Phoenix School is a school for children on the autistic spectrum in Tower Hamlets and over the years we’ve worked with students on a range of projects to encourage creative expression through music.
We began working with Phoenix School in 1993 and since then have explored many different projects with the students. One such project took place in 2003, a decade into this relationship, and was called Galaxy Phoenix. During Galaxy Phoenix we worked with Year 10 pupils, led by Hazel Gould, Julian West and Sam Glazer, to develop a music-theatre work inspired by the stars, solar system, space, the planets, and of course, not forgetting the rocketships!
Combining music and movement, activities were designed to improve confidence and self-esteem, providing the students with the opportunity to perform to each other and in front of the peers and parents. One of our proudest moments occurred when one student, who had not previously had confidence to enter the school hall, was there on the final day of the project, performing to over 120 people.
The class teacher Troy Gering said after the project,
“It made me realise, even more, the benefit of music and movement in education – thus have been doing more activities to get them moving! The kids really enjoyed the project and still talk about it and sing the songs.”
Galaxy Phoenix was one of the first times we worked with music leader and oboist Julian West, who continues to lead projects with us today. We chatted to Julian about the project:
“It marked the beginning of a decade of work with Phoenix School for me. Over that time we explored many different themes and ideas – the Galaxy was where it started, but we also made a piece of music theatre that was about getting a job (which included one of the Spitalfields Music Trainee Music Leaders gallantly taking a custard pie in the face). There was a magical telling of an Anansi story which took the audience through a rainforest installation with shadow puppets and sound. And there was a piece about recycling, which had the fantastic final number, “Buy one, get one free!” which featured gymnastics!! What was common to all of the projects was a wonderful blossoming of individuality, creativity and confidence, not just among the students, but for everyone involved.”
In 2014, as we celebrate 25 years of our Learning & Participation programme, we still enjoy a close relationship with Phoenix School, working with students each year on creative music projects, designed to foster creativity, communication and self-expression. During the past couple in years in particular we have also looked at ways in which students at Phoenix can share experience alongside their peers from mainstream schools, which has seen them perform as part of our Platform series with Tower Hamlets Arts & Music Education Service.