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Marie Negus

Approach to Vocalisations at Rosewood Free School

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Future Sounds – Rosewood Free School

Reflective Blog by Ignacio Agrimbau, SoCo Music Project


Reception class teacher at Rosewood became particularly interested in developing a series of 1:1 case studies, but also to find ways to combine their sensory integration and physio work with group interactive music-making. Following feedback of vocal improvisation sessions concerning engagement and interaction, Esther was commissioned with the expansion of the school curriculum to include a full section on vocalisations, to which we have contributed to.

Esther has since been put in charge of expanding the Rosewood curriculum to emphasise aspects of vocalisations. Ignacio has supported this with a piece of writing in which he outlines his approach to vocalisation in interactive music facilitation.

Reflections on Vocalisations

My approach to vocalisations does not follow a clear scheme or system. It is a combination of my training in performance and improvisation, some text composition, my training in intensive interaction, and some readings on SEN-D pedagogy and music therapy. It is tricky to remember the stuff that I assimilated over the years. But above all it wasbuilt on practice, following some quite influential experiences or readings.

I first started experimenting with the kind of vocalisations that you heard me doing in sessions in a very different context. It was when I was mostly working as a composer, and I was part of a group of musicians giving concerts on what is usually known as ‘sound poetry’. In other words, poetry that barely has any semantic sense, but it relies on the sensations and references of the abstract sound of the language, and the intentionality with which it is performed. That was explored by Italian and Russian futurist sound poets and composers, as well as throughout the Dadaist movement in central Europe. There were many re-incarnations of that, but I do not know them very well. I remember I was very impressed by an article that somehow summarised the aesthetic and technical principles of sound poetry performance. It was written by Jon Erickson in 1985:

I found the principle of ‘language of presence’ more helpful than most of the readings I did on intensive interaction or music therapy. It is mostly because it focuses on the expressive impulses behind vocalisations, rather than the technicalities of how interaction unfolds or how the voice is produced.

My favourite intensive interaction author is Phoebe Caldwell; she’s been a huge influence. The literature coming from music therapy, community music or specialist music education usually focuses too much on ‘singing’, and sees vocalisations from that angle – which can be a bit limiting, as it risks projecting a model to understand the different uses of the voice based on neurotypical cognitive mappings.

Although we know that different parts of the brain become involved when we sing, we don’t really know how that plays out with individuals with PMLD. Still, there is some very interesting stuff about how music motivates vocalisation. In my experience, I found that sometimes sustained instrumental sounds can motivate vocalisations from PMLD participants more than the voice. I never figured out the reason for this, but it might have to do with the fact that sustained
instrumental sounds are associated with intonational rather than speech like utterances in a very instrinct level. I am sure there are writings out there about this. Here are some I know:

At school you have a copy of ‘Approaches to Communication Through Music’ by M Corke. I respect it is a pioneering but, as it discusses intensive interaction in a music-making context, but I did not find it helpful. There is barely any discussion of what actually happens during the moments of interaction, and discussion is concentrated on the type of activities that frame those moments.

Some people approach vocal interaction entirely from an angle of vocal production experimentation. Again, that approach can be useful, particularly to expand the repertoire of vocal sounds, but provided that is sensitive to the impulses that motivate vocalisations. The great aspect of this approach is that you can connect with children at the level of sensory experimentation; this can be revealing particularly when regardless of the harshness or softness of theutterance, the drive behind the vocalisation is sensory exploration. Yvon Bonenfant, who for a while did some research at Rosewood, specialised on that.

Finally…there are other professionals that interpret intonational, or blurry speech-like vocalisations as prototypes of melodic constructions based on core tune types. They are (hopefully!) aware that children do not always intend them this way but interpret them like that in order to include them in compositional processes. You can pick up on the core gesturality of a vocal gesture and make a tune or beat out of it, and in such a way you include that participant in themaking of a composition.

I have used this method a few times, but in most cases I kept it quite literal, so that it was very clear to the participant that the new bit of the piece was based on her input. Other practitioners take it much further (the most extreme example I know was a blurred downward vocalisation from a girl with SLD which turned into a definite, harmonised and orchestrated melody performed
by the full BBC symphony orchestra and a huge choir). That might sound amazing, but there is the issue of mediation and focus. Who has done ‘we hear’, how close does the end result feel to the child, and who are we playing this to?

Our Band – Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Call-out

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Our friends at the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (check them out here) are seeking a young musician (under 25 years) with additional needs from Southampton to join them on their exciting creative project – Our Band.


What is it? – Our Band is a two- year programme of work 2020 – 2021 in Plymouth, Wiltshire, Southampton, London and Norfolk in special needs and mainstream settings in collaboration with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE).

What will we be doing? – we will be creating ensembles in each setting with young people ranging from primary to secondary students to young adults together with players from the OAE. We will compose and perform music together including our new community opera The Moon Hares in July 2020 in London and King’s Lynn and in other events in Wilts, Southampton and Plymouth in Summer 2020 which will be followed by all groups being involved in a special needs festival entitled Transformations in Summer 2021.

Would you like to join us? – are you a young musician (under 25) with additional needs from Southampton who would like to join our team to be part of this creative process? We are looking for someone who would like to develop their own skills through mentoring by the OAE and Southampton teams and help us to nurture the groups we work with.

When are the sessions? – the sessions will be taking place on between March-July 2020 in Year 1 and from September 2020 to July 2021 in Year 2.

Will I be paid? – you will be paid £100 for each full day and £50 for each evening session or half day plus help with travel costs and a chaperone where needed. There is also an opportunity for the Young Artist to receive some  lessons to support their development.

What skills do I need? – we’re looking for someone who is an artist – this can be a singer, an instrumentalist or an artist of any kind but someone who is keen to get stuck in, be personable and ready for anything!

For more information or to register an interest please contact 

Sustainable Early Years Music (SEYM)

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We are delighted to announce that we have been awarded funding from Youth Music to deliver a practice-based-research project to develop a Sustainable Early Years Model (SEYM). This sees SoCo Music Project embark on an exciting partnership with the Royal College of Music (RCM) and academic mentor Jessica Pitt.

Through SEYM we intend to provide a much needed, sustainable musical support framework for learners and educators in Special Educational Needs/Disabilities (SEN/D) Early Years and Reception settings. Our partner settings are Early Years at Rosewood Free School and Reception settings at Springwell School, both of which are in Southampton.

Building on our participation in the Youth Music Exchanging Notes project as well as similar projects funded by CAMHS and Youth Music Future Sounds we aim to nuance and develop our practice to empower permanent communities of practice in these settings. 

As a sustainable model, SEYM is built on the interplay between three key areas of practice-as-research: collaborative music session delivery, knowledge-exchange practices and data collection. 

We will be working towards three outcomes:

  • Increased confidence and practical knowledge of staff in Reception and Early Years settings to facilitate music sessions for young people with SEN/D
  • Increase in young people’s ability and confidence to engage in a wide range of musical activities
  • Improvement in young people’s communication and sensory development

For more information and to keep in touch about the project please contact Marie Negus

Tales of the Young Person’s Orchestra

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We are excited to announce an innovative partnership with the Southampton-based SÓN Orchestra in association with Turner Sims.

Tales of the Young Person’s Orchestra is a collaboration with SoCo Music Project and SÓN. This exciting project will see delivery of an inspirational and inclusive musical experience for young people with Special Educational Needs in Southampton and Portsmouth. The project, which will run from January 2019 – April 2019 will encourage participants to compose original music whilst exploring different sounds and expressible possibilities of orchestral music.

Experienced music leader/composer Ignacio Agrimbau (MA, PhD) and professional classical musicians from SÓN will collaboratively design an inclusive music-making programme that is responsive to the possibilities, talent and preferences of the students participating. These supported creative music-making programmes will take place over the course of 24 music workshops in three Special Education Needs settings, namely Springwell School, Mary Rose Academy and Avenues College – Post 19 college of Rosewood Free School.

Marie Negus, Development Manager for SoCo Music Project states that:

“We are delighted to have been awarded funding by the Radcliffe Trust for this programme.  This provides a unique experience for young people, who wouldn’t usually experience the sounds and expressive possibilities of different instrumental families of the classical orchestra. I’m excited to see and hear how they formulate their own musical ideas from this experience, culminating in performances in the settings.”

Throughout this partnership, SoCo Music Project and SÓN will work together using their extensive experience in developing engaging music programmes for young people with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEN/D) and ambition to nurture the next generation of musicians through education and outreach.

Robin Browning, SÓN Artistic Director:

“Since SÓN was founded 3 years ago, we’ve been on a mission to change lives through music across the south. We’re passionately committed to the power music has to impact young people’s lives, because all our musicians know, first hand, how much it has brought to their own world, and love sharing this with others. The chance to collaborate with SoCo – one of the pioneers in music outreach all over the region – is a wonderful opportunity, and I’m looking forward to building projects of real, lasting value together.”

For more information contact Marie Negus – 



The ICE Project – CAMHS Holiday Workshops

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SoCo Music Project were recently asked to deliver a holiday music engagement programme for young people as part of The ICE Project, a partnership between Hampshire Cultural Trust & Hampshire Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (run by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust), promoting the use of arts for positive mental health.

The overall aims of the The ICE Project are:

  • To use arts & culture to promote positive mental health; raise self-confidence and self-esteem and inspire other young people
  • To create an outlet for young people to creatively share their experiences and opinions
  • To use art in its various forms to create a conversation that improves understanding, compassion, people’s views and knowledge of the subject
  • To give vulnerable and at-risk children and young people the chance to experience and participate in extraordinary arts and culture

We sensitively crafted and delivered a series of music sessions that were designed to not only educate and inspire, but to enable interpersonal relationships between our participants to form and flourish. As always, our approach holds our participants at the heart of its design, and we delivered activities that took into consideration our participants needs, their musical interests and challenges that they may be facing in relation to their mental health. We ensured that these activities would gently challenge and empower them whilst developing them both musically and personally, providing a creative outlet for expression.

Sessions explored creating music compositions using music technology apps on iPads, drumming exercises, Songwriting, poetry and lyric writing and singing exercises. To create a safe and supportive environment whereby participants felt confident and happy to explore and discover their own musicality and to take creative risks, we introduced various music games, which we used as icebreakers to help relax the group and to teach participants useful music terminology.

Our participants’ confidence increased as their familiarisation with the others in the group, and the music leaders grew. This enabled them to engage whole-heartedly. A culture of respect and honesty was present throughout the sessions, which encouraged strong peer support amongst our participants, and friendships to blossom. They crafted some wonderful music compositions, which can be heard in these recordings:

Reflection time in the sessions fostered exploration of positive expressions from the young people about their experiences, with them seeing untapped musical creativity emerge and them having a heightened awareness and understanding of how music had been and could continue to be a tool for self-expression.

Some quotes from our participants:

“I feel very proud of what I created and I didn’t know I could achieve this”

“I felt able to open up and stay true to myself. I felt valued, I didn’t have to change myself to fit in”

“I felt I belonged in this workshop and participated. I worked well with everyone”

For more information about SoCo Music Project visit and for more information about The ICE Project visit

The ICE Project is co-funded by Artswork, Hampshire CCG and the Coles-Medlock Foundation.

SoCo’s work in Southampton Schools contributes to Youth Music’s landmark national study

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We are delighted to share a powerful and insightful interim evaluation report that highlights how sustained involvement in music-making can have a positive impact on young people’s attainment, engagement and wellbeing during their school life. We are especially proud that our work at Rosewood Free School features as a Case Study in this report.

Exchanging Notes is a four-year action research project, funded by Youth Music (national charity investing in music-making projects for children and young people experiencing challenging circumstances) with Birmingham City University appointed to carry out evaluation of the programme. Exchanging Notes explores pioneering new partnerships between schools and music providers, of which SoCo Music Project are leading one of seven projects in the country.

At SoCo Music Project we are working in partnership with two school settings in Southampton. Our experienced team of music leaders are working closely with subject specialists, class teachers and support staff to develop nurturing and creative environments, new resources and teaching models to support young people’s musical development and wider outcomes. At Rosewood Free School, where students have profound and multiple learning difficulties, many sessions are one-to-one, tailored around individual needs. At the Inclusion Unit at Woodlands Community College, young people at risk of exclusion have worked towards individual learning plans with activities including music technology, instrument tuition, composition and songwriting.
Our journey so far has been a challenging one at times, amidst funding cuts and pressure of schools’ performance measures that, in some cases are squeezing the arts out of education, but it has been heartening to witness and evidence some phenomenal and life-changing outcomes relating to young people’s musical, educational and social development.

For more information about our work through Exchanging Notes please visit here

The Exchanging Notes programme comes to an end this summer, but this project is just the tip of the iceberg of SoCo Music Project’s engagement programmes for young people in challenging circumstances and vulnerable adult groups in Southampton and the wider Hampshire area. We deliver programmes that transform lives for the better; using music as a powerful tool to develop skills, nurture creativity and improve the wellbeing of our participants. We strive towards increased inclusion and connectivity and as we develop our work to further increase access and participation we are keen to explore new partnerships and work programmes.

For more information about our programmes, and specifically Exchanging Notes, please contact Marie Negus

Exchanging Notes Case Study: SoCo Music Project and Rosewood Free School

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Exchanging Notes


We are embarking on the final and fourth year of our Exchanging Notes Project, which has seen some phenomenal outcomes (musical, personal and social) for young people with PMLD at Rosewood Free School and young people in the Inclusion Unit/LINK Group at Woodlands Community School, both of which are in Southampton. In addition to this, the positive outcomes have had a ripple effect within the settings in which we are working and it’s with this in mind, that we are delighted to share this case study of Ashley, from Georgie, his Class Teacher:


Rethinking music-making

Rosewood is one of only a few schools in the country which caters specifically for children with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD). Many of Rosewood’s students have complex additional needs – including physical, visual or hearing impairments – and may only communicate non-verbally, using sounds, signs and gestures rather than words.

As a result, these young people face a lot of barriers to ‘traditional’ forms of music-making.

Georgie is one of the teachers at Rosewood who’s been involved with the project. She says Exchanging Notes has transformed her practice and changed her whole outlook on music.

That’s been a real turning point for me,” says Georgie, “[rethinking] the preconceived idea of what music needs to sound like – and it’s been wonderful.”

Putting students’ needs first

The project has used a mix of one-to-one music-making sessions (led by SoCo’s specialist music leader Ignacio and supported by Rosewood’s teaching staff) and group sessions with the whole class (led by Rosewood’s teachers using the new skills and knowledge they’ve learned).

The one-to-one sessions have given students the chance to explore different sounds and instruments. Over time, Ignacio and the teachers have learned more about how each young person responds to sound, how they make their own sounds and how they prefer to interact with others – things which can vary greatly from one student to the next in a PMLD setting like Rosewood.

Ignacio has been able to draw on the teachers’ knowledge of the individual young people, and their expertise in recognising body language and behavioural patterns in students who are non-verbal. This has helped to build up a picture of each young person’s needs so that the music-making sessions can be tailored accordingly.

Music-making in practice

In the one-to-one sessions each student is encouraged to explore and improvise, using their device of choice to make music in whatever way works for them, which may be quite different from the traditional way of playing.

This might involve experimenting with acoustic instruments – tambourine, guitar, wind chimes and washboard among others. SoCo have also brought a wide range of music technology in to the sessions, including sensors that trigger sounds based on the young person’s movements, and iPad apps that can sample and sequence different sounds.

The young people may choose to join in with the music-making by responding to sounds that Ignacio makes – making a vocal sound of their own, or a movement like hand-tapping or finger-clicking. They can also use their movements to ‘conduct’ Ignacio’s playing, for example nodding their head up and down to signal a higher or lower note.

Rosewood’s students have had the chance to demonstrate their music-making skills beyond the one-to-one sessions – both during group sessions in class, and at special events including a memorable end-of-year performance at Winchester Cathedral.

There, a group of young people from Rosewood rehearsed and performed a piece in collaboration with the Southern Sinfonia chamber orchestra, plus performers from local choirs and other schools.

Zoe, headteacher at Rosewood, recalls: “There were so many special and very moving moments throughout the performance. For me the moment when two conductors, batons poised, watched and waited for our students to finish will be a lifelong image of respect.”

In the project’s final year the school will partner with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and work towards further recordings and performances.

Transferring music-making to the classroom

As well as working with an exciting range of partner organisations, Rosewood’s staff have also enjoyed several training sessions with external music-leading specialists.

“Our headteacher’s always tried to bring music in,” says Georgie, “but with Exchanging Notes, it’s grown and grown. It’s given us ideas, because it’s all well and good us teachers saying ‘we’d like this to work’, but you need professionals to come in and say ‘this is what can happen’. We couldn’t have done that on our own.”

Zoe agrees: “I’ve seen the whole staff team grow and develop, using music outside of the Exchanging Notes sessions with our students.”

Throughout the project, Rosewood’s teachers have been able to observe and adopt techniques from Ignacio’s music-leading style. They’ve also learned new practical skills, such as how to use various music tech resources to help students make and record their own music.

And the project has helped teachers become more confident in their ability to interact musically with students, and more willing to ‘have a go’ even if they don’t consider themselves very musical.

“I’m not the greatest singer!” says Georgie. “We can all be a bit inhibited, but if I can model to my staff by just making a sound or using my voice in different ways, it actually makes everyone else feel more comfortable.”

Beyond music teaching

The new ideas and expertise the staff have gained through the project have in fact made a difference across the whole of Rosewood’s curriculum, which is specially geared towards young people with PMLD.

“There’s a buzz around using music, and the profile of using music to extend learning has developed across the whole school,” says Zoe.

Outside of the dedicated music-making sessions, the staff at Rosewood use music in various other ways at different points in the day – for example to signal the start or end of a lesson, to energise students or to help them calm down.

Overlapping skills

The Rosewood staff have also discovered that Ignacio’s music-leading approach has some similarities with the specialist skills they’re used to using while teaching young people with PMLD.

For example, the school team are all trained in the use of ‘intensive interaction’ techniques, where they change their style of interaction to match the learner’s needs, and give the young person the opportunity to lead activities as much as possible. This closely matches the way Ignacio reads and adapts to each young person’s emotional state, and uses techniques like ‘mirroring’ the sounds a child makes.

Making this connection has helped the teachers feel more confident leading music sessions, and has helped both parties – SoCo and Rosewood staff – to learn from each other.

Ignacio has been able to meet regularly with the teachers and learning assistants during the school day to share reflections and experiences of what’s worked well in the music-making sessions. As a result, SoCo have been able to develop and share a whole new range of music-leading techniques and resources.

Sharing among staff

Each member of Rosewood’s teaching staff will be involved with Exchanging Notes sessions at different times throughout the week, term or year, so it’s important to them to keep each other posted on young people’s progress as a group.

“We discuss as a collective: ‘we tried this musical instrument’ and ‘what did you do?’ and ‘how did you facilitate that?’” says Georgie. “We’re sharing what we’re finding is working.”

Knowing what’s working can be a particular challenge, because some of the students at Rosewood are ‘pre-intentional’, meaning they may not have control over how they communicate in response to stimuli such as music.

“We’re interpreting everything,” says Georgie. “We just want to make sure that we’re doing the right thing. If you get some confirmation from that young person, however small, then you can really celebrate it. Young people’s responses to music have boosted morale among staff.”

The high level of staff engagement helps ensure that the project has a long-term impact. The more music-leading knowledge and expertise the staff develop, the less reliant they become on external specialists, and the more they can pass on to the students who come into their classes in future years.

“We’ve had such a wonderful opportunity with Exchanging Notes,” says Georgie, seeing the progress in the students, having other musicians and professionals come in. It’s shown us what else is out there. We’ve seen the impact, we’ve got the evidence and we can show everyone the progress.”

Ashley’s story

Ashley, 17, is one of the students who’s taken part in one-to-one music-making sessions as part of the Exchanging Notes project at Rosewood. Georgie tells the story of how she’s seen him develop his ability to express himself.

“Ashley came into my class last year,” she recalls. “He’s pre-verbal, he’s on the autism spectrum, and he also has no functioning vision, so there are a lot of challenges in his life.”

Georgie was able to watch video footage of Ashley in an earlier music-making session to see where he’d started out from. This year she’s sat in with Ignacio on some of the one-to-one sessions with Ashley.

“The progress he’s made is phenomenal, especially with communication. He’s been able to express himself emotionally in such a way, it’s been really empowering for him.

“The music has really moved him forward to thinking ‘there’s a world out there, and it’s not just that insular world that I’m in, it’s out there and it’s a safe world’.

“As soon as he hears Ignacio, he knows what’s coming next. He really values Ignacio.”

Ashley has a form of echolalia, meaning he tends to repeat noises and words he hears. But Georgie has seen him begin to develop beyond this and articulate himself more expressively, both within and beyond the music-making sessions.

“He’s now able to bring two instruments together. He’s really exploring, trying to figure out how to make sounds. His vocalising has changed as well; his range of tone has increased.

“I strongly believe it’s because he built up that confidence to explore with a really safe session. He’s been able to experiment in his own way. It’s been very gradual, through that repetition. It’s about making him feel comfortable and confident.

“It’s empowering him to say ‘this is who I am, I can make this music my way, I can show you my emotions’. It’s absolutely lovely.”