The making of an East London Song Book

The last three years have seen decisive shifts in educational policy in England. Counterpointing a National Plan for Music Education and the creation of Music Hubs are changes in curriculum along with new measures of accountability likely to affect the place of music in the curriculum. At the same time has come a rapid growth in Academies, the introduction of Free Schools, Studio Schools, Co-operative Schools and University Teaching Colleges, and some of these are designated Teaching Schools. With all this comes a review of educational priorities and fresh ideas about the organisation of music in the school. Here I report on the establishment of music in the curriculum of the Isaac Newton Academy (INA), just one example of how music in the school is being re-imagined in order to recognise instrumental learning as integral to general music education.

The above was written in 2013 and you can read more of that account John Finney – Music Mark Magazine – Winter 2013-2014

Or here:

John Finney - Music Mark Magazine - Winter 2013-2014_Page_1

2John Finney - Music Mark Magazine - Winter 2013-2014_Page_2


Now I have returned and find that large numbers of students have embraked upon their GCSE course and that preparations are underway for a Barbican Gala event.

It is the latter that I report on here.

Remarkably all 540 year 7-9 students auditioned for the 40 places. Repertoire had been placed on the school’s youtube site along with tutorials.

Tonight after school is the first rehearsal of the Gala Band.

12 saxophonists; 8 trumpets; 6 trombones; 6 percussionists; 2 keyboardists; 2 guitarists; 1 Eb bassist and 1 sousaphone player; 2 absent.

The rehearsal is fast paced, material chunked, call-copy, repetition, refinement; some kind of heterophonic mashing.

Talking to Greg afterwards he refers to the INA Song Book, the repertoire of songs introduced through years 7-9.

I usually pick music that the students will know.  Music that they have come across in their own musical listening (Problem, Shake it Off) or by discovering it through Core Music lessons (Umoja, Waka Waka, Big Band Bhangra, Time to Tango).

When picking pop songs I like to find instrumental examples by New Orleans style Hip Hop Brass Bands.  These performances tend to have an energy to them that can be inspirational to watch and the comparative conversations between the original song and the Hip Hop Brass Band versions can often be really interesting.  (We now have two Hip Hop Brass Band enrichments with over 100 students who sign up to them.  These groups are now branching away from instrumental covers of pop songs and individuals within them are finding, loving and learning original HHBB songs like Brooklyn and Overtime)
The arrangements are very often riff based with two, sometimes three, contrasting sections. There is usually a bass riff, homophonic backing rhythms and a melody (Dance wiv me). There is often an anthemic simplicity to the melodies that makes them sound successful even when played by multiple instruments (Crazy Love).
Sometimes we choose songs which are well suited to students arrangement either by mashing two songs up (Seven Nation Army & Sweet Dreams) or by mixing together two sections of a song or simply by messing around with the structure and texture. [2]
‘Get Lucky’ is a good example. It was an anthemic smash hit pop song that all the students knew by Daft Punk. There is a version of the song by Soul Rebels Brass Band which is really enagaging and has similar instrumentation to our classroom set up (minus the electornic instrumets). The song has three sections but has the same 4 chords throughout so three sections can be played at the same time and so students can create their own versions of the song. It has a bass riff, rhythmic backings and melody texture that works well.’
I leave with a lot of questions coming to mind.
More next week.
[1]I am grateful to Music Mark for allowing the reprinting of the article Music at the Isaac Newton Academy published in the Music Mark Magazine Winter 2013-14.
[2] In my visits to secondary schools this week I noted that ‘mashing’ as well as meaning ‘an explosion of contrasting things, stuck together’, can mean a medley of songs.



2 thoughts on “The making of an East London Song Book

  1. Liz Bryant

    Inspired… And jealous. Still hanging on to our once weekly KS3 lesson with 10 classes per year, but facilities woefully inadequate for what we want to teach. Still better than some have.

  2. There is an increasing disparity between the way schools are resourced for music. Is this part of the academy effect and the involvement in music education of philanthropists? Will all schools need to have a rich sponsor?

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