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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!

Sing: Ultimate A Capella – my experience!

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Our latest blog is by Ben Sawyer, known across the County (and now nationwide!) for his choral conducting, singing and teaching.  Ben is a lead tutor for GM’s County Youth Choir (GYC) and is an inspirational leader for our county’s young singers.

Earlier this year Ben was invited to be a judge on a new show ‘Sing: Ultimate A Capella’ which began airing on Sky One on 6th October.  Here Ben tells us about his experience, from initial contact to filming…

Sometimes you get an email through that is the last thing you will ever expect to get. I had one such email in June asking if I was interested in being a judge for a new TV show to air on Sky One. The idea of the show was to celebrate a cappella (voices only) groups in a new competition presented by Cat Deeley. There would be six heats and a final, with the winning group given the opportunity to record an album at the legendary Abbey Road Studios and release a single in time for Christmas. Once I had read the email seven or eight times, and double checked that it was really for me, I replied saying, ‘is this really for me?!’ It was.

The thing that made me say ‘yes’ was that the producer I spoke to went to great lengths to explain that this was no ordinary TV talent show. This was all about the groups and designed to be a wholly positive experience for everyone. No ‘mean judges’ here, just a group of five experienced professionals that would listen to each performance and give marks accordingly, so the singing very much came first.

The show was filmed at The Troxy in East London across a week, starting in late JuIy. First I got to meet my fellow judges: Rachel Mason, who ran an award-winning Show Choir, toured internationally and judged competitions across the world; Aaron Lee Lambert, an actor on the West End and a cappella singer at Yale University; Joanna L’Estrange, former director of The Swingle Singers and now a renowned jazz and session singer who I had had the pleasure of working with before; Carol Pemberton MBE, founder of ‘Black Voices’, a female group based in Birmingham; and Emma Brain-Gabbott, ready to stand in if any of us were ill, member of The Sixteen. What was clear from the very beginning was that the six of us were very much on the same wavelength but all had different things that we might particularly be looking for in an a cappella performance.

So, onto the filming. I’m obviously not going to give the game away here, but a typical day of shooting went a little like this: On arrival, we would be taken to hair and makeup, with our runner Tee ensuring we didn’t accidentally bump into any of the competing groups on our way. This was my first experience of hair and makeup, and the team doing it for the show was the same team that does ‘Strictly…’ and numerous other big shows, so I was in good hands. As you may expect, this was not a long process for me or Aaron, but it was a chance to get on with arranging a song or two while waiting for the girls to get theirs done! After that, our producer Dan would give us a briefing on that day’s show, telling us of any little changes there might be and going over which of us would be saying something and when through the course of the show. After a bite to eat, we went up to our position in the gallery overlooking a most impressive-looking stage set up. There was a main stage in front of us with performance spaces under the gallery and on stair cases to the left and right. We each had an allocated seat with our judging tablet in front of us and a monitor at each end. This was so that we could see any performances out of our line of sight. Once we were mic’d up, we were ready to go.

The great thing about ‘Sing: Ultimate A Cappella’ is that it really is 100% a cappella right down to the intro music. The house band is even an a cappella group: the brilliant ‘Sons on Pitches’. They really are one of the most versatile groups around, with any number of them able to take a solo lead at any given time. One of their biggest challenges was the link music, where they would have to sing a six-second snippet of a song to introduce the next slot. Not easy, but always done superbly!

The other thing I learnt this week is just how demanding the job of a presenter is, and Cat Deeley really is one of the best. Her charm and good humour through the week helped keep everyone relaxed and she was always on her mark ready to go, asking great questions of the special guests and generally being the glue that holds the show together.

So, onto my job: the judging. For every performance, I look at four aspects: vocals, musicality, interpretation and performance. For each of these I give a score out of 10. That is then combined with the scores given by my colleagues to give an overall score out of 200. We input the marks onto a purpose-built app on a tablet computer in front of us. Simple. Or is it?! In addition to that, each of us have a speaking slot when Cat asks us a question about the judging. The best bit about this was that all of our comments had to be constructive, always pin-pointing a positive alongside an area to improve. Again, no ‘mean judges’ here. But there were times when we only had a matter of seconds before we were on and having to formulate the right kind of answer in that time and deliver it fluently is not as easy as it may look! That said, having been told initially that we would not be speaking much, to have this opportunity made the show all the more exciting, and since then we have done some individual filming sessions for spots to be shown through the show explaining just how the judging works.

So that’s it: well nearly, but for more you need to watch the show. I genuinely think it will come across superbly on the television. It is entertaining, fun and you can see that despite some being nervous, every group had a great time preparing for their chance to show us what they could do. For me, it was a brand new experience that I enjoyed enormously, and I cannot wait for the recording of the final.

Finally, the greatest thing about music is the friends you pick up along the way, and through ‘Sing: Ultimate A Cappella’, I have another group of great friends who have shared with me in this wonderful experience!

‘Sing: Ultimate A Cappella’ will be aired on Fridays at 9pm on Sky One from Friday 6th October.

Ben Sawyer


‘Sing your heart out’ and ‘Raise the roof’ vocals – coming soon to a school near you

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Making sure that every pupil is singing regularly and has access to choirs and vocal groups is one of Make Music Gloucestershire’s four core roles, and an important requirement of the National Plan for Music Education. This month’s piece is a guest blog from Liz Terry of Gloucestershire Music Makers, the partner organisation responsible for the hub’s vocals strategy (as well as inclusion – see previous blog).

As a vocal tutor, music mentor, and ex-Sing Up area leader, you may expect me to say that I’ve seen the difference that singing can make to individual young people, and to whole schools, again and again.

Yet I’m aware that, when schools are being forced to focus on STEM subjects, test results, and managing new ways of working as academies, it’s likely to become ever more difficult to make the case for singing.

Testing the theory – Sing into Spring, our pilot vocals programme

Our pilot vocals programme was a way for us to test this theory, and to find out what sort of approaches work best for schools now, and what teachers and teaching assistants are interested in developing.

It was incredible that central government invested in a national singing programe, Sing Up, that gave Primary Schools access to free training and free on line resources. And those resources are now available through their membership scheme.

Continuing with the success of Sing Up, the pilot is part of a vocal strategy for the county that will advocate singing in schools from KS1-4, and support staff to develop and sustain opportunities within and outside of the curriculuum.

So far, the programme has proved that teachers and pupils want to continue to develop singing in their schools, and take part in local events. Heads and teachers have been prepared to be creative in finding ways to manage their timetables, budgets, and other commitments to make sure that they grasp these opportunities for their pupils.

What’s been happening?

Overview: 23 schools, 500 + Key Stage 2 pupils, 5 sharing events around the county.

Pupils: Key stage 2, either whole class, existing choirs or new groups/vocals squads created during the programme. Groups ranged in size from 30-60 pupils per school.

Schools: Schools across the county were invited to attend CPD twilights and get involved with the end of programme cluster sharing singing event. The first school listed in each case here became the ‘host’ for concert:

  • Gloucester: Milestone (a special school), Kingsholm, St Peters, Linden, Elmbridge Junior
  • Forest of Dean:  Lydney Primary, St Briavels, Soudley, Ayleburton
  • Cheltenham: Bishop’s Cleeve, Gotherington, Holy Apostles, Winchcombe, Tirlebrook
  • Stroud: St Matthews, Whiteshill, Nailsworth, Rodborough,
  • North Cotswolds: Northleach, Sutherup, Cold Aston

The process:

Cluster-grouped twilight CPD events – two teachers from each school (ideally one classroom/non-music-specialist, and one music co-ordinator) attended to learn the songs as well as signing, beat-boxing and rapping and pick up a resource pack. One of the team from Gloucestershire Music came along, and you can read her story, ‘Confessions of a non-singer’ [].

A visit to each school by one of our vocal tutors – to help with the learning of the songs by pupils, but most importantly, to develop teachers’ skills through observation of another vocal leader.

Sharing concerts for each cluster – working alongside the schools, we organised a concert for parents, family and friends, at one school in each cluster.

The outcomes of the pilot:

•    Schools better able to meet the requirements of the National Curriculum.

•    Embedded learning – music co-ordinators and non-music-specialist teachers have learned new repertoire and techniques – particularly in inclusive vocals and encouraging boys – and have developed theirs and their pupils’ confidence in singing.

•    More boys enjoying singing – helped by the wider repertoire including rap and beat-boxing

•    Pupils gaining all the benefits that singing can bring. For more about the benefits of singing, see this Sing Up research.

•    Opportunities for schools to perform together and to join together in collaboration rather than competition.

•    A cluster-based network of support for teachers

What next?

We now need to spread the message wider, to encourage teachers to advocate to other teachers, and heads to other heads, the difference singing can make to pupils’ personal and educational development, their health and wellbeing, and their school culture.

We’re now making our vocal programmes available to all schools in the county including special schools.

Primary and secondary schools programmes

Following the pilot, our primaries programme, Sing your heart out! is now on offer to all schools in the county. Our secondaries programme, Raise the Roof vocals is also now available to all schools, following a period of consultation with eight secondaries who we identified as offering few vocal opportunities for pupils. Both programmes are heavily subsidised and likely to be in demand so do contact us soon to secure your place.

KS1 pilot programme

This is just starting, and includes cluster CPD events and action research with pupils. We’ll be developing our ideas from a recent funded project in a Children’s Centre by consulting with Key Stage 1 teachers, including songs to link to EYFS/KS1 topics, singing and signing, using Child Initiated Music Play methodology, learning singing games for the playground and in the class, songs to support daily routines and assembly singing. Contact us if you’d like to be involved.

Gloucestershire Youth Choir

In addition to this in-school activity, the new Gloucestershire Youth Choir, run by Gloucestershire Music, will be continuing to develop, offering progression route for young singers, and the singing groups at some of Gloucestershire Music’s music centres (Five Valleys Stroud, and Tewkesbury) will offer opportunities for those in the early stages of their singing development (see the Find a group page on the website).

We want to embed singing in every school so that it can continue beyond the life of these programmes, and ultimately to bring the benefits of singing to as many young people in Gloucestershire as we can.

If you’re a teacher, get in touch, and if you’re an interested parent, please ask your school about the singing opportunities available for your child through school. Some schools are now running Community Choirs involving parents; it is a great way to strengthen connections between school and the wider community.

All the best,

Liz Terry
Vocal Leader, Trainer and Mentor
Programme Leader- Hub Vocals Strategy

01453 750040

Gloucestershire Music Makers
Charity no. 1106979 Company no. 5195345
Registered office:
Worcester House, 20 North Rd.
Coleford, Glos. GL16 7DR

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