In April 2020 Soundcastle was planning to continue our Musical Beacons project in Langthorne Park in Leytonstone, London. We were going to inhabit a community space attached to a play park and bring local families together to write music and play musical instruments. As COVID 19 hit we had just enough warning to get our instruments out of the centre and we were into lockdown. We decided to embrace the new landscape and try Musical Beacons on zoom. It was steep and sudden learning curve. Our youngest members were 0 and our oldest were…let’s say they were grandparents! Chiel Busscher and I navigated a whole new world of creative facilitation inside a box on our computer screens. We’re still thinking about the journey which is by no means finished. But at this moment here are 7 things we have learnt from working on Zoom:
1. It is possible to bring people together online - it has value. There might be different rules, but you can connect! It is not the same but after a while we started to understand this space as ‘other’ rather than ‘less good than live’. In fact, for some community members the format worked incredibly well, allowing them space to focus and control the sound levels.
2. Engagement can look different – possibly there are even more forms online than in real life. For us this has meant considering young people and adults OFF the screen (when they were too shy), painting, jumping on a sofa, nappy changes and the use of virtual backgrounds. All of this has complex implications for how you ‘read the room’ (read the call?) as a facilitator.
3. For people to stick with it you need the whole family. Zoom is not a babysitter. Taking part requires buy in from everyone affecting the home environment. This can be a hard sell but a vital conversation to ensure there are fair expectations for the families and facilitators.
4. When the home set up is supportive you realise that the families are in their safe space. This means that creative challenge is definitely possible. In fact, it dramatically changes the dynamics of this compared to a live setting.
5. Don’t be scared to unmute! Once we began considering the possibilities of free music making we were finally brave enough to end the tyranny of the mute button. While the mute button is very important for communication and clarity, having moments where it can be off for everyone gave us great moments of musical connection. We had let go the expectation of pulse and we were able to create satisfying musical experiences.
6. Zoom is great for moving. The box is an intriguing frame than can focus your attention on physical gestures of all sizes. Finding the gestures and movements that worked in this space were key to us finding a shared musical landscape with the groups.
7. Come back to connection. Feeling connected is a core value of our music making and it was vital to return to this again and again. The rituals that brought us together, like the greeting and goodbye song gave us a structure that allowed the free music making to flourish.