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Ensembles in Schools

Learning Contexts

Music - Sound Arts: Percussion and Singing


Julian Raphael , Strike Percussion


Duration of Project

8 weeks

Students Involved

Over 240 students, years 2/3 - 8

Percussion and song extravaganza performance

In front of the Mayor and a packed Masterton Town Hall the kids raised the roof in a spectacle of percussion and song.

(Julian Raphael, artist)


Since 2008, Chamber Music New Zealand (CMNZ) implemented a series of projects under the title Ensembles in Schools designed to take music back to children at a grass-roots level in communities around the country. CMNZ's Ensembles in Schools programme meets the needs of regional communities by providing a professional live music experience for young people in both the classroom and local community while also offering quality professional development for teachers. The reception to the projects has been outstanding and CMNZ continue to work with teachers and community leaders to develop and maintain this work.

In 2009, Ensembles in Schools involved three schools in the Masterton region collaborating to workshop and perform an extravaganza of percussion and song. CMNZ engaged Julian Raphael, an internationally recognised music educator, to deliver a series of weekly sessions directly to students and teachers in selected classrooms. Julian specialises in popular music, intercultural musicology and performance styles, improvisation and composition. He has a very practical, holistic approach to introducing the delights of group music making to all ages through song, rhythm and movement. His classroom sessions form a comprehensive and integrated programme of music education and professional development.

In week 8 (September 14-18) of the project, Strike Percussion ensemble undertook a week-long residency in Masterton that had them "living" in the community at each school. Strike is a high energy drumming group made up of some of New Zealand's most outstanding percussionists, specialising in movement-based, choreographed percussion. Building on the foundation set in the classroom sessions by Julian, the musicians rehearsed with student groups, had lunch hour jam sessions with the children, worked with teachers on musical ideas and techniques, and generally took an active part in school life.

The culmination of this project was a community concert event on the Thursday night of the residency that brought together students from all 3 schools to the Masterton Town Hall in a vibrant celebration of youth, community and music.

The schools, students and teachers, actively participated in the high energy, practical music programmes:

  • Hadlow School: 4 classes ranging from year 4 to 8 (approximately 100 children and 4 teachers)
  • Lakeview School: 3 classes year 3, 4 and 7/8 (approximately 90 children, 4 teachers and whole school singing
  • Douglas Park School: 3 classes year 2/3 and 5/6 (approximately 60 children, 4 teachers and whole school singing)


The project began with a "kick off" workshop to introduce new teachers to the programme and to set the theme for the classroom visits. The workshop took place on Saturday August 1st at Hadlow School and was attended by 16 primary school teachers from throughout the region.

Led by Julian Raphael, the teachers were introduced to music for voice and body - songs with rhythms, movement and games that tap into children's sense of fun and creativity. They also experienced lots of warm-up ideas and body percussion exercises inspired by music from different cultures, especially multi-part songs that fit together with Call and Response games. As a result, the teachers began to explore instrumental textures and ways that they can accompany singing, mixed percussion (skin, metal, gourds), as well as African and Brazilian percussion styles. Each teacher received a resource book and CD to help them get comfortable with the music and actions before taking the ideas back to the classroom.

The classroom sessions with Julian Raphael began in Term 3 and ran weekly through to the residency in week 8. On September 14, Strike Percussion began their week-long residency in Masterton. The intensive work of this week culminated in a highly successful final concert with students from all three schools in the Masterton Town Hall.

One of the main principles of the Ensembles in Schools project is the idea that the music-making and learning will reach ordinary teachers and children in their classrooms so that it can become almost a 'normal' activity rather than something 'special' that takes place in another room, or where children are selected to take part. Tied into this is the nature of the teacher's experience with music and their level of confidence and perception of their musical accomplishment. Chamber Music New Zealand is striving to get away from teachers preferring simply to push the play button on an audio device rather than risk the sound of their own voice blending with the children's voices.

For the junior classes (years 2-4, ages 6-8), the songs have playful elements and rhythmic characteristics that hold the music to a pulse. Actions and gesture play an important part in vocal expression and ways that the children can physically interact with each other, and their teacher (pat-a-cake and greeting songs). Songs that involve repetition are easy to imitate and internalise while also having a flexibility and freedom to cater for individual expression. Much of the music has strong rhythmic features and simple melodies to draw young children together in very powerful and uplifting ways.

For the seniors there is a need to provide additional levels of musical interest such as texture and structure with the inclusion of part songs, rounds, vocables and body percussion. The songs provided an element of challenge as well as giving the potential to be perceived as something positive or 'cool' by this age group. At this age the voices of both boys and girls are starting to change and often this is can have a negative effect. As such, songs with a neutral subject matter (without gender associations) or ones that have attractive 'sounds' in another language were used and accepted by the students.

Massed rehearsal

Student learning

One of the key features of Ensembles in Schools is that students get regular musical input in the classroom over an extended period (at least 6 weeks). During this project the children learned and performed on instruments, which for many was a totally new experience, in a dynamic and lively intercultural environment. This not only gave a shared experience of collaboration and cooperation with the classroom but also across classes and schools (not to mention the excitement of working with a young and really vibrant percussion ensemble like Strike Percussion during the residency). The project emphasised voice and body warm-ups and exploration of a full range of vocal sounds, with the older classes, boys in particular, experiencing vocal work a 'cool thing' to do.

The aims were to:

  • Get the children singing and moving in a liberated, child-centred and enthusiastic manner;
  • Introduce them to a variety of vocal and rhythmic styles and techniques;
  • Allow children to experience multi-tasking and creative musical activities;
  • Facilitate class teachers to be more (frequently) musical with their children;
  • Experience rich learning in a meaningful, happy, collaborative environment.

The culmination of residency week was a wonderful performance event in the Masterton Town Hall. With the mayor and parents in attendance, the children were part of a massed, 'real' concert performance in a significant local venue. For many of the children, this was their first experience of performing on a public stage.

Throughout the project the children were very responsive; both enchanted by and addicted to the music as a playful idiom and to realise that music is a unique way to experience good feelings. At the same time they are learning about musical expression and energy, the importance of beat and rhythm and ideas relating to texture and structure (e.g. layering and canon).

Beating out that rhythm!

Related learning

The project developed the following:

  • Learning music from different countries and cultures
  • Learning to work cooperatively and with a variety of partners, and to coordinate their movements
  • A variety of performance opportunities, working with a professional group and participating with them
  • Learning musical skills such as rhythm, beat, body percussion, dance, vocal expression, vocal range, dynamics, confidence
  • Confidence in singing in front of a large group - previously, many of them would never had done that
  • Enjoying singing, some for the first time ever!

Impact on school community

During the project, artists worked closely with teachers supporting the overall learning experience and coordinating closely with curriculum-based lesson plans. Classroom teachers engaged fully in the project and were especially supportive when asked for assistance in such things as arranging venue availability and transportation. There was also amazing student participation at the final concert. The attendance rate was 98% (only 6 students missed the concert). Anecdotal evidence suggests that both students and parents from the schools were very aware of the benefits of the Ensembles in Schools project and were eager to be involved.

Changes noted in the class community:

  • The class had the feeling of experiencing a common bond
  • Huge improvement in whole school singing
  • The students are now much better listeners
  • The children talked about the songs and sang them with enthusiasm


CMNZ clearly sees the positive benefits of a multi-year project that returns to participating schools. However, a major issue is that working with multiple schools in a community means that there are tremendous difficulties in setting up a schedule that does not clash with other activities, and issues with the timing of the programme were a key factor in the withdrawal of one school from the project in July.

Fortunately, CMNZ had the opposite experience with another school where there was a major clash between the residency week and the junior school production. The school principal and teachers were very supportive and worked with us to ensure that both events could co-exist in the school calendar. In the end, this school reaped the benefits of a monumental week of music making.

The 2009 Ensembles in Schools project touched the lives of students very deeply. When Strike Percussion arrived in Masterton on September 14 and started unpacking cars filled to the brim with all manner of percussion gear, the students knew instantly that this was going to be a great week. Over the following days, students and teachers played with 'Strike' and Julian in a variety of classroom activities, full school assemblies and lunchtime 'jam' sessions. At the end of the week, when all three schools came together for the final concert, the result was astounding. In front of the Mayor and a packed Masterton Town Hall the kids raised the roof in a spectacle of percussion and song.

May I take the opportunity to also thank you [all] for the vision and dedication you have given to the children at [Lakeview] School. The experiences were priceless and for some, opened up new and exciting possibilities. They have music in their lives forever now. Your music ideas have created a wonderful performing arts culture within the school and set great standards for future years.

(Tim Vincent, teacher)

Once again congratulations on a wonderful night's entertainment from Masterton's three schools. I was taken back to my own childhood when money was scarce and my musical instruments were rubber bands on pot lids and other noisy kitchen utensils. The enjoyment of all the children was very evident and while they were concentrating hard they were having fun and achieving something that they will always remember.

(Lindy Daniell, teacher)

Here are a few of the things that I liked about the Ensembles for Schools project:

 - I found that having an expert in the class was great and gave the children a chance to experience music that they would never be exposed to. - the music was well chosen and the children picked it up very easily and most of the children were able to rise to the level required to play the instruments and join in with the singing. - I liked the way that it all came together in the end with the fantastic show, the performances were great and the children were the stars of the night. It was great to see them out there doing it and realising that they were the creators of the music and the amazing sounds that were being produced.

(Claire Blomgren, teacher)

Curriculum links

The NZ Curriculum states as its vision for young people that they are confident, connected, actively involved and lifelong learners. Realising this vision was an integral part of this project as all the children involved were actively involved in music making and had multiple opportunities to relate to adults and their peers in an innovative and creative way. The experience set high standards for the children of what they could achieve with dedication and life-long learning.

The values in the NZ Curriculum found real expression in this collaboration with Julian and Strike. The students aimed for excellence in their performance, were introduced to a diverse range of cultures through song and developed a strong sense of community while working together towards a common goal.

In developing the key competencies the students related to others as they listened, kept open to new ideas and shared their thoughts. They developed skills of co-operation and tolerance, managing their own behaviour and setting high standards for their own contribution.

All four strands of the Music - Sound Arts Curriculum were encompassed through the learning. Students learned to: Understand Music - Sound Arts in Context; Develop Practical Knowledge as they learned to sing and play instrument; Develop Ideas as the worked to create their own music; and Communicate and Interpret music of a range of cultures for performances.

Where to next

By teaming up educators, musicians and schools and with the support of regional Community Trusts and private funders, CMNZ and school communities continue to ensure that quality music education is accessible to all primary school children and these experiences are seen as a natural component of community wellbeing.

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