WESC and WREN Organisational Case Study

Wren Music (www.wrenmusic.co.uk) is a company committed to excellence in folk music practice, using it to promote community cohesion and social inclusion. It has a regular programme of choirs and orchestras, and projects that include work in dedicated settings and with whole communities.

Wren was selected to join Daisi’s Soundwaves project, which aims to support new partnerships in delivering music projects relevant to specific needs of children in challenging circumstances. Soundwaves projects have been looking for models of practice and partnership that best enable children in challenging circumstances to take part in quality, sustainable and progressive music activity.

For this project, WREN teamed up with the WESC Foundation, a specialist day and residential centre in Exeter for young people and adults with visual impairment including complex needs. Sarah Owen, community musician with Wren, set up the Soundwaves Singing Group.

 

There were key aims for the project: 

  • develop a new relationship with The WESC Foundation though establishing a staff and learner choir;
  • provide progression for participants as they move through finding voices to performance skills and stagecraft;
  • build in CPD for staff at WESC;
  • create new songs and repertoire for young people with complex needs;
  • seek performance opportunities throughout the programme, including to sing with other Wren youth and community groups and finish with a Christmas concert;
  • integrate children and young people with a range of needs within our wider youth and choirs programmes, sharing a stage with non-disabled singers;
  • establishing a way of working with staff at the WESC Foundation in partnership;
  • pilot using a trainee to develop a new singing leader;
  • improve Wren Music’s whole Music Team’s way of working

The Soundwaves Singing Group is now a weekly activity at WESC for both staff and learners, with 25-35 regulars. New relationships have been built with senior management, learners and staff at WESC and particularly between members of the group.

 

 

“I am getting better at using my words” 
learner at WESC and choir member

 “It has been a pleasure and delight to share the singing with the learners and at times feel at a disadvantage when I have missed sessions and they clearly know the songs. From this came a further delight when a learner was then able to help me learn the songs.”
staff member at WESC and choir member.

In the time between April and December 2013, there was clear musical progression. Attention spans and ability to focus has improved, and the group’s repertoire has grown. Harmony singing has been introduced and the group has written songs. Due to needs of visually impaired learners, all songs are taught aurally and the group is now learning longer songs with different verses, plus choruses. From the initial three song performances, it is offering a half-hour set.

“A favourite part of the project has been seeing the progress that has been made by learners who demonstrate an innate ability of recall, pitch and rhythm, far more than sighted people. Witnessing the sheer enjoyment by everyone involved.”
staff member at WESC and choir member

Sarah’s approach to teaching the songs developed through a process of exploration and reflecting on what was and wasn’t working. The group’s repertoire bank was built through trial and error, often adapting arrangements of existing songs to suit the group. Sarah discovered that many songs that work successfully with mainstream singing groups could be adapted and customised for this choir. It also worked well to add new lyrics to existing songs that had special relevance to learners, drawing on their experiences and personal lives.

 

 “I always felt welcome and given the freedom to sing where and when I could/wanted to. I really enjoyed the sense that all comments and suggestions were considered and especially liked the inclusion of the writing of the Autumn song [song composed by the group]”
staff member at WESC and choir member

A particular highlight has been performing for WESC Foundation's Patron HRH The Duchess of Cornwall. Other concerts have included performing at the learners' celebration event at Sandy Park Rugby Stadium, the opening of WESC's new transition house, WESC's Christmas concert, Princesshay's Charity of the Year celebration and Wren Music's Winter Concert at Starcross. The people attending these concerts have included members of the public, families and dignatries. There are numerous other events in the pipeline for the future.

 “It has been a really great opportunity for young people to be doing something in public and receiving due praise for their achievement”
staff member at WESC and choir member

The Soundwaves Singing Group also came together with Exeter Singing Roots (for 8-16 year olds), another Wren youth choir. Each choir performed for each other and rehearsed a song to jointly perform at Wren’s Winter Concert, where they also performed with a Wren adult choir and a community orchestra.

Sarah feels that the WESC staff has been highly supportive of the choir, with a large number of staff in attendance at weekly rehearsals and supporting individual learners in their singing. Two trainees recruited from Wren’s Young Music Leader programme have also been an instrumental help, gaining confidence and skills whilst enabling others.

 

Wren Music has added regular reflective practice and skill sharing days, where staff can share with each other what and how they have been working to improve standards. As a direct result of the project, Wren Music’s team has been up-skilled to lead music sessions with people who have visual impairments, work with a mixed group including a range of ages and complex and varying disabilities, increase collaboration and the potential for further collaborations.

Although the Daisi Soundwaves project has now come to an end, WESC are planning to deliver an instrumental music project for learners, working in partnership with Wren. Creating the choir has offered a new musical opportunity for the learners at WESC, which they had not had before, opening up musical provision for children in challenging circumstances.

“I really enjoy learning all the different songs and all the ranges my voice can reach! My confidence in singing has increased enormously; I feel so happy when Monday comes and we get to practice together in the group.”
learner at WESC and choir member