Songs to save lives

Participants in It’s CPR activities © Portsmouth Music Hub

We are all aware of the power of song. The latest teaching resource from Portsmouth Music Hub offers an angle which is – literally – a life-saver. James Pinney reports.

Songs have the power to change our world. Songs can open our minds to new experiences and new emotions, and they can remind us of unforgettable moments in our lives. Songs can inspire us to learn something new about ourselves and the people we meet, they can make us laugh and cry, they can educate and challenge, and they can take our hearts and minds on surprising and wonderful adventures.

Over the past seven years (2011-7) Portsmouth Music Hub has created a series of songbooks that have been developed to support singing in schools. Each songbook has been composed to support the teaching curriculum, and they focus on a range of themes, including life under the sea, science, careers, animals and sport.

Continuing with the success of the songbook series, the Hub has recently launched a new songbook that really does have the power to change lives. The songbook is called It’s CPR and each song focusses on the techniques necessary to perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR).


Initially, Portsmouth Music Hub’s award-winning team of composers had to consider several important criteria for the development of the songbook. Firstly, the lyrics had to meet the medical standards required to implement CPR, so the songs have been written at the speed of 100-120 beats per minute which is the speed for giving chest compressions. The songs had to be composed for a specific target market, and It’s CPR has been written for Year 3-6 students. Finally, the songs, which contain important medical information, had to be user-friendly: they needed to be exciting, memorable and contemporary.

Sue Beckett, who as CEO of Portsmouth Music Hub, leads the Hub’s team of music teachers and music professionals, said:

‘From the outset, we were aware that it would be necessary to distil what might be seen as complicated medical information into a songbook format that was easy to communicate, easy to understand and easy to enjoy.  Although we composed the songs with a specific age range in mind, we had to be sure that whilst they contained everything that might be needed to teach CPR, the songs themselves had to be created with children in mind: they had to be unforgettable and fun.’

ItLed by music teachers from Portsmouth Music Hub, thousands of children from local schools have been enthusiastically learning the CPR songs and are taught the actions that accompany them. The actions form a critical part of the process, teaching the children how to perform CPR and what to do in an emergency. Heartbeats Heroes, The Defibrillator Song and The CPR Rap are just some of the songs that are inspiring the children, and, according to Sue Beckett, it’s the combination of words, music and actions that has produced such positive feedback from the teachers, the children and their parents.

Polly Honeychurch, Headteacher at Cottage Grove Primary School, said:

‘The children and teachers have really engaged with It’s CPR, and the results have been incredibly positive. The songbook is undeniably an important teaching tool, helping the children to learn about CPR, which might one day save a life, but the children have really enjoyed the music and lyrics and learning the actions.’

It’s CPR, like all the Portsmouth Music Hub songbooks, has been designed to develop children’s creativity and confidence. This forms part of the Hub’s stated mission, to ‘transform and inspire lives through high quality music and cultural engagement’, and, over the seven years since its formation, Portsmouth Music Hub has been committed to making a positive difference to children, young people and to the cultural identity of Portsmouth. Working closely with local schools, listening to their needs, developing strong relationships and engaging with thousands of children has given Portsmouth Music Hub the chance to enrich the lives of children and young people.

‘Clearly, when children enjoy the process of music-making, when they enjoy singing and performing, the results can be far-reaching’, says Julie Smith, Headteacher of Weyford Primary School, Hampshire. ‘There is undeniably a trickle-down effect, with children being inspired to enjoy their day, to work harder and learn more. The team at Portsmouth Music Hub help children develop their communication skills, their confidence and their ability to work together, and It’s CPR has been an exceptionally useful and exciting educational tool. What’s really encouraging is that months after the musicians from the Music Hub visited to teach the songs, the children are still singing them. Portsmouth Music Hub is one of our most important partners – their creativity adds real value and is truly inspirational.’

The Music Hub’s songbook It’s CPR has been enjoyed by thousands of children in Portsmouth and recently other Music Hubs from around the country have started to teach the songs to children in their areas. It is fast becoming a national teaching tool.

Sue Beckett said:

‘From the start our goal was to develop a songbook that had real appeal for children – that’s always been the benchmark for the work we do and for all the songbooks we’ve composed in the past. However, It’s CPR is different: it still has the music and lyrics that children enjoy, it’s still engaging and exciting, but we’ve deliberately developed a songbook that has an important key message. It’s a songbook that can change lives, a songbook with a social agenda. We believe that developing cultural initiatives and projects that impact on the wider community is part of our forward-thinking business model; it’s not just about creativity for its own sake, it can be about influencing and improving the world we share.’

Portsmouth Music Hub promotes strong links with schools and Partner Organisations, and each year the organisation develops dozens of events and musicals for children and young people, together with performance, ensemble and teaching opportunities, and a range of unique projects to inspire creativity. The diversity of services and the organisation’s commitment to excellence and opportunity for all has received national recognition, with Portsmouth Music Hub winning the Music Education Council’s Major Award in 2016 and 2017. In 2018, in recognition of It’s CPR and the creative, social and educational quality of the songbook, the Hub was a shortlisted as a finalist in the Music Teacher Awards for Excellence, Best Musical Initiative.

For Sue Beckett, It’s CPR goes further than just being an educational resource. ‘One of the aims of It’s CPR was to develop an initiative with a long shelf-life, and an initiative that can stimulate creativity, confidence and knowledge. Our mission is to inspire young minds, to deliver creative opportunities to every child, but if It’s CPR has helped children learn the skills they may need to one day save a life, all our work will have made a difference.’

Photo credits: Participants in It’s CPR activities © Portsmouth Music Hub

About the author

James Pinney is Strategic Development Officer for Portsmouth Music Service and Portsmouth Music Hub.

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