Issue 1: First keyboard lesson of the year with a Wider Opportunities class

Oh joy! This is one of my favourite lessons of term! This is the day that the children are introduced to their keyboards; let’s not kid ourselves that any formal music teaching is going to take place but it is going to be noisy and FUN – certainly for the children.

The school staff are likely to be completely appalled by the whole logistics thing. Setting up fifteen or so keyboards, with all the trailing flexes and live electricity crackling in the atmosphere, partly from the mains sockets, and partly from the wild excitement and anticipation emanating from the thirty eager children is a hair-raising experience. It makes no difference whether the lessons are in the class or the hall as the sockets are always concealed behind, under, or below something, and are always full of computers, audiovisual equipment and other black boxes which will die and never work again if unplugged.

On my pre-term visit I will have tried to note down where the sockets are and have a think about the possible layout of the room. The secret of success is to get everyone calm, silent and totally still before they get a chance to unpack the keyboards and strew the cases around like obstacles on an assault course.

Slowly the tables are arranged, the keyboards assembled, and the cases cleared away. The plugs and wires are deployed and tripped over and re-connected, until all is still once more.

Hsssssss

“Miss, my keyboard isn’t working” pipes up one eager voice – soon to be drowned in a chorus of agreement. I wait for silence, and show them the master plug, still in my hand. NO WAY was I going to let any electricity into any keyboard until order is restored; once one keyboard gets going there will be no holding them…

I spoke too soon. One keyboard still has batteries left in from last term and the children are away, pressing buttons, getting the demo going, shouting with excitement. I leap into action, trying to get there before they press the “DJ” button – too late – a cartoon man’s voice rends the air with shouts of “DJ! DJ! DJ!”

Like a fully trained SAS soldier, I dodge between tables and chairs, squeeze through an eager mass of children and disembowel the keyboard to remove the batteries.

“Aw, miss”.

I remain firm in the face of the plaintive cries. A few minutes more and they can all “DJ, DJ” as much as they want to.

A brief explanation of how to change the voices on the keyboards, and firm instruction of what they have to do if I clap my hands and show the STOP signal; and Very Clear exposition of the consequences of failing to observe the stop signal, and they’re off.

The noise is tremendous.

One of them discovers “gunshot” – the whole room erupts into a war zone.

Another discovers “drum kit” – rifle fire is replaced by snares, tom-toms, and bass drums.

The “Special Effects” button is explored in infinite detail – the sound of a man making a sound is very popular, but the crowing cockerel, neighing horse and mooing cow all have their place in the ratings.

In the corner, two children are methodically working their way through each voice in turn, contorted over their keyboard to position their ears close to the speakers so that they can hear the different sounds. Their faces light up with pleasure; I wander over; they have found the bells and glockenspiel and marimba sounds.

Every so often I clap my hands for silence, and let the children share a particularly interesting sound they have found – the wild chaos of helicopter, tweet, telephone and drums settles into more melodious instruments. They are fascinated by the names; goblin, overdrive, square lead.

All too soon it is time to pack up. Step One, call for silence, Step Two, pull the master plug so that no-one will continue with “just one last go”, Step Three, keep ALL of the children sitting down while the adults try and sort out which bag belongs to which keyboard. Lose control now, and the room will become a seething, heaving morass of bags and plugs and children and keyboards all hopelessly knitted together by leads and electric cables.

The class teacher is looking pensive at the prospect of this level of chaos engulfing her class every week. She is not entirely convinced by my airy assertion that it only takes a couple of weeks for the set-up and take-down to become a really slick process.

“Homework,” I call. There is a united groan from the children, but when they hear that it is to write down their favourite voices with a few words on why they like it, they seem to like the idea of Keyboard Homework after all.

I check my watch – time for me to go to the next school. I leave a class of happy, enthusiastic children looking forward to next week’s mayhem.

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