The Music Treehouse programme at HMDT Music’s Saturday Programme, offers younger disabled children access to high quality interactive music making, boosting social skills and confidence, and offering pathways to learning through songs and participatory musical activities. The relationship between singing and speech (in the context of people with special needs) is well researched, and we find there are linguistic breakthroughs among some of the children as they become more familiar and more confident with the songs. We focus on simple tasks, encouraging the young people to join in, and even lead activities, and there are no barriers in terms of ability. For us as a team of skilled musicians we keep musical standards high, even if words and melodies have to be easy enough to encourage participation. But the combination of keyboard, percussion, flute and guitar to accompany the songs, as well as the team’s skills in improvisation, mean that we can change soundworlds in an instant, and maintain focus throughout the sessions.
As the year has progressed we have seen huge changes in the attention levels of some individuals, as they grasp the fact that making music is both fun and empowering, and that they are free to take part at any level. We try to make every moment of a session joyful, and we introduce different elements to increase stimulation, including puppets and movement work. It’s really a whole body, whole mind, whole voice approach. Some children are non-verbal/vocal, but they often have acute understanding, and certainly can participate to the same level as vocal students, even if their participation is expressed in different ways. When percussion is introduced, every child can contribute equally, and the combination of sound and rhythm changes the dynamic of the room, often dramatically, with individuals often becoming confident enough to lead sections.
This year the overarching theme has been the animal world. We have made from scratch songs about hounds, birds, geese, moles, tigers and lions. Puppets help tell the stories of these creatures, and we always bring animals to life through movement work as well as sound. Often, we travel from one animal environment to another with the help of a bus song. And each session begins with a familiar hello song, as well as songs to warm up the body, and get us in the mood to make music. The session ends with a bespoke goodbye song, which is calming and which sends the participants away on a quiet note. Our autistic children respond particularly well to these more calming activities.
Tim Yealland MBE
Music Treehouse Saplings Workshop Leader