Some thoughts on my work as Resident Musician at The Link CiC.
I've been working with The Link since October 2015. I started as a volunteer as part of my internship with musinc, Teesside's Music Inclusion resource. The Link is a Community Interest Company which provides interventions for vulnerable young people and families. One of the interventions is called Planet Funk, which is weekly music group for young people aged 8 and above. Planet Funk is an open access group where young people can come and go as they please. Initially the session was open to 5 -16 year olds, and now it is open to 8 - 16 year olds, although we generally have young people aged 11-16 attending the group. The group runs on a Wednesday from 16:30 - 18:00.
I first started working on Planet Funk as a volunteer as part of my internship with musinc (Teessides Musical Inclusion Resource). After a few weeks I was asked by The Link to take over the running of the group as a paid freelancer.
Initially other than the few weeks of voluntary experience I had gained, I had little experience of working as the leader of a group like this. I was nervous and excited about the prospect of leading the group and providing them with some new musical experiences.
Although the young people knew me I felt it would be best to start with agreeing some ground rules to promote good behaviour and to help the group focus their energies on being productive. When I first started leading the group there was a mix of ages, abilities and needs. There was also a marked difference in the levels of confidence in some of the participants, especially when it came to talking in front of their peers. I knew I had to find a way to get each of the participants to share what they wanted to see in the ground rules. I developed a number of different methods of encouraging each of the members to share their thoughts.
- Writing - using flipchart paper and marker pens, some of the participants wrote down their ground rules.
- Drawing - for the young people who were not confident with writing, I asked them to pictures which represented their thoughts. For instance, a young person drew people exchanging gifts as a way of saying "be kind".
- Ball Game - Some of the young people played a ball game, where the ball is passed randomly round a circle and when caught the person had to quickly state a ground rule and then pass the ball around.
- Quiet Discussion - One of the young people spoke one to one with an emotional wellbeing practitioner (employed by The Link) to help capture their thoughts.
What became apparent, was that the young people had a shared set of values which meant that the ground rules they had decided could be consolidated into a few headlines, for instance no fighting/no hitting = always be kind to each other.
After we had agreed a set of ground rules, at the beginning of the next few sessions one of the group warm ups was to recite a ground rule using the ball game mentioned previously. Since then we have regularly revisited the ground rules, especially when new members join the group or after a break.
I started of by asking the young people why they enjoyed taking part in musical activities. There was a range of responses:
- An emotional outlet
- A method of expression
- Enjoy learning new skills
- Making friends
- New experiences
At the same time as ground rules were being established, I wanted to find out what activities the group was interested in. There was a mix of abilities and interests from singing, dancing through to acting. The group was initially set up and funded by musinc as a music group so I laid down the guideline that there had to be a musical element to every session. The young people said that they were interested in putting on a show which incorporated singing, dance and acting such as a pantomime. From experience I knew how much work goes into a pantomime, even an amateur one and the level of commitment needed. I explained that in order for it to be a successful project, each participant would have to attend every session. We decided on a montage of scenes from different fairytales with music chosen by the young people and acting and dancing created by them too. My role was to facilitate the session by running it as a rehearsal and asking questions to get the young people thinking about how to solve problems. For example, the young people decided they wanted to recreate the scene from Cinderella where Cinders and the prince were dancing at the ball. I asked the young people to think about a song that might suit the scene.
At first the sessions ran smoothly with everyone turning up. After a few weeks though some of the young people had commitments outside of the group, such as appointments, homework so were not able to attend every session and the progress we had made started to stall. One of the things I learned from this episode is to keep activities simple, especially as the group was an open access one. Working with the young people, explaining that from my point of view, the pantomime was not taking shape, I encouraged the young people to think about how we could use the group to allow them to express themselves through music.
The group deciding on writing a song about the seasons, they wrote the words themselves and worked with me at the piano to create a backing track. Some of the young people composed a dance for the song and performed the entire piece in one of the sessions in front of parents.
Since the days when I first started at Planet Funk the session has changed considerably. The age range has changed from 5 - 16 to 8 -16, although as mentioned in the introduction the age range of attendees is generally 11-16. I felt that the mix of age ranges 5 -16 was not conducive to a productive session so I asked The Link to consider a separate group for the young people aged 5 - 8. The reason for this was that the quality of output we could achieve was being diluted by the extra attention the younger attendees needed. This was affecting the enjoyment of the older and more able attendees and also affecting the enjoyment of the younger ones due to the difficulty of the music we were trying to learn. Since we have split the age ranges the group has become much more productive. We have been able to record some music in a local recording studio and are now in the process of creating a charity concert to raise money for The Link.
One of the activities we are currently doing is song writing. The group have decided that they would like to write an anti bullying song. To do this I asked each of them to tell me what their favourite song was. I printed out the lyrics of the songs, cut them up and mixed them up. As a starting point the young people started to out the lyrics into an order they felt reflected the subject matter and from there started to add their own lyrics.
As a rule the sessions run to the below format:
Feedback and Close
It is important to keep as close to this as possible as some of the participants like the routine and structure and find it helps them to stay focused. An example of a session plan is attached.
The feedback element of the session is really important. At the end of the session the group sits in a circle and each young person answers the question "What have you enjoyed about todays session?" Care is taken to allow time for some of the group members to gather their thoughts and process the question. This part of the session helps me to determine which activities the young people enjoyed. Once a participant has told the group what part of the session they enjoyed I ask them what specific part of an activity they enjoyed.
We also include a star of the week section in the close, where the staff member and I will discuss and agree who is star of the week. The star of the week is given a small bar of chocolate and in front of the group is told specifically why they are star of the week.
Here's a list of what I've learned about running successful music sessions from leading Planet Funk
- Keep things simple
- Ask questions instead of dictating
- Keep promises
- Listen to the participants
- Give time for participants to process questions
- Work with staff to find the best ways to approach situations with young people
- Have a number of activities planned in case something doesn't work
- Keep fun as the central aim to any activity