The Power of Listening
By Liquid Listening Music Consultant Lawrence Bradshaw
What an incredible year it has been for the Liquid Listening training days! Throughout the United Kingdom, I've had the privilege of visiting numerous exceptional special schools to conduct teacher training and lead music workshops for students of various ages and backgrounds.
As a dedicated music teacher specialising in SEND for the past 13 years, it's easy to fall into the trap of expecting similar outcomes from music engagement sessions. However, the beauty of special needs schools lies in the boundless passion for music displayed by young people, constantly surprising me with their creative approaches to sound.
Rebranding music as sound
Part of the musical hydrotherapy training programme that schools enrol in includes a day with me and a bag of props. This involves a half-day meeting with teaching staff, therapists, classroom assistants, and senior leadership to discuss and customize plans for music listening sessions. The other half-day is dedicated to conducting sessions in the classrooms alongside the staff.
During staff training, the primary focus is on recreating the atmosphere and ethos provided by tranquil pool sessions in a classroom setting (dry land sessions as I call them). The most common anxiety I've witnessed across the teaching spectrum is the apprehension of a self-proclaimed "non-musician" having to cover a music class or integrate music into their curriculum. Far more feared over covering a PE lesson or Geography. To address this, throughout the teacher/staff training, I rebrand MUSIC as SOUND. By stripping away the idea of traditional music lessons and embracing sound experimentation and creation, an entirely new realm of teaching comes to life.
I showcase a variety of active and passive listening activities that can be implemented as full lessons or as brief classroom resetting processes during moments of over-excitement.
During classroom sessions, staff from the training programme are invited to join me in running creative listening activities with the children. This term alone has produced numerous standout moments, and I've chosen two to share.
Ashton Secondary School, Glasgow: "touching sound"
In Glasgow, I conducted a vibro-speaker session using a plate speaker on a resonance board. This allowed any sound created through the speaker to resonate energetically through the board, enabling students to "touch sound." As music is such a key motivator for young people it's uniquely powerful to create a multi sensory way of accessing sound using touch. A young boy with a severe hearing impairment delighted in triggering bass notes of an iPad instrument and feeling the forceful vibrations through his bare feet as he stood on the resonance board. This brought such joy to all the teaching staff, witnessing a profoundly deaf young person engaging so enthusiastically in meaningful sound creation.
Fox Wood School, Warrington: silence and noise
In Warrington, I organised an active listening session where all students and staff took part in a minute of silence (or the closest you can get to silence in a school environment) with the lights off and blinds down. After a minute had passed a microphone in the middle of the room was turned on which has a delay feature on it (any sound created repeats about 5 times, giving a cave-like sound environment). Once the microphone was on, anyone in the room, staff included, were encouraged to make a sound at any moment for the rest of the room to listen to. The class was a PMLD group, and given the opportunity of silence most children can’t help but fill the space with a sound of some sort. Inevitably one student resorted to blowing a raspberry, which led to a crescendo of echoed laughter which then led back to silence. It can be a very powerful thing to leave spoken language at the door and communicate through/listen to noise.
Sometimes, it's not about buying new expensive technologies; it's about utilising what you already have and approaching sound from a fresh perspective. All of the training days are bespoke to each school and are shaped around already formed practices and/or introducing new practices.
We eagerly anticipate returning to schools for catch-up sessions and visiting new schools in 2024.
May the creativity of young people with sound be celebrated, regardless of how loud or quiet.
Lawrence Bradshaw, December 2023