by Author nicbriggs

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Music Transforms by Victoria “ViX” Perks (Music Leader on Quench Arts’ Plugin Project)

Whilst I had decades of experience working with people who had mental health issues in various settings, this was the first time that I had worked on a long term project in a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) hospital. The in-patients are between 12 and 18 years old, staying anything from short term (a week or a few weeks) up to 18 months or even longer.

On reflection, at the end of my first year of delivery (with another year already confirmed) the overriding impression, and phrase, that keeps popping into my mind, is “Music Transforms”. Sometimes this transformation would take a few weeks or months (one session per week) but frequently within a few sessions, even within a single short session.

I’d like to share a few examples to encourage and inspire you.

Staff had given some context to my Young Music Leader and me about a YP who was “a really big, tall lad” who was “prone to violent outbursts” so had 3 staff with him at all times. However, throughout the six sessions that we worked with him, he presented as a pleasant, polite, bright young man, who was an absolute delight to work with! He progressed rapidly, initially playing us cover songs such as “Wonderwall” (Oasis) on the guitar, then soon got to grips with Logic Pro, programming drum patterns on the midi pads (he revealed that he was also a drummer, which surprised the staff) and he recorded an original, experimental rock track with live guitar.

The session that he, and my Young Music Leader enjoyed most, was when the YML led a session on how to use DJ decks. Within an hour he was mixing tracks, and myself and other staff members were getting up dancing, clapping and singing along. He loved entertaining us all with these new skills and we discussed how he could potentially earn some money going out DJing and doing something he loved. He decided that he definitely wanted to carry on doing music once he was discharged and his parents supported this decision by buying him the equipment! As he left, he shook our hands and said, “Thanks for everything you’ve taught me!” The Activity Coordinator was so pleased with his progress in and outside of our sessions exclaiming, “He’s virtually unrecognisable from the young lad that started here a few months ago!”

A female Young Person we worked with made a positive start, but arrived at the second session with her hoodie up, and seemed very low and withdrawn, with defensive body language. Prior to the session, staff had spoken to her about an issue and she said she didn’t want to sing today. I suggested we listen to the track anyway, and then we could decide what she wanted to do/how she felt - it was up to her. We put the mellow RnB backing track on and the vibe in the room completely changed. We smiled at each other and I modelled positive responses, quietly humming and nodding along to the music. She suddenly got up and started humming on the mic and improvised some lyrics on the spot. I got some of the staff members up dancing and it was just amazing to see how her mood was transformed by music! I congratulated her on engaging, even though she hadn’t initially felt like it, and enjoyed a great session. I pointed out how different she was when she came in with her hood up feeling low, not wanting to do music and asked how she felt now, and she grinned and said “Much better!” We laughed and the whole room applauded her. She loved the positive attention and understood how music can elevate your mood.

We worked with another Young Person for just 2 sessions. Again, we were notified about violent tendencies and that they required 4 members of staff who stood very close to her at all times. Thankfully, it was clear that the YP felt an instant rapport with me and I didn’t feel threatened at all. They first entered the room with their hoodie up and said they had changed their mind, because they were too scared and were going to leave. I joked, “Oh no, is it my pink hair that’s put you off already?!” They said they loved my hair, so I encouraged them to come in and just have a chat and listen to some songs on YouTube and then decide.

The staff told us that they had only mentioned the Plugin project the previous day, but the new YP had written 2 sets of lyrics at 3am! They had never written lyrics/a song before, so it was fantastic that this project was the impetus. They then trusted me to hear them read their lyrics out loud, but nobody else was allowed to listen!

My YML introduced Splice, and we created an original track together. The YP then recorded their lyrics in a spoken word style, insisting that all other staff turn away and cover their ears! Despite initially being really nervous, they acknowledged the buzz that they felt when they’d recorded the song and heard it back. The YP exclaimed, “You know I was literally TERRIFIED?! It sounds really good though, I like it!”

Considering they were so scared and inexperienced, I was really pleased that they were keen to perform for the Sharing Event the next week. They even spoke to the audience, and cried about how they had written the song to apologise to their parents and thank them for sticking by them. Staff were very surprised and pleased with how the project had helped raise their self-esteem, self-expression and confidence.

For me, these uplifting success stories continue to illustrate music’s miraculous (dare I say “magical”) ability to transform one’s mood, provide a positive outlet for expression and inspire a future full of possibilities. As a Music Leader of many years, the key for me is still the same as it ever was; to build genuine rapport with our participants in a supportive, fun, creative environment and to remain open-minded, open-hearted and optimistic. Of course, it’s not an exact science; we can’t ‘win’ them all, but we can provide a nurturing environment, where music has the opportunity to encourage, empower and inspire us all to grow and thrive.

To conclude… Music Transforms.