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  • Emily Tully

Is there value in live music for those with SEN/D?


As a music teacher in Birmingham City centre, I am lucky to be right by Birmingham’s Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), Birmingham Music Service and Midlands Arts Centre (MAC); great providers of musical opportunities and live performances for my pupils with SEN/D. My pupils love music, whether it be hitting a drum, singing in a choir, or simply flicking the bells on the side of a tambourine. But when someone else is providing the music or performance, how do they benefit?

The performances we attend are school concerts at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, provided by Birmingham Music Service and the CBSO. Four concerts are presented over two days, and with my determination to provide every child with the opportunity to see a full orchestra in action, I take as many children as my school dare to allow; approximately 35 children with PMLD*, SLD* and autism and 16 staff to each of the 4 performances with very quick turnarounds on the buses at lunchtime.

Due to the diversity of my pupil’s needs, their responses to the trips vary, but as pupils enter the Symphony Hall, they notice the beauty and awe of the room. A huge gold and red room, children everywhere (usually mainstream) and the seats that flip up and down are great fun before being told to sit on them; they explore the space with their senses. When the orchestra approach, depending on their awareness and abilities, some of pupils begin to notice the orchestra preparation. As the room applauses, so do my pupils; equality is instilled among the diverse audience before the music has begun.

The music plays and the magic begins. Every set of eyes and ears is on the orchestra. The pupils become immersed in a new sound that is visual too. They watch the ups and downs of the bows, they feel the beats of the drums, they notice the light bouncing off the brass section. They sit, they watch and they interact. I hear little pieces of melodic singing, their responses change with dynamic and tempo changes, they learn to show appreciation through clapping, they shout with delight in sudden silences, they love it.

MAC and MAC Makes Music are providers of music opportunities for young people with SEN/D and it is a pleasure to be a part of their performances. My pupils with SLD have watched these performances with admiration, they have rocked and rolled to their music and have exited the venue talking about the music they want to play when they’re older. Providing my pupils with opportunities to see adults with SEN/D achieving musical ambitions is vital for their confidence and determination to succeed.

SEN/D specific companies like Frozen Light and the CBSO relaxed concerts produce performances to meet the needs of pupils. Performances are performed in accessible arts venues and use drama, movement and music to tell a story that infuses the senses to give every child access to theatre and performance.

A pupil stopped me in the corridor last week and asked me where I was going, when I replied “The Symphony Hall”, a group of pupils said “oh, why aren’t we going?”, “I love the Symphony Hall”. Their response is great acclaim for Birmingham Music organisations.

This snapshot of musical performances I have attended highlights the benefits of performance and live music for my pupils. Of course, over the years and hundreds of children, some pupils haven’t coped to the end of performances, and once a boy with perfect pitch ran on to the stage to add an improvised melody to the top piano line, but I have never taken a child who has not been able to access a musical environment. A lot of my pupils are not experts at sitting and watching, but in an environment where they can mimic the behaviour around them, access music on larger scales and feel a part of a new setting, they’re focus and engagement is impeccable.

So, is there value in live music for those with SEN/D? Absolutely! Thank you to all the opportunity providers above.

*PMLD- profound and multiple learning difficulties

*SLD- severe learning difficulties

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