Duncan Chapman, composer, sound artist, and workshop leader has worked with the BCMG learning programme from the very start! We asked him to share his experience working with Birmingham schools for our exciting collaboration with National Trust

Spring has come very late this year in our allotment, the asparagus is only just poking its head out of the soil, whereas this time last year, we were stuck eating piles of it. As beekeepers, we noticed that our bees are about two weeks later than last year in starting their foraging, and now the weather is warm enough, the bees have become tremendously busy in search of food.

With BCMG in Bloom's big focus on spring, growth, and blossom, one of the pieces we decided to use as inspiration for our series of primary school composing workshops was Toshio Hosokawa's Blossoming, with its strong anticipation for spring. 

One of the primary schools we worked with was Slade Primary School, which is just up the road past Gravely Hill Interchange, more commonly known as Spaghetti Junction. Standing in the playground you can hear the roar of traffic from the motorway, an unlikely location for creating music about the blossoming of spring!

Picture a big open empty hall ... The children enter to the sounds of birdsong recorded in Birmingham, with BCMG musicians Bridget (viola) and Naomi (saxophone) improvising in response to the sounds of spring. Gradually, without the usual "shushing" instruction (we can trust the music to generate calm if we give it time), the room calms down and the children sit and listen for a while.

When the music is over and their applause dies down some questions:


What did you hear?

Where do you think the birds were recorded?

How did the musicians know what to play?


The question of where the birdsong was recorded is always met with the assumption that it was recorded in the countryside, never in the city. There is a considerable surprise when I tell them that, in fact, the birdsong recordings are from Brindleyplace in the center of Birmingham, and was made during a dawn chorus workshop I ran with the Ikon Gallery a few years ago.

The seasons happen in cities as well as in the countryside. Sometimes you just have to get up very early to hear things.

At Slade Primary School, St Joseph’s Catholic, and Mere Green Primary School, the workshops grew from these sonic starting points and progressed to the children choosing and playing instruments, composing new pieces, and culminated in a performance for other children and parents.

Tony Robb (Flute) with young musicians @ Mere Green Primary School by Jonathan Lee

Activities included passing sounds around the group, growing instrumental solos for BCMG musicians, and listening to some of the pieces that BCMG is performing. By directing the flow of the music, creating score maps, listening inside and outside the classroom, and thinking about how we can reflect the change of seasons in the way that the music flows, the children become leaders.

Elaine Ackers and percussion ensemble playing the sounds of spring by Jonathan Lee

What has been most exciting about these sessions is the way in which the children have been able to co-compose their own music inspired by listening to the sounds of the environment, and to the BCMG musicians.

Practical music-making can so easily turn into an exercise in following instructions or trying to remember complex sequences of events. This was a different way of creating, where the music was gradually assembled from our collective choice of sounds and using different ways to generate the flow of music.

Duncan Chapman, June 2023

National Trust

We are incredibly grateful to National Trust for this collaboration as part of their Blossom Together Schools WeekBirmingham was once described as ‘a town ringed by blossom’ as it was surrounded by gardens with blossoming trees. This year, National Trust have planted more than 500 blossoming trees around the city’s iconic Number 11 circular bus route to recreate a new, symbolic ring of blossom around the city. Read more about their blossoming project.

Duncan Chapman

It has been a pleasure to work with Duncan Chapman on another successful and moving project. Much of Duncan's work involves collaborations with a wide range of communities to create performances, installations & recordings. Recent projects include online live-streaming events, curating a concert for the Aural Diversity project, and the performance of morning music with Supriya Nagarajan at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India. Past partners include x-church Gainsborough, COMA Glasgow, Comb Filter (with Simon Limbrick and Adrian Lee) Humbox, with Mike McInerney. 

See what we have coming up for young people

See our other work with schools