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Group music making with young people with mental health conditions by Sarah Wilson (Quench Arts' Wavelength Music Facilitator)

Quench Arts has recently facilitated some mini projects over the summer break at centres across Birmingham as part of their Wavelength project.

Quench Arts has recently facilitated some mini projects over the summer break at centres across Birmingham as part of their Wavelength project. One of these projects was based in the Parkview Clinic in Moseley.

The Parkview Clinic is a child and adolescent mental health service, part of Birmingham Children’s Hospital. There are three wards, which focus on different types of care and mental health conditions. All young people have round the clock care and can be at the clinic from a few weeks to over a year.

We worked in all three wards and ran group sessions, supported by the Occupational Therapists, where we tried to get the young people to form bands and work together to produce new pieces of music and write songs. We worked with the groups on a weekly basis and had two musicians with each group. Getting the young people to work together was a target that the staff at the Parkview Clinic wanted to achieve.

At first it was difficult to get the young people to engage in group work. Music is performance based, even during production, and this can cause anxiety, especially in settings such as these where young people do not know each other well, or have not performed in front of each other before. We are also teaching skills which some of the young people have already encountered and some have not so the playing field is uneven.

To ease the group through these anxieties, we worked with participants in smaller groups around different instruments of their choosing but in the same room. A natural interest arises in what others are doing and learning which starts to bring people together and confidences rise. We also let the groups dictate what they would like to make. Some started with a basic chord sequence chosen by a member of the group, others started by covering a piece that they already knew.

As the weeks progressed, confidence grew and the young people became more comfortable with us and what to expect from the sessions. Some got very attached to one instrument and gradually improved their skill level in that musical area whilst others chose to look at different instruments as we went along.

The group dynamic would change with attendance as the groups flexed around ‘leave’ and medical appointments but the young people coped with this well.

By the end of the summer holiday, the wards had successfully made six pieces of music between them - some songs, some covers and some instrumentals. We had a really positive sharing event where they played each other their music and then young people from across the wards worked together as a group to make a new piece together. The fact that they were willing to share their music with other young people and staff across the clinic shows how much more confident they had become in a relatively short amount of time, and how willing they were about working together to achieve a common goal.