How volunteering has helped me to progress to leading sessions by Jake Cross (Youth Band Leader for The Junction project at Base Studios)

  • by nicbriggs

    Thursday, 14 December, 2017 - 12:47

How volunteering has helped me to progress to leading sessions.

Before my volunteering

This last year feels like a massive whirlwind of excitement, nerves, new opportunities and meeting fantastic supportive people. Back in September 2016, I had finished my BA in Music and found out I had achieved first class honours. I was overwhelmed by the sense of this accomplishment which I had never expected to gain and yet at the same time felt totally alone in my next decision. Education was over as I knew it and it was time to make a decision about the rest of my life.

Unexpectedly, an email came through from my tutor about applying to volunteer on a project called Musical Connections run by Quench Arts. Musical Connections is a creative music making project for isolated and vulnerable adults (mental health service users and those with physical disabilities – www.musicalconnections.info). It was as if by fate I had been thrown some kind of musical lifeline as I had no idea what else I could do. I thought to myself, I have to do this! It was only a volunteer role but I knew I needed to keep myself connected to music somehow without becoming lost in the day to day banalities of life.

Starting to volunteer

The first Musical Connections group session was amazing and scary. I was asked to set up a room to make it ready for participants. It was only plugging in instruments and moving tables around and yet I remember worrying whether it would be good enough! But I guess, most significantly, it was a whole new experience to me but one that I could use my skills to aid others to express themselves through music.

I think the most important thing I learned was it is okay to take a back seat with a shaker or playing the tambourine because from there you can observe how the session is coming across to the participants. I was worried the whole time I wasn’t contributing enough to the group and it is easy to get yourself lost within the music and enjoyment but I always thought about the main focus of the project and although sometimes you do have to lead the input to get the creative wheels turning, I learned about myself that I would prefer to enable someone else to do this and give them the fulfilment of contributing through my volunteering role.

At the end of the first session we had created this piece of music that wasn’t there before and we performed it within the group and even if we had made a few mistakes during or forgot some of the words, it was okay because the main focus had been achieved. We got in a rehearsal room, talked about what we wanted to create, wrote the song and everyone enjoyed it.

Just within that first session, I had tried to pay attention to how things were planned, executed and then reviewed so I could make myself as useful as possible for the next group sessions to let the participants get on with the music. I think my skills in technology, production and live sound aspects have really helped me to learn that being versatile as possible helps you to lead sessions.

 

Leading sessions

Late one night I had a call about getting involved in the Junction project, which came as a total shock to me as I had never heard about it before but what had happened was, one of the lead artists from Musical Connections had actually put my name forward just from volunteering on the project but I guess I must have left a good impression to be thought of so fortunately and what else could I do but accept!

After being filled in on all the details of the project and going for an interview it would now seem I would be leading two of my own youth bands, shaping them and mentoring them on how to grow, develop ideas and most importantly have a good time!

The first feeling was overwhelming excitement followed by how am I going to lead a group of young kids into anything coherent or presentable? I hardly thought my own musical way was the best path so how could I inspire these kids who would look to me for guidance?

However, I thought back to the experience I had gained from volunteering on Musical Connections sessions. Looking at the main focus of the project, it was very similar. We get in a rehearsal room, talk about what everyone wants to do, play some songs, write new material and most importantly everyone enjoys themselves! I also had some great training from The Junction’s Artistic Director who gave me loads of new tips.

Without going through the Musical Connections ‘process’, I don’t think I would have coped nearly as well without this kind of thought pattern. I had learned as a volunteer that it may be simplistic but it works for me and sometimes the simplest ideas are the most powerful.

Till next time,

Jake.

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Comments

Mark Bick's picture

Great to have such an honest account of what it is like starting out as a music leader, hopefully it will encourage others to take this step.  It takes me right back to my first sessions as a volunteer in Grassroots Cardiff in 1984! That mixture of excitment at being able to use music skills to help others get into music with the fear of not getting it right!