How important are products to musical activity with looked after children?

Why this is an important question

Community musicians will debate at length the balance between process and product. Those unfamiliar with working with looked after children may be uncertain of what standards can be achieved given possible turbulence in the cohort and often limited musical experience and yet ‘products’ often seem to be expected by grant-making bodies.

Towards answers

‘Products’ of different kinds have proved valuable in musical activity with looked after children:

  • Performances. While the usual balance needs to be struck between product and process, young people and their carers can benefit from the social as well as musical experience of putting on a performance. When this is in front of a large audience e.g.  a fostering service annual celebration or a conference, the benefit can be enhanced. Such performances can also act as useful public relations for the activity and contribute towards the securing of future funding.
  • CDs. Helping children make CDs of their activity, perhaps especially when they have written some of the songs involved, can give an enhanced sense of achievement and continued ownership.  CDs are also tangibles which they can take home, play to themselves to remind themselves of good times, and play to friends and family.
  • Other artefacts.There is some evidence that CDs or videos can be used in therapeutic ways, being used, for example, when the young person needs something familiar or to self-soothe.

Musicians and care staff  often underestimate the talent they may unearth in a music group and the capacity for performance.

Illustrations from practice

(Taken from music projects funded by Sing Up and Youth Music)

Building to a final performance was felt to be beneficial particularly for these children who often cannot take experiences or learning to completion or a conclusion (because of placement or other disruptions). A CYPS manager commented:

"It’s a really good way of saying it’s come to an end."

“It was amazing – the young people were enthralled. They all came together. The performance gave them a common call, a sense of belonging, to be part of something bigger."
(Local Authority partner)

"A live recording was made of this performance and this was made into a CD for the children to keep. The children were also asked to send in pictures which made up the design for the CD cover. The CD was then something that they had created in its entirety and something they could be very proud of."
(Project Manager)

“Musically, they were amazing, especially those who had played the CD during the holiday. There was one moment when Steve [aged 8] helped an adult singer who was having difficulty with her pitch, and Jimmy came in too. It was amazing.”

Another singing leader, echoed this saying

"I wouldn’t approach [this music] with secondary school students – but these are from primary school!’. She thought it was ‘absolutely amazing ... The whole process of children coming together to  create this."

In another project, a musician created with an 8 year old with autism, a DVD based on the sounds of a washing machine  as these  were clearly fascinating for the boy. The manager of the Independent Fostering Agency in this partnership commented:

"What is also evident is how valued the individual recordings are that are made eg. A reminder and legacy of the children's positive experiences and when listening back could be a therapeutic well-being aid. As you are aware the young person with autism has been moved and calmed by playing the DVD of his creativity."

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