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Making soundtracks at the school of rock

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By Kofi AcheampongFILMCLUB

Kofi Acheampong shows that using film clips can be a real inspiration for children to unleash their musical talents

Music and film

School of rock - full group

My job at FILMCLUB involves providing proactive support to schools who hold weekly clubs, as well as providing them with ways to engage with film through exciting events such as preview screenings and summer school workshops.

Music and film are two art forms that I care passionately about. I once worked as a peripatetic music teacher in a specialist music school – and I have always been keen to analyse the relationship between music and film. Last year, I came up with the idea to get children to soundtrack a three-to-five minute scene from a film, to ascertain whether they could see how important music is in film. This year, my aim was to develop the project further by having the children perform a track live with the aid of a projector and screen.

Despite their relative youth, the children at one school in particular showcased not only an excellent ability to play as a group, but also superb innovation in being able to come up with a suitable counterpoint to the images they were presented with. The majority of the students had never played an instrument before but proved to be adept at learning the basics on guitar, drums, bass and piano in order to accompany the scenes that they picked. The children were given creative control in picking relevant clips to soundtrack, as well as being responsible for the style of music they would choose for the clip. The results of the workshop both surprised and delighted me.

Films featuring the physical and slapstick comedy from classic entertainers in cinema history provided the most positive response from the students. In particular, Laurel and Hardy’s famous dancing scene from ‘Way Out West’ attracted a fascinating group soundtrack. Within the clip, the famous comedy duo perform a joyous dance routine that builds and builds, from tapping feet to a merry jig involving high kicks; the whole scene has a swaggering air of fun to it.

Two different approaches to the same film clip

School of rock - drummer and screen

I heard one girl singing ‘I’m Feeling Fine’ from the film Bugsy Malone very quietly while watching the clip. After initially overcoming her apparent shyness to sing, I managed to convince her that this fitted perfectly with the Laurel and Hardy scene. Here, we had the starting point of our song and the rest of the group were able to carefully build music around this sorrowful lament that fitted perfectly with the lolloping movements of Laurel and Hardy. The accompanying track had a lovely two-part piano riff played by two of the students, with accompaniment from a simple, yet effective, guitar line and drums played with brushes, to create a soothing and sorrowful piece of music with a real swing to it! The track started with the piano riff as the comedy duo tapped their feet and then the guitar and drums both came in as soon as the physicality of the scene became more prominent and exaggerated. Only after the guitar, piano and drums had created a soothing, calming background did the very sweet singing enter into the fray.

The second group of children provided a very different interpretation. They called upon their love of modern pop music, performing a feisty, upbeat track featuring pounding drums, a descending bass line and some great singing and dancing. The very assertive singer in this group shouted ‘Let’s go!’ at the start of the clip, then the punchy bass and drums created a solid, steady beat while a dancing piano line was enough to create a feeling of melody and mischief at the same time. This had the effect of emphasising the very comedic nature of the dance and also really lifted the clip.

Hidden talents

School of rock - boy with drumsticks

The speed with which both groups collaborated showed that the students were very aware of the ability of music to portray moods and atmospheres in film. The children also proved comfortable with practising the music over and over again and communicating with each other to establish properly when each instrument should come in. Moreover, the beauty of working on a project like this is that children as young as 11 rely very much on instinct – although they may see their actions as casual, they are actually very relevant and skilled. It was also intriguing to witness the two different groups provide vastly different musical accompaniment to the clip.

For me, the activity provided a showcase of the powerful ability of music – not just to tease out previously hidden meanings within scenes from films, but also hidden musical talents from children.

More information

FILMCLUB is a free service that helps state schools to set up after-school film clubs. It provide young people with access to a diverse range of thousands of films. Schools participate in weekly screenings, online reviewing and inspirational film industry events. For more information, and to get signed up to the scheme, visit www.filmclub.org

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