Earlier this month, all partners involved in the Future Songwriting project – a two-year project co-funded by the European Commission under the Creative Europe programme – met at the University of Cologne to discuss the progress of the project and to evaluate the impact on teachers and young people so far. The programme has so far been rolled out in four Finnish schools with the INTO School team working with Le Lycée franco-finlandais), Santamäki School and The Utsjoki School (Finland’s only Saami-majority municipality), Martinlaakso School in Vantaa. The final Finnish school will join Finnish pilot in the spring of 2020.
In Germany, the research team (University of Arts Helsinki, the University of Cologne and Musical Futures) were all interested to see how the concept, pedagogical thinking and methodology would translate to a different context with training for teachers taking place in English – not the first language of either the trainers or the trainees!
Having previously worked with the teachers (from two primary schools – one from the centre of Cologne and the other on the outskirts) and teachers then having returned to their respective schools armed with the tools and techniques to begin the process of songwriting using GarageBand to write backing tracks with their pupils, the INTO team now concentrated on explaining sampling. Techniques for sampling were explained through both video and demonstration with teachers encouraged to experiment by collecting their own samples and then creating a short piece. Just as in Musical Futures training, the INTO team training delivery was ‘hands-on’, with teachers gaining an understanding of the creative processes involved through experiencing the learning from the perspective of a student. Opportunities to share compositions and ideas with each other helped to cement the process before moving on to incorporating the sampling techniques and other ideas in a song later in the day.
At the end of the workshop, teachers were invited to share their final compositions – songs and compositions using the sampling techniques in GarageBand that they had explored earlier. With some fantastic work from all the teachers involved in the day – most of whom have no formal musical experience – the ‘hit’ of the day was a song about ‘Brexit’ with an entreaty for the UK to remain within the EU. We were tempted to bring back a recording!
Apart from learning sampling techniques to explore with their own children, teachers were also keen to share with each other some of the difficulties they had already encountered in teaching songwriting to their pupils. How to structure a song – they know about verse and chorus but aren’t always able to do this in practise, lyric writing and most crucially and how to support pupils to compose a melody that fits with your words and backing track. The INTO team were able to support with a number of different ideas such as speaking/singing the words along to the backing track, or rapping, but acknowledged that this can be a difficult area to tackle with younger students.
The following day saw the research and INTO teams meet with at Stefan Lochner Schule in the centre of Cologne to observe the songs that pupils from the ‘Tiger’ class had composed in their groups. Without exception, every group had ‘nailed’ the GarageBand backing track using a number of the apps ‘smart’ features with songs reflecting each groups chosen theme – from ghosts to robots. In this session, the class teacher was working with them to help them add lyrics to their songs. As anticipated, some pupils found this task challenging, so support from both the class teacher and other adults was necessary. Both the INTO team and the research team rolled up their collective sleeves, but not being native German speakers communicating ideas about how to go about this was tricky. As an action research project, the Future Songwriting project is designed to test out what works, what doesn’t and how the main aims and objectives can be addressed.
The project offers both music specialists and general classroom teachers the opportunity to learn new skills and uses a model based on creativity and student involvement. The confidence and satisfaction of the teachers who attended the previous day’s workshop was apparent, coupled with their enthusiasm to develop their communities of practice to support each other – as evidenced by the links that have already developed between the participating schools in Cologne. With further discussion about collaborating on other curriculum areas already in the pipeline, it is clear that this project has the potential to reach further than its current objectives. At Musical Futures we have see many of our approaches tried and tested by teachers in their classrooms with ideas and results shared amongst the community. It was great to see this happening here too. Take – Use – Innovate – Share.
Finally, our thanks must go to our hosts from Cologne University – Christian Rolle and Julia Weber and to the teachers and children from the schools involved in the project for allowing us to see them in action. Next stop France with the INTO team delivering in school pilots organised by Sacem in January 2020. We can’t wait to see them in action again!