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Creating new songs and unlocking voices with The Songwriting Charity

This blog is part 5 of a series of case studies about the work of hub partners in reaching more young people with music in Gloucestershire. Case studies are taken from our most recent annual report so some programmes will have ended, but they are representative of the work of the hub that is ongoing.

This year saw the continuation of the MMG and Gloucestershire Healthy Living and Learning (GHLL) funded term-long Vocal Projects delivered by The Songwriting Charity. The programmes help young people to create their own song, which is then performed, recorded and filmed.

This year the projects extended to seven of the county’s secondary schools and one primary. The focus was to include as many children from as broad a range of backgrounds as possible with three clear aims, which were to:

  •  achieve a good gender balance (increasing access to singing for boys in particular)
  •  increase the number of students who have struggled to access and maintain any regular singing
  •  continue to develop new ways for young people to engage with singing though songwriting, lyric writing and instrumental work, as Director Ben O’Sullivan explains, “responding to the songwriting process and ‘unlocking their singing voices almost by accident”.

The gender balance this year was good, with 96 boys and 72 girls takingpart in vocal projects. Cleeve School’s programme involved all boys, and Ben says: “It gave us confidence that music educators and headteachers are keen to encourage boys to sing. And just as importantly,” he continues, “that boys them selves genuinely love singing in a group, get a lot from it, and respond well to being encouraged to shine as singers and songwriters.”

The video from the programme, featuring the song, ‘Strong’, attracted a lot of attention, achieving 6,000 plays on YouTube in January alone – watch it here.

The Songwriting Charity also worked with Gloucester Hospital Education Service in partnership with The Music Works, and ran a whole school primary songwriting project involving 180 students across the key stages.

Pilot data on attendance from the programme in Newent school shows a marked improvement in attendance averaging a 55.2% reduction in absence, compared with the same period in the previous year, when the project didn’t run. This means that students taking part increased their attendance by 43 extra days in school overall.

In addition, six of the students now have 100% attendance, compared with only one before the programme began.

The Songwriting Charity is now working with schools to increase the scope of the study on attendance, exclusions and progress.

The Songwriting Charity has now worked in more than half of the county secondary schools (19 of the 39) and five others through G15 schools concert, and one-day workshops.

You can read more case studies in our Annual Report


Halloween highlights and seasonal songs for the classroom

As the nights draw in and Autumn is well and truly here Lisa Mayo, Head of Gloucestershire Music and the County’s Singing Champion reflects on some of her favourite seasonal music lessons and highlights some resources that might help to give you some inspiration for your own lessons and singing activities in the next half term…

I love Autumn and enjoy getting back into my woollies and boots and going for lovely long walks in the countryside witnessing all the beautiful changing colours of the leaves.  Likewise in school, I found this time of year really inspiring for children and it seemed easier for them to be creative when composing and more emotive and reflective when listening to music.


With wonderful, imaginative and stimulating dates such as Halloween and Bonfire Night there is no better time to get children listening, composing and performing.  I used to pop down to the ‘pound’ shops in town and deck my classroom out with cobwebs, light-up pumpkins and some creepy surprises that would keep the classes guessing and I had some of the best and most memorable lessons in my career!  When you have fun with music then so will the children!

So I’ve put some ideas together as a mere lighting of the touch paper to maybe give you some inspiration for planning some fab and fun lessons of your own after half term!  If you have some favourite seasonal lessons that you would be happy to share then we’d love to hear about them – so send them into me by email and we’ll share them on the Make Music Gloucestershire website.


Danse Macabre:  This is a classic by Saint-Saens and is a wonderfully evocative piece of programmatic music – here is how Classic FM introduces it:

Death is up there on most composers’ radars as a worthy inspiration. Saint-Saëns happened on the subject in the early 1870s, originally setting to music a strange, art-house poem by Henri Cazalis, which has the first line ‘Zig, zig, zig, death in cadence’. Originally it was for voice and piano but, thankfully, Saint-Saëns reworked it a couple of years later, substituting a violin for the voice and adding the full orchestra. When it was premiered at one of the Parisian Châtelet concerts (these took place in the Théâtre du Châtelet) it was immediately encored in full. Since then, it has remained one of Saint-Saëns’s most popular pieces, with television providing endless opportunities to hear it again in theme tunes.

There’s a whole narrative that unfolds in the piece, with the violin representing death himself and the story starting at midnight – hence the twelve chiming opening notes. So it was completely appropriate that the piece was chosen to open the Bafta-winning mystery crime series, from 1997 to 2013. It starred Alan Davies as the magician’s assistant who solves apparently supernatural mysteries using his knowledge of trickery.

If you type ‘lesson plans for Danse Macabre’ into any search engine you will find many resources, lesson plans, PowerPoints etc. that you can download for free or give you ideas for creating your own.

This is also a great piece for introducing children to graphic score, as they can start to respond to the music by finding shapes and symbols to help represent features such as changes in dynamics, texture and identifying structure and theme repetition and variation.

I used to love doing this lesson with Year 7 students (but you could easily do this piece with KS2 students as well) – here is a taster of how the lesson used to pan out!:

The students had to come into the classroom in silence, as I had the lights off and the classroom lit with my halloween fun lights (obviously PAT tested in advance!) and some spooky film music playing!

I would start to teach them a couple of spooky / fun songs at the beginning and then I would ask them to sit and listen to Danse Macabre whilst I told them the story.  I tended to make up my own story based around the poem, as I felt this worked a little better!  At the end I asked them ‘which their favourite parts of the piece were?’…’what instruments they could identify?’ (especially ‘which instrument plays the clock chimes at the start’ and ‘which instrument represents the cockerel at the end?’ etc.).

I would display the themes in notation on the board for the visual learners and to help develop their music reading skills.  I would also play them the separate themes so they could familiarise themselves with the characteristics of each one in order for them to be able to identify them and tell them apart.  This was a great opportunity to introduce terminology such as stepwise/leapy melodic lines; spiky/smooth rhythms and textures; accidentals and chromatic notes.  We’d look at videos and pictures of the instrumentation (or have live demos if the instruments were available) that played the key themes and discussed the techniques involved and the parts of the orchestra they belonged to.

Then I used to spend time at the end of the lesson where we would clear the tables away and I would get them into separate groups to represent each theme.  Then they would have to create a group tableau / freeze frame (creating an image conjured up from the poem) and then from a sitting position on the floor in their groups I would play the piece from the start and they would have to all work as a team in their groups to listen out for their theme and spring up into their freeze frame when the could hear their theme being played.  It was quite a good method to see who was really confident with their understanding of the themes that they had been taught and who were still not quite sure!  This group activity helps the less able to build in listening skills and confidence as well as developing those more able as group ‘conductors’.  Some of the themes are quite similar so there is certainly an element of challenge there!

The Others (Film Soundtrack):

This is probably more appropriate for secondary age students, as it is quite creepy in parts(!) but it has wonderful instrumentation and techniques to get the pupils to try and identify, especially in the main theme of ‘The Others’ and ‘Wakey, Wakey’ i.e. bass clarinet, flute (in it’s lower range), cor anglais, tremolo strings, pedals etc. and has some more unusual keyboard and sting instruments to keep them guessing for a while!  ‘They are Everywhere’ – has frantic orchestral textures and wonderful dissonant moments at the opening.  Also the child humming the nursery rhyme in ‘Communion Dress’ is particularly creepy in true horror pastiche and this is followed by the huge swell of the roaring orchestra with more dissonance and polyphonic textures.  You have been warned!

You can then introduce the pupils to some of the classic horror film musical concepts following the listening exercise:

  • pedals (extreme pitch range i.e. bottom C and top C)
  • chromatic melodic ostinati
  • dynamic extremes
  • unpredictable pulse / use of rests / unpredictable rhythms – to keep the listener on their toes and to build the tension
  • changing nursery rhymes from major into minor or model tonality
  • …and for once I used to let them include some ‘appropriate’ sound fx if they had included all the compositional basics!

Ask the pupils to compose their own short piece of horror film music by using some of these techniques.  When they perform their pieces to each other their peers can use an agreed score rating to credit the techniques they have used from the list and then give a bonus mark for the ‘scare factor’!

The ‘Harry Potter’ film music is also a gem at this time of year, especially ‘Hedwig’s Theme’, which is a great melody to learn to play and a wonderful track to listen to with the magical celesta playing the theme in the opening!


There are lots of great resources out there to help Primary Teachers start singing more with their pupils.  Singing doesn’t have to be given a designated ‘slot’ in the weekly timetable (although every school should have a fab singing club for the children to attend!), it should be integrated into their daily lives to enhance their academic experiences in every subject and help them to learn in a creative and motivating way.  I wanted to highlight some of the resources on offer from Out of the Ark in this blog (although there are many other companies out there that also provide fantastic resources such as Sing Up, Singing Sherlock, Charanga etc.) and pass on some suggestions from them for some pieces which might be appropriate at this time of year.

I would love us to have some feedback from teachers in our county who have some suggestions about pieces that they sing with their children and have a great response from, as it can help others to be inspired and save time in searching for the ‘best’ songs to do in the next assembly…lesson…choir session.  So please do pass on any of your ideas to me by email and we’ll start to share more and lessen the load for each other!

Song Bundles from Out of the Ark – Primary Singing Resources:

Are you looking for a selection of songs for your singing festivals or events?   Perhaps you’d like a bundle of songs?   Did you know that you can select songs from Out of the Ark’s various songbook titles?  You can then even access selected songs via their Out of the Ark Music online account through the Words on Screen™ player – Singchronize®

Songs are available with:

    • Printable music scores  and lyric sheets
    • Words on Screen™ element – interactive lyrics that synchronise with the vocal and backing tracks – making the songs easier to teach and learn.
    • Downloadable MP3s
    • Ability to stream or download the songs
    • Ability to create an expandable library and playlists in your online account of single songs or titles.
    • PLUS additional teaching notes for each song – where available.

If you’d like some more information about their song bundles do get in touch with Anna Edwards

A Few Fun Seasonal Songs:


Song Title



The Niki Davies Book Of Songs For Autumn And Winter Pumpkin Head · A great song, useful for looking at shapes and how to recognise them
· Perfect for younger ages
Songs for EVERY Season Conkers! · A fun song which has become a firm favourite with children of all ages everywhere
· Celebrating the joy of conker collecting
· Articulation

Take a look at their blog post – Do you have what it takes to be a conker conqueror?

Songs for EVERY Season Turn Back The Clocks  • All the essential ingredients of Autumn rolled into a song
• Modulation
• Articulation
A Combined Harvest Picture Of Autumn  • Full of lots of lovely Autumn vocabulary, a fabulous song to sing through the whole season
• Lots of scope for adding your own Autumn rhyming words to replace the verse lyrics
The Niki Davies Calendar Of Songs Crunching Through The Leaves  · Perfect for Autumn, describing the sights and sounds of crunching leaves
• An excellent song to add untuned percussion to

Planning for Christmas Nativity / Concerts?

We’d love to hear about your plans for your musical Christmas events.  Send us your photos, video or audio clips and let us share them on our Make Music Gloucestershire website so that we can start to show the rest of our county how wonderfully rich the singing is in our schools.  So don’t be shy – be the first to get your school’s name ‘up in lights’ and share the achievements with your parents and pupils.  Send any media along with a brief write up to us at and we’ll be sure to post it on our website (please note: any media sent to us should have been checked for parental permissions in line with your school’s policy before sending it to us).

Have a wonderful Autumn and enjoy your festive music making in your schools!

Responding to Ofsted: Make Music Gloucestershire, a year on. Guest blog from Peter Holmes, Head of Access for Learning, Gloucestershire County Council

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The recent Ofsted report into hubs caused deep concern amongst all of us who care about music education. Attention-grabbing headlines in national newspapers about hubs’ poor performance were unhelpful and in many cases inaccurate. Yet many of the challenges for hubs that the report highlights have reinforced what we already know and are currently working hard to address in Gloucestershire.

It seems timely then to share what we’re doing to accelerate the process of change in music education in Gloucestershire. As the article below (reproduced from the Hub’s November e-news) outlines, I’m working with Peter Clark of Swindon Music Service and the team at Gloucestershire Music, to reshape the way we work so that we can address many of Ofsted’s concerns. In particular, we are:

investigating options for the structure and governance of the Hub: including a ‘commissioning/delivery’ model, in keeping with the County Council’s operating model. This would provide a clearer demarcation between the work of Gloucestershire Music, and other ‘delivery’ partners, and the more strategic work of the Hub;

talking to school leaders, heads of music, and primary teachers to find out how they can be more actively as equal partners in the strategic, sustainable, development of music education in the county. The Hub has engaged an ex-head and passionate musician, Alan Winwood to help in this;

talking to a range of practitioners and organisations working through music with children and young people to find out how we can best bring together the county’s music education workforce to better understand and respond to the needs of children and young people.

As the article below says, ultimately, it’s up to us as a music education community – school leaders, teachers, music education organisations and practitioners – to decide what’s right for our county, and how the Hub will develop here. And in the words of Lord Kitchener, we need YOU! Yes, it is still early days and Ofsted’s report may have been a little premature. But we want to make sure that we take on board the points it raises so that quality, affordable, and accessible music education reaches all children and young people in Gloucestershire.

If you feel you can help us in this process, or you’re a school leader or teacher and would like to talk to us about how we can help your school, then please contact Peter Clark in the first instance:

Make Music Gloucestershire: your music education hub, a year on.

A fuller version of this article was originally published in Make Music Gloucestershire’s Autumn term e-news. Read the enews, and sign up for future issues.

So, it’s been a year since embarked on the journey to becoming a Hub – finding ways to bring together everyone working in music with children and young people. It seems fitting then to recap on what the Hub is and what it might mean for you in this next year.

Like all music services across the UK, in the last year Gloucestershire Music (GM) has been undergoing a transformation from being a music service, to operating as part of a music education hub. This was the main recommendation of the government’s National Plan for Music Education.

It’s an exciting development. Hubs have been given both an opportunity and a challenge to bring together schools; music leaders, teachers and tutors; music organisations; and others working with children and young people in music, to create joined up opportunities for making and learning music.

But what does a Hub actually do?

The role of the Hub as defined by its main funders, the Department for Education (through Arts Council England) is to deliver four core roles:

3.     PROGRESSION ROUTES which are available and affordable to all young people.
4.     SINGING/VOCAL WORK so every pupil is singing regularly

There are three optional ‘extension’ roles which cover CPD for staff in schools; instrument hire; and access to large scale/high quality music experiences involving professional musicians and venues. Read more about the Hub and the core roles.

The work of our Hub, Make Music Gloucestershire, also includes a parallel and important inclusion strategy – to make sure that children in the most challenging circumstances can access these and similar opportunities.

Ultimately, it’s up to us as a music education community to decide what’s right for our county, and how the Hub will develop here – it’s early days yet, but with a first year under our belt, it’s now that things start to get exciting.

So, how have we been developing these roles?

Make Music Gloucestershire’s whole class instrumental work, delivered by Gloucestershire Music in 138 schools and Groove On in four schools, has been going well and prompting great feedback from teachers. After a period of consultation with primary and secondary schools, carried out by Alan Winwood, ex-head of Chosen Hill, we are now finding ways to develop the offer so that we can reach more schools and pupils.

Gloucestershire Music’s groups and ensembles are continuing to develop young people at all stages of their musical journey. New opportunities include a free complete beginners half-term course and follow-on weekly groups; a County Youth Choir and County String and Brass ensembles. We’re continuing to forge links with other groups in the county, as well as promoting them through our TouchBass search tool. Our next steps will be to map these and other out-of-school – and in school – music-making and learning opportunities, to  identify where the gaps are and how we can support other providers through networking, connections and signposting.

Our singing and vocal work in primaries, overseen and delivered by Gloucestershire Music Makers has been a big hit, and this year we’re working to extend this to secondaries – as singing can have powerful social, educational, psychological, health and of course musical benefits for adolescents, and can support many areas of a school and it’s pupils development.

We’ve been seeing impressive outcomes from our inclusion work with young people in Pupil Referral Units, Hospital Education, and looked-after children, as well as young people in youth justice settings. We know that it’s valuable as well as cost-effective, because commissioners of services for young people are wanting more. You can read some of the case studies and read our latest story about a young man in hospital education.

Where next?

There’s a lot of work to be done: the first year has been a time of change and adaptation. Since April, leadership of the Hub has been split between Peter Holmes, Head of Access, Gloucestershire County Council, and through a partnership agreement with Swindon Borough Council, Peter Clark, Head of Swindon Music Service and Swindon Music Education Hub, now called Make Music Swindon.

We’re now formalising that relationship which means that Peter Clark will be the strategic lead for both hubs. The benefits are that we’ll share strategic thinking, save reinventing wheels, and make better use of time and money.

On the ground and out in the field we’ll be wanting to hear from you: whether you’re a school teacher or head of music wanting the children and young people you work with to benefit more from music; or can provide music making/learning opportunities for schools and young people.

We will be asking you (and then sharing what we find with you):

  • Schools – what’s already happening in your school? What are the gaps? How can music help address some of your wider school priorities?
  • Music education providers – what music making/learning opportunities do you provide for young people or schools? What would help you do it better or to reach more children and young people?

If we’re going to achieve our hopes and dreams for music education in Gloucestershire we need to start by sharing our knowledge of what’s happening and what’s needed.

So we will be in touch very soon and do hope you’ll want to join us in this critical work for children and young people in Gloucestershire.

Sign up to our enews to keep in touch with developments, keep in touch with us on Facebook and Twitter, and add your details to TouchBass, our search tool for music making and learning opportunities.

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