Mainstream school project garners prestigious award

Edward Williams

In 2002, we began promoting a series of pilot projects aimed at finding out whether Soundbeam might be useful for students in mainstream primary and secondary schools.

In each case we commissioned a composer to devise a new piece for development and performance by an unselected, mixed ability class of students, exploring the expressive possibilities of electronic music and multi-media technology (and Soundbeam in particular) and including voices and any conventional acoustic instruments available within the class. The students were also invited to contribute words, images, dance and any other skills they had to offer.

Soon after completion of the first project - composer/poet Heather Wastie’s very successful “Seasons and Cycles” at Leighswood Primary School, Walsall (see Seasons and Cycles article) - Soundbeam’s new possibilities for activating and modifying video and other images in real time performance began to emerge.

So composer Martin Kiszko, with a long string of tv and film scores to his credit, was commissioned to devise and compose a piece of music and multimedia for the 27 students at Bishop Perowne High School in Worcester. The result was “INUA”.

During the preparation for the performance, Martin visited the school for 12 two-period workshop sessions. The students contributed ideas, words, sounds and images as some of the basic materials of the piece. They learnt the songs, experimented with writing poems about the Inuit, developed various dance movements and chants, and videoed a quantity of relevant visual material.

At the same time, they explored the use of electronic music technology in live performance, invented body movements, recorded vocal sounds which were promptly turned into sound samples for articulation by their own movements in the beams or by the operation of switches and joysticks.

From the report by Professor Helen Coll and Mr Ted Bunting - Faculty of Education, University of Central England

“… the possibilities afforded by Soundbeam, both in terms of electronic music and multimedia live performance technology, and its possibilities for group music in which all participants are actively involved in the process of music making, provide classroom teachers with new means of develop- developing their pupils’ creative imagination in many directions across the curriculum.” (426)

Out of all this, the makings of the piece slowly emerged. “INUA” uses the students’s voices (sung and spoken), with a small band of the acoustic musical instruments– flute, violin, guitar, trumpet – together with beams and switches to articulate and modify the sound samples and video clips they had made.

Finally, on the evening of Tuesday, December 16th, 2003 , “INUA” was given its first performance to a large and enthusiastic audience in Worcester Cathedral. Stephen Tommey, Head of Performing Arts at the school had this to say about the project: “… fantastic, it was a huge success … I was moved and inspired ... the joy for me was that this was not a hand-picked bunch of kids, this was a complete mixed ability form all working together. I just felt that was a real way forward.”

Martin Kiszko was named Composer of the Year – 2004 (Education/Community Music section) for INUA, at the British Academy of Songwriters and Composers Awards. An illustrated description of the “INUA” project along with a DVD of the performance and Professor Helen Coll’s evaluation report is available from The Soundbeam Project.

INUA was commissioned by Elektrodome with support from The Elmley Foundation, The PRS Foundation, The Soundbeam Project and Worcester Arts Education.