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"We played differently - why?" A collaboration between UK and Danish musicians working in SEND settings

In November 2016 specialist music leader and consultant Ros Hawley travelled to Copenhagen to work with musicians from Figura Enesmble, on a project set up by Manchester-based creative consultancy Con Brio.   Here she describes the impact of this exchange of skills and practice on the musicians, school staff and children involved. 

We often hear about the benefits to children with SEND in experiencing live music, but what about the effect this can have on the musicians who are sharing music with the children?


Members of the Figura Ensemble in Denmark are  experiencing the process of creating and exploring music making in such a setting for the first time, in a unique project between Figura Ensemble, UK consultancy Con Brio and Kirkebaekskolen special school in Copenhagen.


The project is a collaboration between the three partners, with each contributing elements to a rich creative and learning experience.


In a day's preparation session lead by Ros Hawley and Con Brio and hosted by Kirkebaekskolen, Figura musicians and composers were taken through a series of musical exercises, reflective discussions and music making that enabled them to re-examine their existing approach to creating music with children in their ‘Small Composers’ project by considering a new perspective: how to adapt and develop this approach to create new opportunities for participation for children with a range of complex disabilities, including children who are non verbal communicators.


Time to discuss and reflect on the thoughts provoked by activities during the day was important for the ensemble, all of whose members are established professionals in their field and confident improvisers, not afraid to explore new or more unusual sound worlds as part of their performances.


This openness was crucial to the success of the day, as discussions on sound environment, perception of sound, making a musical connection, being a responsive musician and creating together became common themes between Figura’s existing work and their aspirations for this new adventure.


At the end of the day the musicians met some of the children at the school and participated in an informal music session with music teacher Jakob's class. The session lasted around 40 minutes, with children responding to both familiar Danish songs, and improvised  music created by the ensemble building on their training.


The range of responses offered by the children was discussed after the session. These varied from the most openly extrovert-conducting the group, singing along and instructing on songs to be played, through to the more subtle: a sigh, a hand clap, a vocalisation or a touch on the arm of another in a moment of music:


"I was surprised at how open the children were to the experience."


"It moved me to see this very instant way we all made music."


" She made eye contact immediately so I played. There was then so much eye contact between us as I carried on"


"You could see when he understood that we played when he clapped his hands."


"I could see that the music we had created worked very well when we played it to the children"


In our debrief we talked too about the important social aspects that music making facilitates, highlighting an example of the interaction that took place within the session between a more able child and his more physically disabled peer, encouraging his friend to join him in playing the drum.


It seemed that this short but very emotionally rich session had a significant impact on the musicians, particularly due to its feeling of being 'in the moment', and in giving new challenges to be responsive to the immediacy of the children's communication.


But without a doubt there was also a sheer delight in being part of it - a sense of the profound capabilities that music making can offer, in reaching out to others in a situation where each and every individual in the room gave something 'in music' that could be shared by, or created in response to, another.  Whether musician, teacher, composer, staff member, or child.


Ros Hawley, Con Brio and Figura will come together again in March 2017 to deliver a 2-day creative project with children in the school, using their training as the foundations for even richer musical experiences for all.


Ros Hawley, 2016.


Project Producer:  Con Brio.

Project Director:  Ros Hawley 

Danish Partner:   Figura Ensemble