Part one of a reflection of the year making music with young people in Rutland
As part of the Northamptonshire Music and Performing Arts Trust's (NMPAT) "Music Forge" project, Daniel Johnson and I have been working with the CHAOS Youth Group in Rutland. We host the workshops about once a month and its been a great opportunity to work with the same group for a full year, we have had time to explore a range of musical activities and to develop our relationship with the young people, their families and the team of staff who work closely with the group.
I look forward to these workshops, even though they are on a Saturday morning, at the end of the busy week, and an hour’s drive through the beautiful Rutland countryside to get to.
The young people are enthusiastic music makers, positive, bright, funny, direct and (sometimes brutally) honest in their opinions about you, the music and activities, and will tell you straight if they are enjoying something or not. They are also appreciative, kind and caring, along with my colleagues, the staff and families who regularly support them I have begun to feel like part of a ‘family’.
About the group:
There are about 12 young people, male and female, aged 12 to 24 years old that regularly attend the music session. There is quite a range additional needs amongst the group, which include mild to profound learning challenges, hearing impairments and two of the young people have profound and multiple learning difficulties. Although this is an important consideration in our approach and interactions, it is no longer a key focus, they are a cohesive and happy group of young people all participating in enjoying and making music.
What we have been doing
Activities we have shared with the group throughout the year include:
DJ techniques - using decks, mixing, beat matching and scratching.
Music Technology – operating music software, loop stations; drum machines, samplers and Ipads.
Making music for Films
Drums and Percussions
Playing as an ensemble
Recording and listening back
Christmas Songs and Gospel Singing
Samba and African drumming
Making reggae music
Singing Pop Songs
Use Loop stations to create music
Exploring Hip hop, urban and electronic music
Trying different instruments
The initial focus of the work was on using DJ equipment and music technology. We moved on to a wider range of instruments, exploring drumming rhythm, voice and playing as an ensemble.
Working with music for film worked really well and the young people enjoyed creating soundscapes and backing tracks to a range of projections and then sharing the final ‘movies’ with family members and the staff team.
By about September/October Daniel and I were starting to run out of ideas (and energy) and although the sessions were still engaging we felt that we all needed a change.
The key challenges we had at this point were around:
Coming up with new ideas and keeping things fresh
Energy Levels (ours!)
Keeping it ‘real’ and contemporary
Playing instruments/developing instrumental or vocal techniques (beyond drums, decks and keyboards)
To get a fuller picture of what the group were interested in doing, we hosted a session with the young people in which we reviewed some of the different activities we had already tried, we listened back to music we had made, watched videos we had produced and of musical styles, genres and instruments we had tried.
We also watched videos of and listened to other music activities that we hadn’t yet tried and the young people highlighted things they would like to try again and new things they would like to have a go at.
From this two key areas of interest were identified. The young people were keen to try Urban/beat-boxing/rap styles and ‘Being a pop or rock band’.
The Power of Three!
To re-invigorate the sessions we began to bring in new people and new activities.
Since December last year, we have been joined by Akshay Sharma, who has worked with the young people to teach beat-boxing skills and to use their voices and vocal sounds with the loop station to create original music. Through this we have explored urban, hip-hop, rapping and electronic music.
At Christmas team member Anna Marie Whittaker Johnson facilitated a Christmas singing session in which the young people sang a range of Christmas and Gospel songs.
The young people really enjoyed working with ‘Mr Shay’ and we have had very positive feedback from the young people and staff and family team.
We have found that having three people in the team has really helped, as we can have a strong lead and a clear activity to work on, allowing Daniel to focus on the technology and production side of the work, and me to focus on facilitation and supporting the group as a whole as well as being able to support individuals. As a team we can help each other throughout the session, for example those moments when something doesn’t quite work and we need to change direction! I have also appreciated the space to participate in the music making and to play my instruments (flute and electric violin) as part of the session.
Bringing new people in with energy, strong skills to share and working together to utilise good practice in leading groups has made significant improvements and the group is now in a really positive phase.
Our next session we begin the process of ‘being a band’ and we will be joined by NMPAT team drummer Joel, the young people will have the chance to try the drum kit and to learn some grooves, licks, fills and chops!