Why can music be so powerful for pupils? Find out with Sophie Garner.

1. Hi Sophie, could you please start by telling our readers more about you?

I’ve been a professional singer for, well – this year is my 30th year in the music business. Everything I do is about creative self-expression, whether that is on stage or with children. I came into music teaching about 17 years ago. It’s kind of one of those things that, for some musicians, they just fall into; not every musician can teach but sometimes it’s a natural progression. Teaching has taken me to primary and secondary schools, dementia care units and brain injury support. I work with Headway once a week, and music is an incredible tool for rehabilitation, helping people to use their speech again through music.

I have toured the world. I was the first singer to perform at the O2 Arena and I beat Bon Jovi to the main stage by about a week – rock and roll! I have a
master’s degree in my specialist subject, so for that I carried out research into singing and songwriting and created a songwriting programme for primary education – and also carried it out in a brain trauma unit. Then, in lockdown, I became a published author. Having lost all my work in the first 48 hours, I decided to write a book (which led to a second one). It’s something I have wanted to do for the past 7 years, so I thought, “Right, I have the time to sit and do this”. So, I became a published author in December 2020!

2. You have two published works, ‘The Creative Songwriting Journal’ and ‘If You Can’t Say it, Sing It.’ Can you give us an overview and explain why you decided to write them?

The first book is a culmination of everything I have ever done as a vocalist, musician, songwriter and teacher. It’s a lovely A5 book with about 130 pages, and it’s very powerful because even though it looks simple, it’s deliberate, to make songwriting really easy, whether it’s being used by a child or a parent or a social worker or a therapist – and all of these people are using the book now, which is wonderful. It grew out of my need to give children a way to express themselves and be able to speak their emotions in a safe and creative way without thinking ‘I can’t do this. I’m not allowed to be angry’ or ‘I’m not allowed to be sad’ or ‘I have to be how people think I should be at school all the time.’

It’s a very powerful tool for building confidence, dealing with anxiety and self-resilience and finding identity through writing your own lyrics. It’s very powerful to look at a piece of paper and go, ‘Oh, they’re my words,’ and then to add a melody to them.

It’s about permission to speak and that’s what informed the second book. As adults, when we need to release anger or emotions or whatever, we go and sit in our car and drive and listen to loud music. We are in the moment and we feel joyful or we connect with the song, and we find our identity through the playlists we have which are very unique to us. So, the message for children is, ‘If you can’t say it, sing it’ – that’s really my affirmation that sums up the two books.

3. In your introduction to ‘The Creative Songwriting Journal,’ you mentioned how, when you left school, you told your teacher you were going to be a singer and an actress. Despite their negative response, you went for it and proved them wrong. What sparked this passion and drive?

My first role was Snow White in ‘Snow White and the 30 dwarves.’ The reason it was 30 is because the teacher didn’t want to leave anyone out! So, I played Snow White and that was a powerful experience. Then nothing else much really happened until my parents divorced. That was a difficult time; I was 10, I’d just started secondary school and we moved house – a totally different area, totally different group of friends.

I was struggling with who I was and I started to express myself through music. I was listening to bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Dead Kennedys… I got really angry, and it was coming out in my dress, with my mohican, fishnets, studded belts and Doc Martens. I would lose myself in music and writing poetry. In 1983, I won a competition on our local BBC Suffolk singing ‘California Dreaming’ by The Mamas & the Papas and I won an underwater Sony Walkman. That kind of planted the seed – then, I was in various productions.

At school, I was horrific. I had the worst attendance in the penultimate year – I had 77 days attendance and was told it was the worst in school. The only thing I was good at was singing and drama and I got the lead role in a play called ‘Our day out.’ Then I played Nancy in ‘Oliver’ in an external amateur dramatics group. I thought, “This is it. This is what I’m going to do” and I knew it instinctively.

On the day the careers adviser came in and very patronisingly sat there as if to say, ‘Well, you’re going to amount to nothing. I mean look at you, you’ve got a mohican’ and said, “So what are you going to do?” And I went, “I’m going to be a singer and an actress.” And she said, “Yes, but what are you going to do for a proper job?” And I said again, “I’m going to be a singer and an actress.” Then I got angry, and I said, “I will, and I’ll show you.” And I did!

I went back to my school 10 years ago and (my heart was going) we had my old head of year on speakerphone and I said, “Well I was from class ‘89 – don’t tell her who I am, just tell her that ‘a punk is here to see you from the late 80s,’ ” and she (the now head) said, “Is that Sophie Garner?” I’m welling up now – it was amazing. She came down and we hugged, and I said to her, “I’m so sorry for everything I caused you back then,” and she said, “We all knew you were struggling but we all knew that you would end up being a singer.” I went and sat in my chair in my old classroom and I bawled my eyes out – it was incredibly cathartic. She was so proud of me, and I needed that, and it was absolute closure. She’s since asked me to go back and do a workshop – so the full circle!

 

Listen to Sophie’s interview to find out about:

  • Her thoughts on music in the curriculum – if there’s enough time devoted to music, what works well  and what key elements are missing
  • Why she is passionate about teaching songwriting to children and the benefits they gain from it
  • Her favourite songwriting activities
  • What key thing she wants you to take away about music and songwriting 

Author

  • Sophie Garner

    Sophie is a professional singer, a music and songwriting specialist, vocal coach and choir leader who has been in the music business for 30 years. She has been teaching with music for 17 years, working within schools and supporting adults with brain injuries and dementia. Sophie has written two books about songwriting.
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