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Voyage of the Sea Dragon


As part of the NCEM's Music4U programme, in collaboration with Hull Music Hub and Bridgeview Whitehouse Sullivan Centre, young people in special education settings in Hull received a valuable opportunity to access regular ensemble music-making sessions, when a traditional Indonesian gamelan came to stay! A gamelan is a set of traditional instruments from Indonesia, comprising bronze gongs and metallophones and carved wooden drums. Music4U has a strong history of working with gamelan, due to this artform's suitability for developing ensemble and communication skills, and for promoting respect and calm approaches to problem-solving.

The 6-week residency took place during the first half of Spring Term 2016 and saw the instruments of Hull Music Service's Gamelan Kyai Sri Jaladri Naga ('Honorific Sea Dragon') housed in Bridgeview School for young people with Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties, which shares a site with Whitehouse Pupil Referral Unit and the Sullivan Centre for young people with severe medical needs. Over the course of the gamelan's stay, young people from the three onsite schools had the opportunity to access these genuine, traditional instruments and make music on them. The residency allowed repeated access to the instruments, which was vital in developing trust and familiarity, especially important in encouraging learning and self-expression with vulnerable pupils. The work done in gamelan sessions was linked to a wider-school focus on Asia, examining and discussing the deeper moral meaning of ancient tales from India and China, as well as creating visual art works and musical compositions to help bring these stories to life. This vibrant array of creative work was drawn together in an end-of-project sharing session on Wednesday 10th February, attended by parents and siblings, keen to celebrate their young people's success.

During the course of the residency, Bridgeview Whitehouse Sullivan Centre also opened its doors to neighbouring schools, including Christopher Pickering Primary, Thorpe Park Primary, Bricknell Primary and Ganton Special School, in order to provide wider access to these amazing instruments and specialist tuition. In total, over 120 young people, aged 7-18, took part in the project. All sessions were led by two of Music4U's recent Gamelan Trainees - Donna Smith and Gary Hammond - who delivered gamelan sessions to young people, as well as training for members of school staff. Donna and Gary were supported by a mentor - experienced gamelan musician and facilitator Laurence Rugg - who offered advice in planning and delivery stages and met with music leaders post-project to reflect on and evaluate the residency. The project was also aided by Gerald Fox (Creative Arts Director at Bridgeview Whitehouse Sullivan Centre) and students from the University of York Community Music MA.

Excellent experiences were reported by young people, with comments including:

  • "It helped me with listening and working in a team"
  • "It was so relaxing"
  • "It helped me with my co-ordination"
  • "I really liked the sound of the instruments, especially the gong"
  • "This was the best school trip in the world!"
  • "I used to be nervous about playing music but after playing gamelan I am better"
  • "This really helped me get better at keeping time with the beat"
  • "I loved getting to play instruments I've never seen before"
  • "I learnt that making music is not easy but it is beautiful if you all stick together"
  • "I knew there was no pressure on me - it was fun to be with others and work together on music"
Staff also commented on the positive impact of the sessions on the pupils:
  • "The kids loved it! They were engaged so they learnt a lot in a short period of time"
  • "It gave the children chance to be involved in different cultures"
  • "It was great that the young people got to experience new instruments, work on timing and play as part of a group"
  • "After the performance, some children took parents into the gamelan to show them the instruments - this showed how involved the children had been and how proud they were of their achievements and also enabled parents to share something positive with their children"

Additionally, staff and music leaders also reflected positively on the impact of the project on their own professional development:

  • "Interacting with the pupils through gamelan has helped my confidence, which I do lack"
  • "Seeing the kids working like this helped me to believe in their abilities more"
  • "Watching the musician gave me lots of ideas for teaching larger groups"
  • "I feel more confident working with the gamelan now and feel I have developed my own style and concepts. This project gave me time to explore the instruments more for myself and to see what worked and what didn't work with different groups of young people. I also feel more confident in working with PRU primary children - getting to know pupils over a longer time helped me to gain experience and understanding of their situations and to build trust with them"
  • "My own confidence has really improved - watching the teachers interacting with the young people and learning their approaches, as well as sharing mine - very valuable and I'd do it again at the drop of a hat!"
Voyage of the Sea Dragon was generously supported by Youth Music and the Hull Music Hub.