In 2008 hundreds of young singers explored weird and
wonderful sounds with their voices to devise their own
version of foundscapes and soundscapes, a graphic
score we commissioned for our 'Taking the Stage' project,
supported by Sing Up.
Singers from 12 children's choirs worked with leading
choral director David Lawrence to create a unique piece
of music and perform it with confidence at Choir of
The project gave most of the participants their first
experience of working with a graphic score. Many of
the choirs leaders expressed some nervousness about
this before starting, but soon found that the children
were very open to using it and were stimulated to come
up with their own ideas, gradually taking over the direction
and creative process from the leader.
"The Junior Choir has grown in confidence and
poise as a result of the involvement in this project.
Their willingness to embrace the graphic score was astonishing."
to versions of foundscapes and soundscapes by the 12
choirs who took part in Taking the Stage.
Get inspired by symbols
Not sure what a graphic score is? Composer of foundscapes
and soundscapes, Barry Russell, is here to explain.
"All music notation is graphic in that it uses
symbols to represent sounds. Some composers make very
precise 'maps' of their music, using traditional music
notation to show pitch, length of notes, text, dynamics
and tempo. Although individual interpretations will
vary to some degree, the composer is in control.
"With graphic scores, a composer hands over control
of the music to the performers. They are then invited
to make decisions about what they would like to hear
and how the piece will be put together. In short, graphic
scores are a gift from a composer. The composer is saying
"You can own this music.
"Many contemporary composers have used strict notation
to create magical vocal effects, notably Ligeti in his
Requiem and Berio in A-Ronne and Sinfonia. Here clusters
(very close groups of pitches) and rapid changes between
singing, speaking, laughing, humming and many, many
more vocal techniques are used by the composers to create
fantastical 'tapestries of sound'. These pieces require
highly honed music-reading skills and superb vocal control.
"Other composers take a different approach, allowing
much greater freedom for the performer who becomes a
co-creator. John Cage in his voice piece Aria uses coloured
lines to show changes in pitch against a series of texts
and asks the singer to adopt a variety of vocal styles.
I use 'country singer', 'bad operatic tenor', 'Eastern
European folk-singer' and 'American news-reader' as
some of the voices when I perform the piece. Cathy Berberian's
Stripsody uses comic and cartoon-like pictures to notate
an alphabet of vocal sounds and sound effects. This
is great fun to perform.
"My graphic score for Choir of the Year, foundscapes
and soundscapes, encourages young voices to make their
own tapestry of sounds and to explore a wide range of
vocal and choral techniques. Young minds need no encouragement
to find musical possibilities in pictures and graphic,
experimenting with sounds they derive from the score."
Here are some tips for working with graphic scores;
Encourage young voices to move
around the performance space as this frees up the voice
and the imagination, rather than sitting in conventional
" Share the sounds that the children create and
encourage others in the group to improvise around them.
Repeat them and make patterns (sequences) of different
||Ask the children
to make decisions about sections and order of sections
that will form the final piece.
that don't work - after discussing why they don't.
||Record and listen
back to versions of the piece.
stage choreography (moving to different positions
for different sections).
||Most of all
value and celebrate the contribution of every child
to the creation and performance of your piece.
About Barry Russell
Barry Russell has wide experience of work in education,
as a secondary school teacher, community musician, lecturer
in higher education and artist in residence. He has
acted as adviser to education authorities, television,
music publishers and music festivals and has directed
education and community projects for many of the countries
major orchestras and now works all over Europe as a
freelance composer/animateur. He has recently been appointed
Professor of Community Music at Leeds College of Music
Barry is passionate about encouraging creativity in
young people (and the not so young!). He is author of
The GCSE Composition Course which is published by Peters