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Choir of the Year Workshop

Develop skills

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 Year.

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." Choir leader

Listen 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 choir formation.
" 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 ideas.

Ask the children to make decisions about sections and order of sections that will form the final piece.
Discard ideas that don't work - after discussing why they don't.
Record and listen back to versions of the piece.
Include movement, 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 Edition.



Download foundscapes and soundscapes, our unique creative choral resource for children. Invite your young singers to devise their own performance from the images and symbols in our specially commissioned graphic score!

Download foundscapes and soundscapes and guidance notes for choir leaders.

Click here to go to Kallaway website
Click here to go to Kallaway website