2.6 Robert Jarvis creates Adventures in Sound in Canterbury
Project Organiser: Cherry Barnes, teacher St Peter's Methodist Primary and St. Nicholas' Special Schools, Canterbury
This was a composition project shared between two schools, with the aim of writing music for performances at the end of term in both schools, thereby to improve teaching skills and pupils' compositional skills and to develop further the integration between the two schools. Robert Jarvis was to work during the Spring term, visiting each school for one day each week.
The project came about through the schools' sharing of their music specialist teacher. Cherry Barnes works mostly at St. Nicholas', but she spends some time each week at St. Peter's, where her husband is Head. Integration between the two schools has been on-going, but not attempted before on such a consistent and regular basis.
The pupils ranged in age from 9 to 15, with the St. Peter's children being two classes of Year 5. In St. Peter's and to a lesser extent in St. Nicholas, different members of staff were involved in the sessions, to ensure as wide as possible access to the teacher training potential.
The project had a slow uncertain start. Its original plan was for the autumn term and involved students from Christ Church College, Canterbury. Due to funding uncertainties - it proved very difficult to secure support for a project based on only two schools - the project was delayed until the Spring, and in the event the college students were not involved. Robert invited various visiting musicians into his work, more to give them experience and insight into his methods than to enhance the sessions themselves.
There was extensive media coverage of the project, which Robert masterminded sympathetically and sensibly. The project featured in the Spring 1998 issue of Sounding Board (published by Sound Sense). The final performances were attended by parents from both schools, and children from schools were totally integrated into the performance of each others' compositions. Some of these were songs, others were depictions of rain or linked to the idea of Transport, not merely in a literal sound-picture sense, but in a developed musical framework.
This is by far the most generously funded of all the projects this year in terms of the PRS' proportion of support.
In effect this project was organised by Robert Jarvis. He masterminded the application, the fund-raising and has co-ordinated the evaluation. The results have been very well documented with detailed notes of each of Robert's sessions, showing exactly how he managed the integration of mainstream and special needs' education. There are also significant statements from the teachers involved, some of which have been published elsewhere. They underline their commitment to this type of work, not just for its musical benefits, but also for the benefits they have observed in children's general abilities.
"Robert Jarvis' method of teaching is worthy of detailed mention. His 'laid back' style belies the months of careful preparation he has already put into this project. He sits on the classroom floor with a circle of children and his initial stimulus can be as simple as "Err...we've got to make up some music....anyone got an idea?" By immediately handing responsibility for both the process and the product to the children he ensures maximum 'ownership' of each composition. As children offer their suggestions each is discussed and perhaps refined by the whole group.....The composition produced at the end is very honestly the children's piece; they have not been guided to compose what the adult composer wanted....Children feel so fully involved that control and discipline have been perfect: behaviour has simply not been an issue.
"Not only is each composition genuinely the work of the group but each individual contribution is truly the offering of that person. This aspect of Robert's work is particularly evident in the shared sessions with the St. Nicholas children. Here an educationally very disparate group where some of the members can scarcely move or see, produces music which utilises the best abilities of each child and no special value is placed on the more complex contributions....This experience has already moved and humbled every teacher who has observed sessions, all have remarked upon the fact that even the children's very early compositions are rational, well-organised and tuneful. Co-operation between individuals and schools has grown significantly, and examples of practical un-demeaning care between pupils of barely nine years old have proliferated. When observing this kind of activity there is an unmistakable feeling that this is very much what education should be about." [Jonathan Barnes, Headteacher St. Peter's School]
This 'laid-back' approach rested on some very careful planning. I learnt on my visits that Robert was never his most communicative before a session; he used the time to work out meticulously how he was going to structure the next hour, by setting out particular instruments, thinking about what technical games to use and so on. (I am not saying other composers don't do that kind of work; his was simply more visible and transparent.) His notes give examples of how he set the parameters differently each time, to make sure the individual pieces were distinct and therefore more memorable alongside the other music created. Every lesson included recording, both to underline the sense of achievement, but also as an aide-memoire, which was shared between Robert and the teachers, and was used to ensure an efficient start to the session when the work might be further extended or refined. All of this background material and preparation took a lot of time, a good deal of it way beyond the time allocated to the project on the strict numbers of days approach. (It is extremely rare to find examples of that kind of time-keeping in any PRS project!)
Jonathan Barnes also writes about the contribution of this type of music class to the general curriculum. See 3.1.2. I cannot resist quoting his last paragraph here:
"I am confident that this ten weeks will be remembered by these children for ever and make a lasting impression on their lives and attitudes. I am not sure I could say that of any of the lessons I will give in Literacy Hour!" (The project coincided with announcements of the new literacy and numeracy campaigns.)
Anyone watching the final performance will have slightly different memories: the standard of music making was very high; very few of the children played an instrument, but the amount of music they were able to play from memory was extraordinary. The different pieces were quite distinct. One had grown from its early beginnings when Robert had played Steve Reich's Different Trains whilst another was a development of name game from St. Nicholas at the very beginning of the project. Above all I remember how much everyone enjoyed doing it. One of the pieces was directed by a St. Nicholas' pupil, and his face was sheer delight at being in charge. It was a potent example to all the parents there, and for the St. Peter's children, to see what so-called 'disabled' children are capable of achieving, and at their shared capacity for involvement and enjoyment.
From the individual teachers has come plenty of positive feed-back on what they have learnt. All of them comment on the value of the Inset session they had together at the start, if only to say that it was an eye-opener, and not long enough. They have asked for more input to help them move on from the project.
"It has been interesting as a teacher to see a different approach to composition. Robert's approach is almost completely child centred. They choose individually and jointly which instruments to play, with who and when to play them. They are encouraged to evaluate their performances and to amend them. I will now try as a result of this to loosen up my own teaching methods and direct the children less. This takes less courage than I thought. Robert did not look stressed." [Cherry Barnes]
Cherry also makes the point that Robert learnt from the project; his early sessions at St. Nicholas were pitched too high for the pupils, but that he was very ready to take advice and help from the staff and assistants there. "We are all able to learn from each other".
Robert has written about the role of a composer in the classroom, in particular against the background of falling musical skills amongst pupils in general. His comments are not directed at these schools at all, and since they have far wider relevance to Composers in Education as a whole, they are more relevant to the general section of this report. See 3.2.3.
This was a small-scale, very well thought-out project. It has made an important contribution to the social understanding and liaison between these two schools. They were fortunate to have someone like Robert to encourage them into the project. He was very good at the job. It was only made possible by exceptional support from the PRS.
Gillian Perkins - Extract from "A Report for the Performing Right Society"