As we move into the new year, it seems that this strange state of being is here to stay for a while in 2021. Last year was a huge learning curve for me, as it was for most of the country. At the start of the year, I was gearing up for becoming a part of the Plugin project team, looking forward to getting stuck into working with some great people and a line of work I hadn’t explored before. Although the work I was actually able to do with Quench was so different from what we had all expected because of Covid complications, I learned so much over the year, not just professionally but personally too.
The move over to online session delivery was unchartered territory for everyone. Music is such an interactive, in the moment experience and process, that working out how we could make music together through our computer screens was quite daunting. With the obvious issues of latency, meaning we couldn’t even clap in time together, there were several hurdles that I hadn’t faced in my own playing experience before. At the start of the project, before we could get the online live sessions set up, we were building up a supply of resources for people to use at home or in hospital. Making and editing videos wasn’t something I’d had much experience in, and I felt very uncomfortable in front of the camera talking away to myself. However, as time went on, I started to understand the process more and more, and whilst I’m still not desperate to record myself speaking, it’s a much less intimidating task, and I know how to approach it in a way that produces a clear, concise lesson or message. I have continued to frequently use the video editing skills that I have learned, putting together videos for a choir, so they could still sing together from their own houses, and in my own musical ventures, making short videos of myself playing covers. I think this skill will serve me for a very long time and is something I wouldn’t have come onto naturally if it wasn’t for the circumstances we found ourselves in this year on the project.
Even though we weren’t able to deliver any in-person sessions in the settings I was working in, I had the pleasure of working in different ways with two brilliant lead artists. In the sessions with Paul Carroll, we were working with people individually in their homes over Zoom via Forward Thinking Birmingham’s Blakesley Centre. These taught me a lot about tailoring session plans to the specific interests of the participants. We spent a lot of time exploring what was going to engage them the most, what kinds of music, songwriting approaches, and session structures that suited each individual’s needs. This led to such good results, and it really felt that we were able to build up interest and confidence with music in the people we were working with. In the other sessions at Birmingham Children’s Hospital’s Parkview Clinic with Katie Stevens (Lead Music Leader) and Holly Kehoe-Kingsley (Young Music Leader), the sessions were very different: an ever-changing selection of people, working in groups on one camera. The fact that we could never be sure exactly who we would be working with in any sessions, or if the people we’d been working with would be back, meant that we had to be really flexible, making a plan fully in the knowledge that it might need to be thrown out the window. Despite this, the work we were able to do was amazing: getting right into the songwriting with lots of different participants using loads of different techniques and genres to great effect, and being able to hear people playing music together, singing, rapping, playing the ukulele, and keyboards. In the short space of time we had to learn about them at the start of the session, Katie was brilliant at making conditions right for them to perform or write with us comfortably.
Both of these sets of sessions instilled a lot of confidence in my abilities to be able to plan and deliver sessions that really focus on the interests of the participants, seeing it done so effectively and getting to be a part of the process, as well as learning to be able to improvise and swiftly change up plans to suit any unexpected changes or opportunities. From this experience, I’ve had the confidence to take an offer of being a music leader, planning and delivering sessions with schools, which is something I would have been doubtful of my ability to do if I hadn’t had the chance to be involved with these sessions, and have the opportunity to learn from the two wonderful music leaders I got to work with on the Plugin project. The experience I’ve had here has really widened my scope of potential work in my future, as well as given me skills for my own life and creative pursuits, learning how to read and understand people and how to connect and work with them in a positive way, and many strategies to stay creative and connected with musicians and musical work, however long this lockdown needs to last.