Percussion Play

Percussion Play at Rutherford School

Margaret Archibald writes:

Rutherford School, under the umbrella of the Garwood Foundation, caters for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties. Sarah Stuart and I visited on three separate occasions in late January and in early February. At our preliminary visit we spent a morning popping into the children’s classrooms; we were able to hop around the building easily with Sarah on folk fiddle and me on my little C clarinet, and we were helped by Music Therapist Sarah Kong to carry several bagfuls of small handheld percussion for the children to play. We performed a varied selection of folk tunes from England, Ireland and the USA, and staff and children together joined with each on different styles of percussion to suit the mood and tempo. It was lovely for me to meet the children again, many of whom were familiar from previous workshops at the school including most recently in 2013 with percussionist Scott Bywater working alongside Music Therapist Stephen Haylett who spends every Friday at the school and who has become our own Everyone Matters Music Therapy Advisor. For Sarah Stuart this was her first encounter with the children and she showed herself both sensitive to their needs and very encouraging in enabling their participation.

Sarah’s ability to come alongside the children was increasingly in evidence as we progressed through our two full days of percussion workshops during the first two Wednesdays in February. Sarah arrived early for these in order to have time to unload her van that was stuffed with large and exciting orchestral percussion instruments. She brought a full-size chromatic xylophone, two kettle drums, a bass drum, a tam-tam, a side drum, suspended cymbals and, perhaps smallest but by no means least effective, a set of sleigh bells. Our programme was devised to give each group of children an experience of a wide range of tones and timbres of percussion, with maximum opportunity for participation, and wherever possible giving children experience of playing the large orchestral instruments themselves. The smaller instruments could be placed on a lap or a wheelchair tray, held by a teacher, or strapped to a wrist or an ankle to make each new type of percussion as accessible as possible; with the big instruments we found ways to turn the wheelchairs, change the angle of stands, or hold sounding surfaces close to feet or hands. For many of these children access is a constant issue requiring creative solutions to enable them to enjoy experimenting with the sounds on offer; they may find gripping a beater impossible, or they may suffer a degree of visual impairment. Our aim with each new piece of music was to lead the children through changes of mood, pace and style, encouraging different responses and eliciting varying degrees of motor control in order to produce appropriate sounds to match the music’s dynamics, tempo and character.

One real highlight came on our last day when one teenage boy took full advantage of a short extra lunchtime session that Sarah offered for him alone. We were able to manoeuvre his wheelchair so that his knees fitted neatly under the xylophone and for the next ten minutes he experimented with striking at the wooden bars, stroking a glissando with the soft end of the beater, then switching to a glissando with the hard end of the beater, adding strokes on a suspended cymbal, returning to the xylophone, realising that it was not so effective played with feet, and then finally adding side drum that he played alternately with a beater and with his hand. It was thrilling for us musicians, and for the school staff who knew him well, to see how much he was able to choose to experiment with different types of stroke to access different types of sound, truly a revelation for us and clearly a source of enormous delight to him.
These sessions were made possible by generous financial support from the Lucille Graham and Red Socks Charitable Trusts and with a slab of funding from the school. We were happy that the headteacher was able to join our sleighbell group for a rendition of Troika, played on clarinet and xylophone with a posse of bells jingling away from everyone else in the room, children and staff alike.

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