iPad Orchestra: An Innovation Project

On Friday 14 March, Ash Field Academy treated an audience of pupils, staff and family to a performance of their iPad Orchestra. The project, funded as a Leicester City Council BSF ICT Innovation project, was started in January and has focused on learners’ creation of music and visuals using iPads to interact with the sounds.

Ash Field is a school for children with special educational needs. The school caters for learners between the ages of 4 and 19, with mainly physical difficulties; however their needs are often a complex mix of the medical, sensory, communication, intellectual, emotional and social.

The school worked with creative practitioners to enable a group of 12 learners to produce a cool, innovative, creative, coherent and entertaining piece of music to be performed using iPads and through audio visual systems, including Optimusic. The Optimusic system involves coloured light beams which, when interacted with, trigger sound. The project also explored the visual presentation of the performance, through VJ-ing, so as to provide pupils with sensory clues to make the performance as accessible as possible.


The group performed to a packed school hall and had invited staff and students, as well as family members of the orchestra performers, to attend. It was great to see the enthusiasm of the whole school community and I’m sure this was a great encouragement for the children performing in the project. Each member of the orchestra had a Curriculum Assistant supporting them, as well as the team of creative practitioners working on the project.

Ellen Croft, the school’s Creativity Curriculum Leader, and project lead, introduced the performance. This was followed by a further introduction from Simon Tew, one of the musicians on the project, which involved the children demonstrating their individual roles within the orchestra. Some were responsible for music, some for sound bites and some for images they had created.

Before the live performance began, Si showed a video of the children’s work in creating the piece. This involved:
– recording their own voices
– making sounds with instruments
– making sounds with other equipment (such as their wheelchairs)
– making sound with new technologies (such as the Optimusic)
– playing with the iPads to interact with the sound
– bringing together all of the different elements of the project
– VJing – mixing a collection of images to create a visual background for the music

And then the performance began…

The 15 minute piece was uplifting and creative. It was a true collaboration between the students, staff and creative practitioners and every member of the orchestra had an important part to play. It was a wonderful performance. Leicester City Council is extremely proud to be able to enable schools to carry out activities that have such a positive impact on their learners and communities.

I was sat amongst the performer’s parents and I think it is safe to say that they were all blown away. I spoke to some of them, who told me that their children had spent the last six weeks talking excitedly about the project at home. Everyone was amazed by the final performance.

Jane Booth, the school’s Principal, closed the performance with thanks to the creative practitioners, the staff and especially to Ellen for all their hard work in bringing together this inspirational project. Ellen will be compiling a report, which will be shared along with other materials from the project, here on our blog – so make sure you check back for her perspective on this brilliant piece of work!

The school have also offered to support other BSF schools by providing free training in the use of the Optimusic system. More information about the system will be provided in the final report, but staff who are interested in free training should contact Ellen Croft at the school or a member of the BSF ICT team.

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