Pioneer – team work and collaboration – realising the ambition

The plan was simple, stage the performance of the musical in March 2017 starting from reading the script the previous September. To achieve this goal a team was put together with each member having a number of skills to be able to write, teach and direct during the project. The choice of the right person for the job was key as all the creative and management skills were equally important in fashioning the project that was always biased towards working with the children to achieve a performance. Organising the workload into sections, dividing the script into scenes that could be managed by individual schools, was integral to effectively combining all the parts into one coherent show in a short time period (one day).

Pioneer – calendar of events

Spring 2016 – youth focus group sessions ‘what are your concerns, could these be developed into a musical, what sort of music would it be…?’

June 2016 – Callout to 110 (approx.) schools: junior, secondary and special, would they like to be involved in the project?

August/September 2016 – Script commissioned and written.

September 2016 – Participating schools identified (20 for composition split equally between junior and secondary including SEN) and visits arranged.

September/October 2016 – Introductory composition/songwriting sessions in schools, links made to drama/performing arts tutors.

November 2016 – Second composition visit with ideas recorded/photographed.

December 2016 – Timetable of drama and dance visits circulated to schools.

December 2016/January 2017 – composition of the music using ideas transcribed/arranged from school visits plus creating other music not covered by the schools. Demo recordings produced with vocal guides of the complete musical including incidental music and sound effects.

January to March 2017 – Drama and dance visits to schools, professional cast rehearsal sessions, choir rehearsals, orchestra call, youth brass band rehearsals, stage, sound and lighting equipment identified and ordered.

March 28th 2017 – Technical rehearsal day with cast, musicians, dancers, choir…

March 29th 2017 – Dress rehearsal and first show (including feeding everyone between shows).

March 30th 2017 – Matinee and evening shows (plus food again).


At each school I visited it was clearly stated that two year groups would not take part the Year 6 and Year 11 cohorts. The main reason for this was that nothing should distract them from the year of work leading to their examinations and tests, I was told that nothing they composed would be suitable for GCSE and having three afternoons of drama and three days of shows would be too disruptive in the year of SATs.

One major difficulty from some schools, that only became evident at the time of the performances at Magna, was having enough staff to accompany the pupils for three days out of school. Some schools dropped out very close to the final shows because of lack of staff and/or lack of time for rehearsal of the project. Extra projects, like plays/musicals, generally rely on the enthusiasm and dedication of a few, and in many cases only one, member(s) of staff in school and if circumstances change for that individual or few then it is the extra work that is often abandoned in favour of the curriculum.


Approximately five hundred pupils were involved in this project, from Year 3 to Year 12 in mainstream and SEN schools, working with professionals to create a unique and memorable work of theatre. Two sold out shows to a paying audience who were very appreciative and a video of the performance are testament to this. The project offered opportunities, with no auditions or prerequisites, for a once in a lifetime experience to many of the participants. If it inspires some students to progress into enjoying music, theatre and/or dance in the future it will be more of an achievement but at the moment this is too early to measure.


And finally

Would I do this again? Yes. Working with a good team all focussed on bringing the musical to life with a professional approach was inspiring. Seeing and hearing the performances from everyone involved was excellent and it was an experience that many of the children will remember into their adult lives (I still remember my first performance on a real stage at Oldham Lyceum Theatre, age 7, with Princess Margaret in the audience). I visited schools in the many diverse areas of the Borough and all the pupils that I saw were engaged with the project and created interesting and memorable ideas. On a personal note I also found tasty coffee in every area I travelled through, much needed at the time.

© P.R.Birkby 2017

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Enjoyed it because I could play it.


Thank you to everyone that sent words of encouragement and/or congratulations on the anniversary of Urban Skyline. To celebrate the occasion I have uploaded a new composition, very different from the others, performed by a beginners orchestra. Stereo Sinfonietta was written to be performed by instrumental students within one year of taking up the instrument and uses the notes they know plus a little imagination to create the work.

Listen to the whole little symphony in four movements at and I hope this music inspires them to keep working and improving in the future. The feedback I have had so far is ‘really enjoyed playing it because they could!’ Just the right comment for music that was composed with the consideration of the performers as the most important element.

If you would like more information or to download the full score and set of parts for your community ensemble the link is

Happy listening to the 175+ musicians, all in very low-fi, and/or happy performing in the future.

(c)  Peter R. Birkby 2017

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My March Music


A musical, mini symphony and a percussion soundscape.

March 2017 sees the culmination of months of composing, revising and scoring for: beginner orchestra Stereo Sinfonietta, percussion group The onset of rain and for a community Pioneer – The Rotherham Musical rather than a reference to left – right, left – right – left… based compositions I have created in the past. The journey from concept to realisation of the musical has been years, the percussion work was prepared in a few months and in the case of the orchestral music it was completed in less than a week.

Each one of the compositions has had diverse aims and the writing processes have been varied. The main focus of the final realisations has been to allow the performers to excel no matter what experience they had on the instrument. This approach is in some cases quite restrictive and resolving the complications that arrive from using this method is all part of the process of composing for specific groups of performers.

Stereo Sinfonietta had the first performance on Wednesday 15th March at the North Lincolnshire Music Service’s Play Day in the Bath’s Hall, Scunthorpe. The Play Day is an annual event for any pupil/student in the borough that is at grade 1 and above standard to attend and be part of an orchestra. There were approximately 175 musicians at the event plus the Music Service staff and thank you to everyone who rehearsed and performed the music. The full score and parts are available as a download with more information at

The onset of rain has its first performance tonight as part of the annual concert given by the music department at the Winterton Academy. The ensemble performing the work is made up of five drummers who have been playing for a few years and five that have only been having lessons since September (2016). Good luck to everyone involved and enjoy. The music for this work is now available to download from


Pioneer – The Rotherham Musical has performances booked for Wednesday 29th and Thursday 30th March in Magna Science Discovery Centre. This is a renovated steel works that is a most appropriate venue for the story about a town that has had iron and steel at its heart for centuries. The music has been partly written by school pupils and I have completed the other parts to make the musical complete. To hear some examples of the music the overture is available online at

The performers are a mix of actors and school pupils and the Facebook page, with action shots from some of the rehearsals, shows how creative the pupils are Tickets can be ordered through (registration required first before finding the Pioneer ticket booking page).

If these compositions can inspire the participants to cultivate their musical and/or dramatic aspirations I would regard the works as successful and I hope that this has been achieved during a hectic March.

© P. R. Birkby 2017

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The composing of Rotherham’s Pioneers the musical


In my previous post I posed the question ‘how do you get young composers to create music for themselves that relates to their experiences?’ This was my main concern when visiting schools in Rotherham and working with the pupils to create ideas for the musical.

I used two main approaches during the project: one was to compose for scenes in the show relating to place and/or period, for example a railway station or the steelworks during the second world war, and the other was to use the lyrics that had been written by Karen Mulcahey. At the start of the project Karen and I had discussed whether the young composers would be obliged to use the scripted lyrics or whether they could analyse the lyrics and create their own song with a similar sentiment. We chose the latter yet during the project the pupils were happy to work with the lyrics and only occasionally requested little edits to allow for a better flow to the music.

During my school visits I was rarely allowed to work with any pupils that were taking exams that year. It seemed acceptable for Years 3, 4 and 5 in junior schools and Years 9, 10 and 12 in senior schools to take part but I never saw any Year 6 pupils (SATS year) and only saw a few year 11 (GCSE) students during my visits.

The junior schools all engaged with the project with various amounts of enthusiasm and from these pupils came compositions based on the scenes depicting a railway station, bombing raid on steelworks, factories and the sounds of a fair/fete/feast. The pupils were also creative in putting music to lyrics and during sessions often collectively developed full songs and various verse ideas for the different pioneers taken from the script.

Most of the senior schools seemed to be working to a prescribed curriculum and were much less flexible in their approach to the project. If composing a song was not in the syllabus then the only creative time on the project was during my visits. These visits generally lasted for a few hours and the results were a mixture of individual and group compositions. The senior school students were encouraged to compose using instruments and were often restricted in their composition by their performance abilities. In a few of the schools I visited there were some very talented performers, mostly guitarists or vocalists, and these students created some very interesting ideas although they had little concept of how and what they had produced other than it sounded good.

songideas_stbernards I am encouraged by the amount of composition that was created during the visits and would like to continue with the concept in other areas of the country for different music hubs. For the next project I would like the school visits to take place over a shorter period of time with only a few weeks between the introduction/description visit and the collecting of the draft ideas by recording workshops. In this first project there was a half-term holiday in the middle and because of this curriculum topics changed and the composition for the musical got a little lost in the schemes of work.

I am now in the transcription phase and hopefully the demos will be ready just after Christmas for the choreographer and director to take into schools to rehearse for the performance at the end of March. It is a tight schedule but has to be to fit in with the periods of participation before the schools close their doors to visitors and concentrate on many assessments. Will keep you informed of progress and is my composition  and publishing website.

© P.R.Birkby 2016

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Finished week one and now starting week two of visiting junior and senior schools in Rotherham with the aim of inspiring the pupils to compose music for Pioneer the musical, the story about the people, and some places, that make Rotherham special. The script has been written by director and educator Karen Mulcahey and has 57 opportunities for music with my first job being to help the pupils/students to create the music for the musical. They have a couple of months to create, revise and edit their work before I collect it all up and order it into a score ready for rehearsals to start in the New Year. Performances are booked for the 29th and 30th March 2017 in the main auditorium at Magna Science Adventure Centre

It all started with a question I had asked myself many times ‘how do you get young composers to create music for themselves that relates to their experiences?’ This is a different concept for the young musical mind in the education system that is usually (if at all) asked to compose to a set of defined rules or with certain preconditions. The only requirements they have to meet is that the music relates to one or more of the 57 cues from the script. There are no defined styles to work to although if the student composers want to write a period piece the script allows for this as it covers a few thousand years of history as well as being in the present.

This could make for a disjointed series of music and drama sketches and I envisage my role as editor, arranger and possibly composer will give a consistent character to the final work. In the first week I saw over 250 pupils at various schools and recorded over 30 minutes of first thoughts created in a short period of time by individuals and as collaborations. Hope there will be hours to select from when more ideas have been composed in the coming months.

The overarching concept I had for the musical was as a project to inspire creativity and then present these ideas at a high standard which would help encourage the composers to carry on writing. The project has grown with the addition of drama and dance to have the potential of being a celebratory spectacle with a cast of hundreds. It is a credit to all at Rotherham Music that they have supported the project from concept to fruition and now there is the small matter of pulling all the elements together to make the show a success.

© P.R.Birkby 2016

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Present and past, new and old, now and then.


How to celebrate 37 years, and counting, of composing and publishing music? This is the question I have been pondering for a number of weeks and then everything became clear as I was editing some new compositions. The idea is simply a BOGO, BOGOF or to some BOGOHO approach and to fully explain the acronyms: BOGO and BOGOF are buy one get one free and BOGOHO is buy one get one half off.

The result of this concept is Percussion Now and Then. The plan is to produce a specially curated collection of music for percussion that couples brand new works with ones from the extensive prbp back catalogue. Each pair of works are chosen to be at a similar standard, have some similar instrumentation and are ordered with the capability of being performed as one work or as two individual works to fit your programming requirements.

There are now approaching five hundred works for percussion in the prbp catalogue with many of these are in collections such as Festive Music, Ten Xylophone Solos or Dance Suite No.3 to name a few.   The new works I am writing have a link to my music from decades gone by in that concepts and problems I experimented with then will have shaped and informed my current methods and practices of composing. I hope the ideas and obstacles I find now will enlighten me in the future as well.

My first offer in the collection is a pairing of the brand new Pencil Panorama with a work from Ten Quartets, my first book of percussion ensembles, Drum Parade both for percussion quartet. Both works feature the timpani and to match the resources of the two works a little more closely I have edited the timpani part of the Drum Parade and added an extra drum.

The product can be viewed at in an A4 format. As with many of my recent publications the music has been prepared with the option for onscreen use as well as printing.

The second offering in the collection will be two more quartets both inspired by rail journeys and available in the coming weeks with the third being two pieces for 12 percussionists of mixed abilities.

Thank you to everyone that took the time to comment on and like the anniversary and I have started planning for the 40th anniversary already. TBC, TBD and/or TBA in a future post.

© Peter R. Birkby 2016

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