Club Soda took their Soda Beat Session to 10 schools around Croydon.
These enabled young people with learning disabilities to be creative, learn new skills and overcome any barriers to getting involved in music.
My name is Sam Baldwin and I am a music facilitator for the charity Club Soda. Based in East Croydon, Club Soda works with and for people with learning disabilities. For the past 2 years we have been delivering music workshops called Soda Beat Sessions, for young people aged between 14 and 25 with learning disabilities. These workshops have been a place for young people to come and meet others interested in music, practice on different instruments and learn in a fun environment. The sessions have been really successful and a real pleasure to be part of.
Since September 2016, Club Soda has been given funding to take the sessions to 10 schools in the Croydon area. We wanted to reach out to young people that either hadn't heard about the project or thought about getting involved in music. The aim of the outreach sessions was to encourage new students to come along to our weekly sessions.
We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to co-facilitate and learn from Graham Dowdall, a fantastic musician who is involved in many community music projects, as well as lecturing a course in community music at Goldsmiths University.
The sessions generally went like this: Myself, Graham and Alexander Holmes would arrive at the school, set up our equipment and wait for the students to roll up. We'd bring with us guitars, an electric drum kit, percussion and iPads with some fantastic accessible music apps (I’ll put a list of these apps at the end). Once all the students were together, we'd spend 15 minutes on relationship building - introducing ourselves and getting to know everyone. Our first piece would always be a warm up, which consisted of creating an 'old skool' house beat by stamping, clapping and hissing. This gets everyone moving and in the right frame of mind to start making music.
From here we would bring instruments in 1 by 1 usually staring with the drum kit. Once all the instruments are involved and we had spent a little time 'jamming' the students would become more confident and start showing more creative freedom. This seemingly simple structure made music making incredibly accessible - It was great to see people who may have never touched a guitar before go from tentatively plucking the strings to full on rocking out in half an hour. Graham would act as a conductor, keeping the group in time and randomly inviting a student at a time to do a solo. It was a really great way to every student a moment to be the focal point and have some ownership over their creativity.
With the sessions only being 2 hours long, often this could take up the majority of our time. Certain groups would want to continue evolving this jam piece and others would want to move on. For those groups wanting to move onto something new, we chose 'We Will Rock You' as a song to play. It appears there isn't a person in the entire Croydon - and surrounding areas - that hasn't heard We Will Rock You! It's a really great and easy song to play in a large group as the drum part can be split across the group. It's also a fantastic opportunity to bring in a microphone for anyone who would like to have a chance to sing.
If we had time at the end, we would create a final piece built around the creative imaginations of the group. Asking the students to say a word or sound that reminded them of the beach and, using some of the more ethereal sounds on the iPad apps we would enable the group to make a piece that attempted to emote the feeling of being relaxed on the beach to end the sessions.
Working in a variety of schools meant that I could see how they varied as institutions - some clearly held creative expression as a priority and others seemed to be bowing under the pressure of 'exam culture' that young people face today. It felt really important that we could bring the culture of Club Soda - focusing on valuing every person with a learning disability as a talented and creative individual - into as many schools as possible to reach young people who may not be able to come along to our sessions, or who just needed the encouragement from a facilitator to come.
People with learning disabilities are sadly one of the most marginalised groups in our society – it’s vital that from the age where young people transition into adulthood, people are able to see how much they can achieve when given the chance. Having the opportunity to be creative, and to take ownership of creativity is central to this. Taking the Soda Sessions out to local schools has made me more convinced than ever that music builds communities, and communities build music – enabling young people with learning disabilities to become a part of Croydon’s music scene has broken down barriers.
It was a fantastic experience for me and hopefully all of the students who attended the workshops.
For anyone reading this who is interested in joining, or supporting somebody to join, the weekly sessions...They are every Monday, currently help at Rockbottom rehearsal rooms near West Croydon station. For more details please contact. . .
The apps I’ve mentioned are. . . Garage Band, MadPad HD and especially Thunbjam (that one is GREAT).