We are always talking about Musical Beacons and the amazing community we work with in Bow, but it's not often enough that we shout about the people behind the project! The brilliant musicians that facilitate and create such an inspiring and creative space. This blog is all about our fantastic Project Assistant, Susie, and her story through Musical Beacons.
Musical Beacons has been running in Bow since 2012 and in that time it has dramatically evolved. Children and families have come and grown through the project, instruments have been taken-up and learned, facilitators have advanced their training and the Soundcastle family has grown substantially. We published our Theory of Practice back in 2016 and since then have been training our team in our own unique philosophy around music making and community autonomy. We are delighted that our work has attracted some outstanding practitioners to join our team. Musicians from all genres - classical, jazz, rock - have journeyed with us at Musical Beacons and today we are featuring our brilliant Project Assistant & cellist, Susie Blankfield.
Susie joined the team as a volunteer two years ago and it is an absolute joy collaborating with her. Susie has a wealth of education and performance experience, which you can read about on her website here: https://www.susieblankfield.com/. She is a graduate of Bristol University and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and now gigs with some fantastic musicians, including Biffy Clyro. She teaches for Tower Hamlets Music Service, is Community Ambassador for the London Symphony Orchestra and now a core member of the Soundcastle team in London.
In this blog she shares her thoughts and experiences of Musical Beacons:
- When you first got in touch with Soundcastle, what were you hoping for?
- I wanted something different to go alongside my schools teaching. I was interested in the benefits that non-traditional, less prescriptive music-making could have on the wider community and wanted to watch experienced facilitators in action.
- You are an inspiring member of our Musical Beacons team. How would you describe Beacons to someone who has never been?
- We have a lot of fun! The team is super friendly. In terms of writing music, we listen to and incorporate everyone’s ideas and this creates a really exciting mix of themes and styles. The sessions are very positive and full of energy and we bring together people of all ages.
- Favourite Musical Beacons track so far?
- We wrote a fantastic song for the Aldgate lantern parade. It had a really catchy gospel-style chorus which was written by some of the mums in our group, and it had a rap section which the children really enjoyed! We also wrote a great accompaniment for all the facilitators to play which really added to it. (SoundCloud Link attached!)
- Musical Beacons is full of both joyful moments and creative challenges. What has been your most challenging moment to date?
- We’ve had a real mix of group sizes and dynamics, so it can sometimes be challenging to stick to a session plan. This means I’ve often had to be really on the ball to make sure as many people as possible are getting the most out of the session.
- What has been your Musical Beacons highlight? (Social, professional or musical!)
- Being part of such a fab team! Musically, everyone brings something different to the table and we share our experiences and skills both in the planning and execution of the project. We’ve also had some really interesting training days which have given me a lot to think about (and read!)
- Why do you think Musical Beacons is important?
- It is empowering! We create music that reflects the interests and experiences of the group and bring lots of different people together. Our music-making isn’t patronising or intimidating: it can vary from simply using our voices to having a full orchestra of percussion, chime bars and ukuleles. We provide a space for members of the community to express themselves and explore music in a way which is personal and beneficial for them without the prescriptiveness of a curriculum.
- Has being part of Soundcastle impacted on your creative practice? If so, how?
- Yes – I’ve learnt to think on the spot, be more adaptable and make music from complete scratch. I’m now a lot more used to working with mixed age groups (particularly adults, which I didn’t have much experience of), and bringing all of these people’s ideas together to create one piece of music. This is a really useful skill!
- What gem of advice would you give to a musician looking to start their journey into community music?
- Be prepared for your expectations of music-making to be completely overturned! Try as many things as possible, watch as many facilitators as possible and get stuck in as much as you can! Community arts is never about watching from the sides...
So there you have it! We hope you've enjoyed reading Susie's Beacons experiences and we'd love to hear your thoughts. Susie, thank you for taking the time for this interview, it's a pleasure having you on the team and we look forward to more musical adventures together soon!
Rachael, Gail, Hannah & Jenni