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


About derangeddrums

Composer, percussionist, musical director, teacher and educator. My music has been written for audiences in palaces and in the street. Music is my vocation and my passion and I hope you enjoy it too.
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