My experience of the Level 1 Inspire Project at Kingfisher Special School
As a saxophonist and educator I have played and performed in a variety of contexts and settings up and down the country, more recently with Live Music now and the Borealis Saxophone Quartet. When I was offered the chance to take part in the Inspire SEND training at Level 1 and to develop my own skills in small-class and one-to-one settings, I jumped at the chance. I had been to the Kingfisher School before with the quartet for a participatory concert, and knew it was a really fun and vibrant school, so I couldn't wait to go back.
My experience of working in SEND contexts before this project was mostly of doing concerts and workshops with my quartet - I had little experience of working with smaller classes rather than larger cohorts, and even less experience of leading sessions without any 'rehearsed' music. Caroline Waddington, our lead musician and mentor for the scheme (which I was completing alongside trombonist and friend Paul Exton-McGuinness) was both highly experienced and extremely supportive, and she both taught us tips and techniques (and numerous 'hello' songs!) as well as encouraging us to think up our own songs and activities, supporting our learning and pushing us to try things out. She also introduced us to the Sounds of Intent (SOI) framework, which is a fantastic way to gauge where a person is at in terms of making sounds proactively, reactively or interactively, and this proved really useful in our thinking as we reflected on how to better tailor our sessions to the levels of each student.
This proved to the perfect environment in which to learn how important, how special and how fun it can be to make music with students like those at Kingfisher. Over the course of three days we worked with four classes (the Canaries, Woodpeckers, Pelicans and Doves!) with quite different diagnoses and abilities, ranging from complex ASD to PMLD and SLD classes - and we had a whale of a time! Not only did I enjoy getting to know each of the children and making music with them, I learned to play the ukulele (or at least the basics), found my voice, discovered a love for the ocean drum, found out just how funny I can be playing the bari sax, and made some memories that will stay with me for a long time. I was surprised at how versatile my instrument could be, not only in terms of timbre and tone (where some preferred the higher, softer notes, and others preferred to stick their face down the bell to feel the vibrations of a low A!), but also different ways of using it percussively and letting students play with the keys and pads to change the sound.
On the final day of our short residency, lead musician Caroline took a step back and left us to lead the sessions, and I'm really proud of how well they went. In our final session with the Doves we finished by using the wah-tubes (wonderful instruments with an amazingly hypnotic sound) as we finished most sessions, but gave them out to the students to play. To other students we gave guitars tuned to the same chords as the wah-tubes, and we finished the session with 5 minutes of beautiful music, in which every student in the class contributed, interacting with one another and adding to the soundworld. The best thing about this was the music was made entirely by the students, and we just got to enjoy it!!
The whole project was hugely rewarding, and I'm already looking forward to doing a Level 2 residency in another school later this year. For more information on Live Music Now, go to www.livemusicnow.org.uk