Session Format

Hello again,

I have been doing plenty of writing to describe the music sessions that I lead in L’Arche and so I thought it might be useful if I share the format that I use for them.

The sessions usually last about two hours with a twenty minute- half an hour tea break in the middle.

I am going to share the Bonfire Night session plan….

To continue from my previous blog entries… the session before the bonfire night one was about the rural work turning more to the towns and cities with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Elements included watching the Pandemonium section of the London Olympic Opening Ceremony. We beat on large metal and plastic flower pots and used glass nuggets to represent money in a noisy way….

I write the plan beforehand but then add any adaption I make (hence different tenses) – and there are often plenty of on the spot ideas!

As always I have many thanks to give to my fellow colleagues for taking part in the session.

Where you see the * and ** and *** you can see the ideas I learned from Emmie Ward. In particular her use of the Big Mack as a musical instrument and for recording voice. Emmie also has great techniques for the inclusion of people’s vocalisations and interests into songs.  I also learned the songs for this session from Emmie. I’ll ask Emmie to share more about that at some point as she has lots of great techniques 🙂

Bonfire Night  3rd November 2016
Attention Grabber Activity: Firework App on IpadFirstly just me taking it around before the hello song… everyone else got a turn in the soundscape
Soundscape: Bonfire Night Ssss of a Fizzy drink being opened, crackling of popping candy with water, firework app on ipad, sliding whistle, (rain maker (firework falling sound), crackling paper, bang of the drum (we said 1, 2, 3, bang – everyone has the opportunity to hit drum on the word bang) peoples vocal sounds on Big Mack to play (integrate their interests) *

Activity: ‘We’re all walking along to the fire’  song – action: we poured salt through a flower pot into a small washing up bowl and said it was gunpowder for the gunpowder plot and listened to how it made a quiet sound and we needed to be quiet… can say shhh –

Activity (Contd.): I then said let’s listen to find out if the plan worked! – I asked: Will there be the sound of Big Ben chiming or the sound of an explosion? We counted down and then… heard… yes big ben chiming (iPad) so the plot failedName activity: (soundabout) beat X 4 then name three times and move on. (we did one name and then another) This sort of connected as if naming the names of the conspirators pouring gun powder. (could link this more to the plot or being part of something in future) **

Rhyme: Remember, remember, poem call and response (I actually did this later in storytelling)

Rhythm: Boom Whackers – continue ‘hit, rest, rest, rest’ activity, with everyone having a chance to play them. We stamp feel throughout to keep a beat and i renew the rhythm in-between every person, but anyone can play any pattern they like as it all fits… I play it on the low red one, but again anyone can do anything… The stamping and me doing it in-between seems to help people to create a connecting rhythm.

Vocal Warm Up:Included Do re mi.


London’s Burning

Ring of Fire (after singing through we repeated burn burn bit and people took turns to move the fire poi) ***

Great Balls of Fire (added peoples own endings to ‘Goodness Gracious) ***

Weaving in sounds as part of the L’Arche Music Session

Early 17th Century Woodcut

Hello again! It’s about time that I explained a bit more about what I have been doing on the  theme of rural/work life past.

Connecting with the Autumn theme I begin sessions by creating a group soundscape of  travel – train and time travel. Tibetan Chimes and other instruments such as tone chimes are useful to set the scene for going back in time. You can also add in appropriate rhythm rhymes and words. Have a google for some poems if you want something to get you started 🙂

We follow the soundscape by singing our ‘We’re All Walking’ song (courtesy of Emmie Ward) – this time singing that each person is ‘ walking back in time’. Playing the chime again signifies this. We have continued to use the turn taking activities that I described previously. Activities have included having a bowl of water and a measuring jug – scooping and pouring water  into the bowl, or ladling the water. Everyone gets a turn with the activity after we sing their name. I’ve also used popcorn instead of the water. Last week I used a short cardboard tube and everyone posted a small round piece of wood through it. (It could have been anything though – e.g. a conker or bead). Whereas the popcorn had been like grains of rural life/time, I said that posting the object through the cardboard tube was an indication of the industrial machinery that was to come. I know – I’m pushing it a bit!!!

I realised last week that soundscapes have started to take over the first half of the session. Following the turn taking activity we have moved into a second soundscape. At the moment this is a knitting/weaving soundscape. I start this section through playing a track by the band Capercaillie called M’loam. I find it creates a gentle contemplative atmosphere. To symbolise spinning wheels we roll and spin everyday objects on the floor – such as empty food containers, lids, cotton reels, wooden objects. You can roll the objects to someone or just randomly roll them, experiment and encourage others to do the same. I found a wool ball winder (from the Craft Workshop’s weaving days) and we took turns spinning that around. It is a good visual object and makes a bit of a creak too.

tapestry-forkThis activity then led into a more active sound making soundscape, where we clicked knitting needles together, tapped wooden sticks and played thumb pianos. Last week my colleague and I found some tapestry forks with metal prongs and some metal loom winders. Together they make a good guiro style sound.

The soundscape led into singing ‘Yan Tan Tethera’. It is a song I learned from Aimee Leonard that she developed as part of the Yan Tan Tethera project with the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Listen to Aimee singing it here on Soundcloud. There are more songs and information about the project at the Yan Tan Tethera project link above. Yan Tan Tethera is a sheep counting system traditionally used by shepherds in the north of England. Read more about it on wikipedia. I think it is also used for counting stitches.



I started the activity by singing the low part of Yan Tan Tethera and unwinding the wool from a ball of wool so that gradually everyone was holding onto it around in a circle. I added different voice parts gradually (taking turns with the parts myself) and people joined in with whichever part they wanted. I didn’t ask anyone to sing anything in particular and it seemed to happen naturally that people took different parts. It was also really helpful that the support staff present joined in with different parts too.

It would be interesting to experiment with colours and weaving movements and sounds as with the Yan Tan Tethera project. There is no Weaving Workshop anymore, however there are still looms in the Craft Project , which are used occasionally.

I think that is probably enough for now! More about the other songs we have sung in a future post!

L’Arche Music Session: Autumn and Back through time to work songs past

Attention grabbing things…

My broad theme for my current term of sessions is Autumn and work songs. We have already had a few sessions and I thought it might be nice to blog a bit about what L’Arche is, how I got to the theme and what I have been up to so far.

L’Arche London is a charity based in West Norwood, South East London. I have worked for L’Arche in various ways and for various lengths of time since first leaving University many years back! I first went as a summer assistant and never seem to have really left. The charity supports adults with learning disabilities to live alone, in flats and in larger houses.

The community also runs day services, which currently centre around a garden project and a craft project. L’Arche originates from France and started in London in 1977. The community was set up to give people with learning disabilities their own home and sense of community. Previously people with learning disabilities were living in impersonal and often unpleasant institutions. The history of the day provision is also fascinating as the founders realised that people with learning disabilities wanted (and many still do) to do real work, have a job and earn money. The history of the day provision and community could be a whole heritage project and is something that I’d like to consider while some early members of the community can still share their stories.

I didn’t intend to write such a long introduction, however, L’Arche’s past helped me decide on the theme. Work is at the heart of many songs old and new. I love folk songs and folk work songs are a plenty 🙂 I thought it would be nice to explore some early songs about rural life as a starting point.

The early September sessions began with an Autumn theme and we have gradually moved into the rural and work theme. The sessions begin with an attention grabber and at the moment always include a soundscape, turn taking activity of some kind, voice warm up, songs and percussion instruments.

Autumn Theme

I will share a couple of examples of activities that have taken place in the sessions. The first attention grabber activity was shaking leaves in a large plastic box. I took the box around shaking it and offering others to shake it if they wanted. I did this before singing the welcome song. I didn’t say anything at first and just walked past each group member shaking the leaves as a way of beginning the session. When creating the autumn soundscape we also experimented with comparing the sound of a smaller sized box to shake the leaves, shuffling the leaves in a different way and with hitting the bottom of the box to mimic walking in rhythm. We hit sticks together (twigs and  clapping sticks), snapped twigs, turned rainmakers, waved big leaves and shook sycamore seed bundles. We took time to listen to each of the sounds independently before adding them and experimented with loud and quiet/fast and slow and stopped suddenly to pause and listen to the introduction of a new sound. As well as the above sounds, one of these sounds was the dropping of an acorn or two to the floor, with pauses in-between. I built up different Autumn soundscapes over a couple of weeks. There are also quite a few sounds you can find online and of course can record your own if you want to add some real life sounds.

We then developed the theme by singing a song written by Emmie Ward called ‘We’re All Walking Along… (through the woods)’, which I have used before in our Crystal Palace Park/London Wildlife Trust project. Even though there were up to 12 people with learning disabilities in the session, we took the time to sing it for everyone, while people had the opportunity in pairs to walk around the centre piece. At the end of singing a verse for someone, that person was given an acorn and could drop it into the large plastic box, which made up the centre piece. At the end I and then anyone else who wanted to – shook the box to a rhythm and heard the sound of all the acorns together.

Work Theme

I feel I have written way too much already! However, to give you a little taster of the work song sessions…. I continued the Autumn theme into the work theme. The attention grabber for the next session became the sound of pasta shaken in a box to recreate the sound of a train. This was an idea I learned from Coralie Oddy. Again you can experiment with the fast and slow/loud and quiet. The soundscape changed from travelling through the woods to taking a train and walking to work soundscape. As well as some of the Autumn sounds we also had some street sounds of bike bells and cars. Setting a regular rhythm was key here – and leaving space for others to take over and add to the rhythm. In the song part of the session we sung ‘I’ve been working on the railroad’ and concentrated on singing just part of it and everyone having a turn on the uke (instead of the banjo!) if they wanted.

The travelling back in time idea has become part of the current soundscape and you can use a tone chime of any kind to signal the going back in time. It was nice to intersperse the chime sound with the sound of the train and working on railroad. The turn taking activities (whilst singing ‘We’re all walking)  have since included dropping conkers into a bowl of water, ladling water and this week pouring corn with a measuring jug. I thought these all in some way represent time passing and link in with the autumn/rural theme. Today, I cornily said that pouring corn could be symbolic of the the grains from farming and also the grains of time!

More to follow on the work theme and in particular the knitting/weaving theme that is also part of the L’Arche history and rural history. I hope the blog entry has been of some interest and I have not pointed out the obvious.

As with all the work I am up to at the moment. I owe much of what I practice to inspiration from many people. Today’s thanks are to Emmie Ward and Coralie Oddy. Emmie is a fantastic music teacher, with many years experience of teaching people with learning disabilities. I have learned so much from observing her music sessions and working with her on the Sound Tracks and Crystal Palace Projects. Coralie Oddy, I met through attending a Jo Grace Sensory Stories workshop and we started storytelling together for the Crystal Palace Project as well as Sound Tracks.