Never be afraid to cut a song down if it is going to allow it to end on a high note and keep pupils engaged. The goal is to send them out buzzing and energised from an assembly, never bored!
Lin Marsh is a renowned music educator and composer with a wealth of experience in leading singing workshops across the globe. Her Songscape series includes collections of music for children to enjoy singing, while also enriching their learning and development across the curriculum. We caught up with Lin recently to talk more about what inspired the series, and to chat about the latest addition to the series – Songscape World.
What makes a ‘Songscape’ song?
Songscape is all about songs that allow children to use their imaginations to tell a story! They all have lyrics that appeal to young singers with topics that children can understand, providing a bridge into curriculum work in other subjects. Importantly, the songs always have vocal ranges appropriate to young voices – this is so crucial when leading singing for younger voices, and is often an issue when using pop songs, for example.
Could you elaborate on the idea of songs that tell a story?
Performance is so important and is always at the heart of every singing workshop I lead. Whether we’re exploring a part of the world, a piece of history, or a feeling, I always start by talking to children about the lyrics. By starting with this rather than by tapping a rhythm or learning notes, you’re beginning with the story: this way, children are truly engaged with the performance, leading to a much more rewarding experience for both students and teacher. That was another thing that was important for me in compiling the Songscape books – I wanted the songs to be ones that teachers would enjoy teaching and singing too!
What are some of the common problems with assembly singing and do you have any tips for how teachers can avoid them?
Assembly singing can often be quite sterile if you have children just singing from a whiteboard, with no connection to the meaning of the lyrics or the performance. When I teach workshops, I always teach by rote – one line at a time. While this may seem daunting, students of all ages are capable of incredible feats of memory when we give them the right tools! The tunes and lyrics of all the Songscape songs are designed to be easy to learn and memorise. Another thing we can do to help children memorise songs is to incorporate performance elements, which can then act as memory signposts. For example, drawing a rainbow for the word rainbow or mimicking raindrops falling for the word rain. These signposts will map out the song through movement and create a physical story too.
One of the huge benefits of not using a whiteboard is that you can really engage with the children and watch them engage with the performance! Singing is such a valuable tool for teaching children to express themselves and communicate, but if no one is engaging with them in return, these benefits are lost!
Your song ‘Believe’ from Songscape Assembly has been a particularly popular one. Why do you think this is?
At the heart of that song is something that is found across the Songscape series but particularly in Songscape Assembly: the theme of empowerment. It’s about starting the day with a positive message of confidence, hope, inspiration, and empowerment. So many children and young people are struggling with mental health, particularly after the pandemic, and I think music can have a part to play in boosting self-esteem and helping them to feel uplifted and empowered.
Can you tell us more about the newest addition to the Songscape series – Songscape World. What inspired this collection, and what are some of your favourite songs in there?
One of the great opportunities with singing is to help children understand other cultures through their music and language. Songscape World brings together songs from a wide range of countries and cultures, each presented in their original languages as well as an English translation. I encourage teachers not to be daunted by the challenge of teaching other languages – for each song, I sought out a native speaker of the language so that the guidance tracks would be as accurate as they can be. One of the interesting things that this brings up is a wider palette of timbres and sounds. This can be interesting and rewarding to work on with young singers, helping them to explore their voices and just have fun making sounds! If you have a native speaker in the class, it’s also a great opportunity to for them to demonstrate the sounds of their language, which can be so meaningful for that individual, as well as a valuable learning tool for the rest of the class.
I have tried to find songs that lend themselves to performance and playing with sounds. For example, the Arabic song Has’seesan is about chicks and involves a fun clicking sound to mimic the sound of baby chicks! Another one of the songs, Kiša pada, is about rain falling, so we can include actions or sound effects using the hands to create the effect of rain. Whenever I am leading a workshop, I am always looking for moments to include sounds and performance – and asking the children for their own ideas too!
If you could give one piece of advice to music teachers for their assemblies for the next school year, what would it be?
Keep it short and sweet! Never be afraid to cut a song down if it is going to allow it to end on a high note and keep pupils engaged. The goal is to send them out buzzing and energised from an assembly, never bored!