During September 2010, 58 children from Queensmill School (a school for children with a diagnosis of autism) collaborated with eight children from nearby Langford Primary School.
During the three-week Celebrating Diversity project, they created original music using voice and percussion instruments from around the world. The aims of the project were to breakdown barriers between the participants and enable them to develop their creativity, teamwork and communication skills, and grow in self-confidence and self-esteem. Here, Claire Gibb, Queensmill School’s music therapist, reflects on the project.
“Celebrating Diversity was spine-tinglingly awesome! When Create came last year to do Junk Rock, it was brilliant; and because the children knew two out of the three musicians this time, and got used to Genevieve [Create’s percussionist] really quickly, it meant that there was no real ‘getting to know you’ phase. They could get into the children’s understanding even deeper than last year.
“People are still singing some of the songs from last year. I’ve even incorporated some of them into what I do because the children want to hear them! I was much more involved in this year’s project. During Junk Rock I was more an observer, watching, listening, taking photos. This year, the project fit in with what I was doing, so I actually got to be part of it, which for me took it to a whole other level.
“Having the kids from Langford Primary School was really important. They were amazingly open to our children and their slight eccentricities, and our children liked mixing with children that they didn’t know. Initially, there was a reaction of ”what are you doing in my school?”, but then genuine, caring friendships built up. One student from Langford was really kind and caring to one of our children and I thought that was just amazing! He really reacted to a peer who could help him, because sometimes the peers in his class aren’t necessarily behavioural role models! The children really integrated well. It helped that there was music – it was offering a hand of friendship, but without being too ‘in your face’ for our kids. Sometimes when contact is too direct, that’s when they can have difficulties.
“Our children benefited enormously from the project. There was excitement, joy, smiles and positive interaction with the musicians. They just loved it, and were excited every time to leave the classroom and go to Create because it was fun. The musicians made it really accessible. Nathan and the gang were so laid-back, they pitched the workshops just right. And it was ‘free’ music – not pre-composed; they were just given a chance to express themselves through the music! T__ made up a whole song about bones – he sang it and then everyone made the song around him. He’s still singing it now. I think it gave him a real sense of self-worth!
“The performance was amazing. Autistic kids are supposed to find performing difficult, as well as having loads of noise and people around. When you’re autistic, eye contact can be a problem, but they were all staring at Nathan and Jenny, they were all getting involved. They all loved it so much – you couldn’t possibly say that it wasn’t brilliant! I think music is something really special for everyone, but especially for children with autism.
“Everyone loved you, everyone loved Create. It was something to behold, in the staff meeting, when it was said you were coming back: everyone was whooping and singing the songs from last year! Create has left a mark on our school, without a shadow of a doubt. You should definitely come back. Come back!”