Harmonise: The teacher’s tale

Harmonise_Seb_Matthes_9As a newly qualified teacher with a musical background, I entered the profession with rosy visions of wheeling the instrument trolley in for music time every Thursday afternoon, exploring the great composers and teaching the children their semi-quavers and crotchets, whilst putting on polished performances every other week, complete with harmonies, choreography and costume. One term in and I quickly realised that delivering a varied, enriching and purposeful curriculum involves squeezing, conjuring, stealing and stretching time, whilst the pile of fun and creative projects you were so-looking-forward-to-but-just-couldn’t-fit-in grows ever more restless in the chaotic store cupboard, surrounded by half-chewed emergency pencils and confiscated bouncy balls. Feverish to abandon the column method and adverbial phrases for a while and allow the children to nurture their artistic and creative saplings, I jumped at the chance for my class to become involved in the Harmonise project.

Take one class of Year-three’s, a bunch of instruments and a group of talented musicians. Put them in a cramped classroom and set them the task of learning songs in four different languages and writing something ‘original’ and ‘special’ in their own. What do you get? Loud noise, huge excitement, boundless energy, a clamouring to grab at expensive stringed instruments and a frenzy of stamping, clapping and general throwing about of the body in a somewhat dance like fashion…

Harmonise_Seb_Matthes_20What I did not expect was the profoundly sensitive and mature engagement the children found with the Harmonise subject matter, focussing on exploring and celebrating refugee culture, highlighting the barriers encountered and animosity faced by vulnerable people who, in the words of a child, “just have to leave their country to find safety”. Free from the binds of political intentions and perceptions, which are in some ways beyond their personal understandings of the world, the children engaged in discussions on a purely human and emotional level and surprised us with their compassion towards and interest in the individual stories they heard throughout the project.

The music was an expressive outlet, which gave the children the chance to experiment with their own words and voices as well as learn and expand on a wide range of skills brought together in a collaborative composition of their very own refugee song. The beat, melody and words were all created by the children themselves and facilitated by the fantastic music leaders Aidan, Martim, Faz and Bina.

It was encouraging and rewarding to witness some children, who struggle to engage academically or socially, find their musical talents and a new sense of self-confidence and emotional wellbeing. Many parents commented on the positive impact the project had on their children’s overall happiness and I heard plenty of reports of continuous tapping, beatboxing and renditions of ‘Chaje Sukarije’. I must admit that once the project was over we comforted ourselves by re-watching the YouTube video of our performance over and over again, scrolling through the photo gallery (30 kids yelling in unison “That’s me Miss, I’m there!”) and jumping out of our chairs to dance around the classroom singing ‘Ngunda Azali Mutu’ – “a refugee is a human being”.

Lauren Rigby, Wilbraham Primary School, Manchester

Buy ‘Ngunda’, album recorded by refugee torture survivors, HERE.

Photo credit: Seb Matthes