I have been working in a special school recently, with a group of students who are developing the skills to become a Skoog ensemble. There was one student, however, for whom this instrument was not going to be appropriate; a young girl with cerebral palsy. She could move her head and neck quite freely and also wave her arms, but did not have the control required for triggering sounds with a Skoog.
The decision was made to try her with a Soundbeam. We brought one into the school and set it up with a musical scale that would fit with a specially devised backing track. While we were waiting for her to be brought across from another classroom, the ‘Skoog students’ had a go, enjoying running up and down in front of the beam and spraying sound across the space. A couple of professional musicians who were also involved in the project were intrigued and were soon working on some call and response exchanges, coupled with transposing phrases across sections of the beam. All fairly typical stuff.
Then Annette arrived in her wheel chair. Her carer started wheeling her up and down in front of the beam – an activity which had Annette registering no discernible reaction. So we set the Soundbeam up appropriately to capture her head movement in a way that would optimise her control in triggering sequences of sounds. Annette caught on immediately. She registered almost at once that she was controlling the sounds and soon began phrasing her melodies that made sense with the mp3 backing track.
Then something really interesting happened…..
The backing track was a short jazzy 30 second sequence, set on a continuous loop. There was an unintentional delay of a few seconds between repeats. Annette latched onto this and in each repeated gap, started putting in short almost cadenza-like phrases, often choosing to end on a long sustained note. So within minutes, she was expressing herself through making really interesting music of high quality – almost certainly for the first time in her life.
Her audience were speechless and spellbound. There was a tacit recognition for staff and students that we were witnessing something special. Annette was wheeled off to her next lesson looking pretty pleased, leaving me to mop up the support staff who were in floods….