Earlier this year we led a creative music-making project in Hob Moor Oaks Special, York. This was supported by York Music Hub. In this short interview, Andrew Cleaton and Mark Hildred of Applaud Interactive look back on the work and discuss their approach.
On Friday 24th June we held our first SEN/D music training event in the magnificent surroundings of the National Centre for Early Music in York. Many thanks to all the delegates who contributed so much and made the whole event so worthwhile!
We’ve had some great comments:
“Hungry for more!”
“Really great day!”
“Common sense – very practical approach.”
We’re going to be running further events in the Autumn Term – watch this space for details!
Our mission statement – as it relates to our work in Special Educational Needs settings – includes three important words: “Creative”, “Accessible” & “Inclusive”. It’s worth unpacking these a little further…
Much of the music we make with young people starts with a blank sheet of paper! This is in contrast to a more repertoire based approach – teaching songs, for example. I certainly don’t want to give the impression that I think a “creative” approach to musical engagement is in any way inherently “superior” – or that creativity and repertoire are mutually exclusive.
In fact it’s perfectly possible to be creative with repertoire material and, of course, once something is created it can enter the repertoire! I guess it’s a question of starting points and, as a composer, my instinct is to start with the blank page – or at least some improvisation skills and a listening ear. In any case, there’s a huge back-catalogue of repertoire resources and, in most settings, staff are usually reasonably confident in using existing songs. Where I think Epiphany Music can add value is in the creative, improvisatory, blank-sheet-of-paper approach.
And I believe there is great value to be found in this way of working alongside children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. I find that if I start out with a clear idea of the musical material there’s always a danger that our music making becomes something I do to the young people – rather than an adventure shared between partners. I see it as my role to listen and to wait for even the tiniest nugget of musical input and then use my abilities and experience to weave that into something beautiful and jointly owned.
In the previous blog, I shared a simple way in which I explain what Epiphany Music does:
It’s a pithy turn of phrase which can be trotted out at the close of a lift door (see previous post) and it includes some carefully chosen, powerful words. Some of those words are probably worth a little closer scrutiny…
I spend a significant proportion of my time actually going into schools and working alongside children. It’s extraordinarily important work. Not just because of the benefits that music can bring to the lives of these young people but because it fires me up. You see, making music with people – with anybody – is at its best when it’s a two way process. I find the enthusiasm, the delight and the inventiveness of the young people with whom I work inspiring. Their openness, commitment and musical gifting makes me think about my own approaches to composition. It challenges me to pursue all kinds of sounds and structures that I might not have considered otherwise. In short, I get as much as I give.
I think this is vital. I’m doing an increasing amount of public speaking this year – blowing the trumpet, celebrating the success of some of the work with which we’re involved and sharing some of the lessons learned along the way. But I don’t want to fall into the trap of becoming a theoretical expert on the conference circuit. Everything I talk about will be rooted in the reality of experience and the day-to-day practice.
There are vast numbers of people and many different organisations involved in musical/arts work within Special Education Needs & Disability. It’s a thriving eco-system. There are schools, charities, development agencies, music therapists, teachers, community musicians. All doing their own thing – well. It’s a huge range of complimentary approaches. Against that background, I am aware that Epiphany Music is just part of the tapestry. We’ll deliver what we can but there are always going to be times when it’s better if someone else delivers and we will actively support that wherever possible.
One of the best ways I know that we can add value to the offering of others is through practical training. I’ve been involved in this world for over 25 years and I’ve gained a great resource of experience – particularly around the use of music technology. So yes, I’ll happily come and run a Soundbeam workshop in a school but I do believe it would be so much more effective in the long run for me to train up the staff and embed best practice in the local community.
One of the most requested forms of support is what I like to call “The Stockroom Audit”. You know the scene. A school gradually builds up a cupboard full of gadgets. Clever bits and pieces of technology that promised so much. Then staff champions move on, the manual gets lost, a lead gets broken or a long dead battery is left un-replaced. Pretty soon those once hard earned resources become consigned to the dusty cardboard box at the back of the stockroom. If you recognise that picture then do get in touch! There’ll always be a manufacturer or a retailer who will tell you that those old tools are blunt, obsolete and useless but it needn’t be the case. We specialise in blowing off the dust, getting stuff up and running, tracking down manuals and putting the appropriate training in place. (Of course, if something really is beyond its useful life we’ll tell you- and you’ll get unbiased, independent advice about replacement and future purchasing strategy!)
Having established the name of our company, the story behind the name and how to spell “Epiphany” (and believe me, I’ve seen a few odd variations!) the next – and entirely legitimate – question is: “So, what do you guys actually do?”
I don’t know if you’re familiar with the phrase “Elevator Pitch”? It’s probably management speak. American, I’m guessing – if it was English in origin it would have been called a “Lift Apologetic Mumble.” Anyway, the idea’s a good one. It suggests that you should be able to encapsulate the essence of an organisation’s mission in a pithy sentence or two – just short enough to be delivered succinctly between the ground floor and the boardroom. One organisation that I once worked for actually had us practise our elevator pitches in the lift. We spent the afternoon travelling up and down the building – much to the obvious of amusement of other staff and visitors. However, I must say that I have never been called upon to actually use this skill for real. Travel in a lift – certainly in this country – tends to be accompanied by quietly uncomfortable shuffling, and dutiful staring at one’s shoes or the door.
However, if you were to bump into me in a lift and break the silence by asking, “So, what exactly does Epiphany Music do?” the answer you’d receive would be:
We deliver – and support – creative, accessible, inclusive music-making in Special Educational Needs and Disability settings.
So now you know…
If there’s one thing guaranteed to arouse comment when I introduce our company, Epiphany Music, it’s the name.
I get everything from quizzical, half-comprehending looks to, “Wow – really like the name. I love the word ‘Epiphany’”. (Yes, it really does happen.) Occasionally, people will ask where the name comes from. So, for those of you who haven’t heard the story before at one of the training events we run or conferences at which I’ve spoken, here’s how we arrived at “Epiphany Music”…
My wife, Tracey, and I used to live in Leeds. At the time, I was working as Music Officer for Arts Council England, Yorkshire (or “Yorkshire Arts” as it used to be known). In any spare time, I was feeding my passion for music by writing and recording my own material. In order to do this, I built up quite a sophisticated home studio in a spare bedroom. With the advent of affordable, high quality digital recording systems, I had realised that for a budget similar to what was required to hire a modest local studio long enough to produce a CD’s worth of material I could pretty much buy all the necessary gear and do it myself.
So what’s this got to do with “Epiphany”? Well, bear with me…
In addition to producing my own music I began to work on other people’s material and undertake commissions – especially when I took the plunge, left Arts Council England and went freelance! People were kind enough to comment on the quality of the recordings and would sometimes ask where the music had been recorded. In addition, it seemed to be the “done thing” to credit the recording studio in the booklet accompanying any CD release. I couldn’t simply say: “Recorded in my spare bedroom.” It just wouldn’t look professional. So I turned to a name that Tracey and I had joked about on moving into our house. We had thought that we ought to nickname our house “Epiphany” – so the phrase, “Recorded at Epiphany Studios” began to make its way onto credits. It sounded terribly grand!
So why “Epiphany”? Well (and here you might need need to dust off some of that Sunday School knowledge) in order to fully grasp our reasoning you had to know our address. It was: 3 Kings Approach.
Get it? Three Kings, Approach. Feast of the Epiphany etc…???
I rather liked the sound of the word and it stuck, becoming associated with all kinds of musical ventures with which I was involved. Of course, it never quite worked the same when we moved from Leeds to just outside York. Fortunately though, Tracey’s birthday happens to be 6th January (!) so we felt quite justified claiming a close connection and choosing it as the name of the company we formed as co-directors in 2005.
Anyway, regardless of daft puns and tenuous accidents of birth, I rather like the word. You see, one dictionary definition of “epiphany” might be: “A moment of sudden insight and revelation.” That’s what music can do. And I’m sure that all musicians and educators will recognise those moments in the lives of the young people with whom we work – most especially, perhaps, when working with children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. That moment; that smile; that flickering recognition that, yes, I CAN do this – that’s what epiphany means and that’s what Epiphany Music is all about.