Bringing Nature into the Music Lesson, by Frances Jones

On New Year’s Eve, in a cosy cafe over pots of tea, a friend put a question to the group: ‘So what are you going to do to save the planet this year?’ I don’t fly, and have for a long time tried to tread lightly and shop sustainably, although I can always do better. Over the following days, I mulled over the question and decided to rethink some aspects of my teaching. I currently teach music in a West Sussex primary school, which is blessed with a rural setting, planting to inspire the senses and chickens. Wanting to celebrate this in some way, I decided to integrate themes from the natural world into my music curriculum. I have linked the two in previous years but, with some creativity, I thought I could do more. In his wonderful writings on bees, Dave Goulson notes that young children are usually enthralled by nature, but lose interest as they grow up. I hoped that connecting musical learning with the natural environment might emphasis the significance of the latter, inspire the children’s creativity, and promote discussion and curiosity at a time when guardians of the planet are badly needed.

P1070043After some thought, my musical projects this term read as follows: singing and writing environmental protest songs with the oldest children; listening to and creating music descriptive of natural landscapes with the middle year groups, and exploring woodland sounds and songs with the youngest. One group will have the option to make percussion instruments at home – an opportunity to reuse and recycle. We’re just at the beginning and I will wait to see how the projects unfold.

I spend a noticeable amount of time, in January, longing for lighter evenings. Each day, when dusk begins to fall and I’m on my way home, I look upwards and will the sky to shed its sobriety and brighten. However, the silhouettes of bare trees against a sunset is a wonderful sight and makes my journey home more of a delight than a chore. Yesterday I decided to head straight out again after arriving home, inspired by the rural wooded landscape through which I had just passed and hastened by the knowledge that any last vestige of light would soon disappear. A  stone’s throw from the house is an L shaped pond, bordered on two sides by silver birch. The tall, thin trees looked elegant in this half-light; the branches an intricate patchwork, disturbed here and thereby a great clump of twigs formed into a nest. By the time I reached the other side of the pond, the scene was lit only by a solitary streetlamp and the sky was black. I hadn’t been paying attention to sound, enjoying the relative quiet, but from somewhere above my left ear came the most beautiful of songs. In the dusk, a robin, perched delicately on a branch, sang out for me alone (or so it seemed).

Recently I was looking through the news when an article on tree planting caught my eye. The accompanying picture showed a forest of young trees, which turned out to be Heartwood Forest in Hertfordshire, planted by volunteers nearly ten years ago. What were once spindly bunches of twigs have now flourished into woodland, enjoyed by wildlife and people. I was one of those volunteers and, having forgotten all about it ten years later, this story was wonderful to read. After describing the various heights of trees to rather loosely illustrate the concept of pitch with a class yesterday, I told the children about my tree planting and the resulting forest. Wouldn’t it be amazing if they planted a tree and came back to see it when they were in Year 6, I said. One child already had, and told me all about it. Get planting; it’s never too soon.



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