TREE is a set of resources exploring how children can compose music, words and visual art inspired by trees. The resources were developed to accompany BCMG's 2021 primary school project TREE and inspired by The Singing Tree by composer Christian Mason. Content in this resource was created by the project's composers: Duncan Chapman, Lady Nade, Chloe Knibbs, Natalie Mason, Michael Betteridge, Rob Jones, Kirsty Devaney, Richard Barnard and Liz Lane, with visual art ideas from BCMG Learning Coordinator, Jenny Muirhead.
Funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
Composers have long been inspired by nature. In Spring 2023, BCMG is presenting a series of concerts called BCMG in Bloom which includes music inspired by trees and forests. One of these concerts includes the world premiere of The Singing Tree by Christian Mason at Birmingham Town Hall in May 2023, originally planned to be performed in May 2021.
This resource brings together ideas from all the composers involved in BCMG's TREE project, which ran alongside initial workshops of The Singing Tree, in primary schools in Birmingham and Bristol. In this resource are activities for:
You can navigate through the different pages of the resource using the orange bar above.
We are keen to encourage you and your class to visit woods and trees local to you and hope the activities in this resource will help your children to learn about trees, explore them through all their senses and be inspired by them to create art, music and poetry.
To create this resource, we visited The Lickeys located to the southwest of Birmingham and Sutton Park in north Birmingham with Geoff Cole and Viv Astling from Birmingham Trees for Life.
For a PRINTABLE version of this resource CLICK HERE.
First of all we go to The Lickeys with Geoff to learn:
Here are some questions you might want to ask your class about the video:
The Singing Tree by composer Christian Mason is composed for 5 professional voices, a children's choir and instrumental ensemble. The libretto (words) were written by Paul Griffiths and are presented in the shape of a tree. You can download a copy of the poem HERE.
On this page are a series of excerpts from an interview with Christian Mason using questions provided by children from the TREE project which took place in Birmingham and Bristol in the summer of 2021.
Talking with Christian about The Singing Tree:
Talking with Christian about music & becoming a composer:
Talking with Christian about composing:
Christian shares a special musical instrument:
Listening to and mapping sounds:
Below is a guided listening activity devised by composer Chloe Knibbs to help children listen to the sounds around them, to categorize them, to think how near or far they are and where they are coming from. The children will need blank paper and a pencil or pen and their ears!
Chloe suggests that you start by doing this activity in the classroom and then try it again outside near to some trees, maybe in your local park or in your forest school.
'Notating' sounds with graphic scores:
In the next video, composer Kirsty Devaney goes for a walk in the woods with her dog to listen to the sounds of trees and shows us how we can 'write down' our sounds and recreate them using classroom instruments.
The music that you and your class eventually compose could include audio recordings of the sounds of trees.
This page, written by composer Duncan Chapman, is here to help you and your children to record sounds effectively. Duncan spends a lot of his time collecting interesting sounds especially from the natural world such as rain, bats, birds and bees. He then manipulates and plays with the sounds he has collected to create music.
Here is Duncan talking about the best way to record sounds. At the end, you get to hear music he has composed with his sounds:
You could also use SAMPL, an iPad app which allows you to upload your own recorded sounds and then play them using a button interface. Using SAMPL is another way you and your children could add recorded sound to your composition or improvise using your sounds.
The TREE project was a collaboration with Sound and Music. Sounds collected by Duncan and music composed by the children form part of this downloadable resource HERE as part of Sound and Music's Minute of Listening project.
Going on a recording expedition:
You and your class might decide to record the sounds of trees outside - maybe in a wood. This needs planning as often children will make recordings that don't quite live up to their expectations. Here are some suggestions for you and your class for how to try and get the best possible recordings so that you have some good quality materials with which to work.
Things for teachers to think about:
Recording can be a way of listening. You might not get perfect recorded sounds from your expedition but the act of going somewhere with the specific aim of recording is a way of encouraging children to listen to what is there.
Things for children to think about:
First some questions:
In this video, musician Natalie Mason takes the children on a tour of musical instruments made from wood from around the world:
Questions to ask the children after watching the video:
For more information about the instruments CLICK HERE.
Wood is not the only product we get from trees, we can also make cardboard and paper from wood pulp. In this video, composer Rob Jones shows the children how to make their own simple but flexible instrument out of paper. The instrument makes a wonderful sound that resembles the leaves of a tree rustling in the wind. It could be used to create textural sounds, or used rhythmically to create beats.
There are two opportunities in the video to pause and have a class discussion.Each child will need:
Have fun experimenting with the wonderful sounds of paper! You can send photos and videos of what your class come up with to Rob on Twitter via @Obski_Rob.
On the music page of this resource you will find a video of a piece of music called Paper Concerto by Tan Dun in which one of the performers uses a similar instrument. What other instrument did the children see and hear that was made from cardboard? Could the children find a something similar to add to your classes sound maker collection?
In The Singing Tree by Christian Mason the words (libretto) were written by Paul Griffiths. Paul chose to present his words in the shape of tree. The first word is TREE and then in the next sentence, which makes up the trunk, the first letter of each word spells the word tree.
Use one of the videos on this page to help your pupils to come up with some words and sentences about trees. Then invite your pupils to make their own shape poetry in the form of a tree 'poetree'. You could do this in a number of ways:
The tree as a busy city: in this video composer Richard Barnard invites us to think of the tree as a busy city:
Trees with all our senses: in this video composer Michael Betteridge invites us to explore an object or theme with all our senses. Michael uses a pen but you can do the same activity with trees. Click HERE for teacher notes and HERE for resource sheets.
Write it in a leaf: for those of you working with Lady Nade, here is another suggestion for generating words about trees:
Resources: brown parcel/lining paper, pencils, pens, scissors, paint, cardboard, cardboard tubes/loo rolls, glue
The words by Paul Griffiths for The Singing Tree were presented in the shape of a tree. This activity shows you how to make a class poetree using the children's words, text and poetry to make a whole tree.
Using Michael's activity from the Words page, invite each of the children to create their own tree poem. If you want to, you could divide the children into 4 and ask each group to focus on a different part of the tree - roots, trunk, branches, leaves.
For the roots, trunk and branches, the children could write their poems on torn pieces of card and brown paper to make them look like bark.
Be creative with the leaves. To create a lush canopy the children could:
If you decided to divide the class into the four parts of the tree, Start to fill the tree from the bottom with the roots poems, then the trunk poems, then the branch poems and finally the leaf poems. You might want to draw the outline of a tree on a big piece of paper first for the children to fill in. If you didn't divide into 4 groups, the children can decide whether to make leaves or bark or both.
On this page, composer Liz Lane will help you to focus and guide the children's listening for three of pieces from the next page and suggests a composing activity using paper.
Tree of Life - Liz Lane, words by Jennifer Henderson
The words for the poem can be downloaded HERE.
Liz: I love the fact that this poem is in three lines for each verse and the repetition at the end of each line. Musically, each verse is similar but not quite the same; the last verse is mainly higher, to represent 'stand beneath a mighty tree'. There is no steady beat - almost every bar has a different number of notes so it sounds quite improvisatory.
What words can the children think of when they see or think of an oak tree? Can they think of 2 syllable and 3 syllable words? If you say them more than once, like in this song, how might you do it differently each time? What kind of rhythm would it be? How would you sing these words? You could try:
Child of Tree - John Cage
You can find a composing activity linked to this piece HERE.
Rain Tree - Toru Takemitsu
This is a piece of music for percussion ensemble. The three players play a variety of instruments including 2 marimbas and vibraphone. The small instrument which looks like lots of cymbals are crotales - tuned to pitches just like the marimba and vibraphone.
Questions to explore:
What kind of tree do you think the music is describing? Is it small, large? Thin or broad? Does it grow with a lot of other trees or on its own? Is the rain gentle or heavy? How is all this portrayed by the music and the instruments?
There is no right or wrong answer! It's a great starting point though to think about how a tree might be represented by different sounds.
Paper Concerto - Tan Dun
What kinds of sounds can the children make with paper? Ask the children to take a piece of paper and rustle it. Now try with three pieces of paper. What happens? It's a louder and richer sound. Now ask the children to try tapping it against their hands, scrumpling it up or even tearing it: Are there any other sounds with paper can the children think of?
Watch this video and create a simple piece of music using ostinatos (repeating patterns) created by paper with Liz.
On this page, you will find music by other composers who have been inspired by trees or by the sounds of materials that come from trees (paper, cardboard, wood).
Secret Forest - Dai Fujikura
'This “secret forest” is an imaginary forest where birds and insects make only my favourite sounds and my nose gets never blocked.'
Music for Pieces of Wood - Steve Reich
Excerpt from Forest (Concerto for Four Horns and Orchestra) - Tansy Davies
Here is Tansy talking about the piece and her inspiration:
On this page we encourage the children to look closely at trees.
Take a camera or use the camera on a phone or Ipad to take pictures of trees they like. Look up, look down, look through, look under, look close, look from afar:
The image above also looks a bit like an elephant - can the children find any other trees that look like something else or have 'eyes'?
Imagine where this path is leading.....
Is this lonely tree a magical tree?
Do your children have special trees? Maybe it's a tree they like to climb or build a den in. Maybe there's a tree that reminds them of somebody they've lost?
Look at the bark of a tree. Do different trees have different bark? How are they different? What is living on and under the bark?
If you can, look under a microscope:
All the photos on this page can be found HERE in a PowerPoint.
Observe how trees change over the seasons.
What do trees produce? Can the children make a collections of 'things' from trees to use in the activities on the Make 2 page?
In this video, watch and listen to composer Duncan Chapman and sculptor Viv Astling taking a walk in Sutton Park in the north of Birmingham. As they walk they are looking for inspiration and collecting:
Visit your local park or woodland. What will the children collect? Remember to use phones, cameras and recording devices to record sounds and take photos and to carry a bag to collect cones, seeds, twigs, leaves.....Remind the children that they should only take small samples and be careful not to damage the tree when collecting.
Question: How can the children use what they find to create music and images?
Resources: material or paper/card for design background, found natural objects
This activity uses the natural items you have collected as a class or the children have brought into school from walks in the park, a woodland space, a garden or the school grounds.
Encourage them to collect natural items such a leaves, twigs, pebbles, feathers, shells, cones, bark, moss, lichen, conkers, seed pods or anything else that you find and like the look of.
Invite the children to use the class or their own collection of found natural objects to create a piece of artwork. They could make:
A Mandala – A circular symbol made up of lots of different rings of pattern. Try using different coloured or textured items to produce the different layers of the mandala.
A Word or Words - spell a ‘tree’ inspired word with the items they found. You could take photos of these and with the children arrange them into a short poem.
A Scenescape – create a tree scene or forest. Lay a plain piece of material, card or paper on a flat surface (or the floor) to create a backdrop on which you can create your own picture.
Resources: twigs, string/twine/thread, scissors, lightweight natural items (cones, feathers, leaves)
This activity will show you how to make a hanging mobile using small branches and lightweight found natural objects. It will also use the natural items that the class collected. Make sure everyone has 2 or 3 medium twigs and 4 or 6 smaller twigs.
To make their mobile the children should:
Another approach is to find one long branch and tie a long piece of string to both ends to hang it. Then tie on different found objects at various heights (with different lengths of string) along the length of the branch.
Rubbings & Textures:
Resources; paper, wax crayons
When outside with the children, invite them to make bark and leaf rubbings. Using the paper and some wax crayons, ask the children to choose a tree and look for interesting patterns on its surface/bark. To make the rubbing, they should hold the piece of paper against the bark with one hand so it is flat against the bark. Then using their free hand, rub the long side of the crayon against the paper. They should see the bark pattern gradually appear on the paper. Compare the rubbings of different trees - are they the same? They could try the same thing with leaves.
The children could also try layering different colours on top of each other or create a patchwork effect by taking rubbings of lots of different textures next to each other on the same piece of paper.
On this page is a list of other websites where you can find more information and activities about trees:
If you have any other resource links about trees, please let us know and do send us any music and/or visual art you create inspired by this resource to email@example.com