This is the final blog in a series of 3, with sample testimonies from participants and Music Leaders, talking about their experience in B Sharp.
B Sharp’s last Youth Music Fund B programme is winding up. As part of the evaluation process, Music Leaders were asked to respond to various questions concerning their practice and how young people responded, as well as how they have personally developed as a Music Leader, both musically and personally.
This blog gives excerpts from one Music Leader’s report. It is a good example of how music making, leading and life long learning can develop people musically, personally and socially.
The constructive thoughts at the end, about how B Sharp can improve its delivery and practice, has helped inform our plans for the future and our next application for investment support. We agree it would be good to create a part time role for an equipment manager and we also want to develop our Music Leaders' ability and capacity to explore, plan and deliver projects of their own, under the B Sharp umbrella, working directly with partners, participants and their families, and the B Sharp team.
B Sharp member since 2008:
Age 12-16: Participant.
17-21: Occasional trainee leader positions, working in schools and leading projects, and attending University.
22-24: Assistant music leader, CPD training, now a Principle Music Leader.
I progressed through these roles, benefitting from contact time with a huge variety of different workshop leaders, finding bands with B Sharp participants and being pushed by those surrounding me, as well as supported personally by B Sharp's brilliant support workers. The breadth of experience I gained through B Sharp, mainly in terms of stylistic awareness and the social aspects of working with musicians has given me the confidence to lead workshops, teach at a local level and play nationally and internationally with a range of musicians.
Currently involved professionally in music part time, playing gigs nationally and internationally as well as teaching music and running workshops on a freelance basis. The main challenge which B Sharp has helped me to overcome has been finding supplementary work to support my gigging in a rural area. B Sharp offered me training and workshop job opportunities to support my weekly income and open up career and educational pathways. B Sharp also supported me as a participant for many years as a school student and provided training, which connected me with others who have been vital to my career and lifestyle today.
Areas of Music Progression for participants and as a Music Leader
- Instrumental skills: On instruments which I am proficient in, I often found opportunities to impart knowledge on a one to one basis within a workshop session, especially when breaking out into smaller groups. On less familiar instruments, I found myself working on these skills at home in order to guide participants in the next session. Alternatively, I would use workshop time to work on an idea/riff with the participants as a team,to explore and develop both mine and the participants’ skill sets.
- Singing: I have worked consistently with singers who are finding their confidence, developing their range and recognising their limitations. Less confident singers were encouraged and supported by myself and trainee Music Leaders. Two participants in particular (Bridport ensemble) have unmistakably skyrocketed in their confidence and enthusiasm as they have found their style over the course of roughly 14 months. From singing hunched over and away from the microphone, to delivering confident and proficient solo passages of difficult melody and lyrical content. This progression has been a joy to watch and listen to. Through singing examples to workshop participants, I have also gained confidence and deftness in my vocal ability as a leader.
- Composition: The use of different starting points for composition has proved a good way to draw on participants creativity as well as my own. For example, challenging the participant to use a set rhythm as the basis for a vocal line, or to arrange non-diatonic chords in the best way.
- Improvisation: is something I aim to incorporate into every single session, either in a warm up with rhythmic clapping/vocal shouts or within the songwriting process e.g. melodic improve over a rhythm section loop. This has allowed participants to feel free-er and more confident to try out ideas and become more efficient in the songwriting process.
- Performance: Young peoples performance of material in front of an audience has been enhanced by working on the categories above, to develop musical confidence. When a performance is near, we work on stagecraft and our sound as performers, as well as dynamics as a group. One piece from the Bridport ensemble featured a fairly standard chord progression, however made use of texture and dynamics to challenge the young participants to tune in to the way they perform. This seems to be reflected in the awareness of how we perform all of our material nowadays.
- Technology: The main exposure and experience that young people I have worked with have gained is in a) the recording studio and b) professional live stage setups. In the studio, groups from Lyme Regis and Bridport have had opportunities to learn about studio technology in the recording process and in turn reflect on their performance of recorded work. They have been able to use DAW software with studio engineers to make creative choices and learn how to shape the sound of their work with professional technology. In mentoring them through this and working with the studio engineer, I have crystallised my knowledge of the fundamentals in this area. In the live music domain, all the groups of young people I’ve worked alongside have been given the rare opportunity to work with top of the range sound equipment and first class sound engineers on occasions. This kind of opportunity puts our young musicians at such an advantage in understanding the all-important technological aspects, which could be considered the backbone of the live music scene.
Personal and Social development
Developing young peoples personal, social and leadership skills is a big focus in my approach to workshop leading. Over the course of the different sessions, I have tried to quickly identify those who could benefit from working outside or on the edge of their comfort zone, in fun and challenging social situations. For unconfident individuals, allowing them to lose themselves in a fun musical activity or game has been an invaluable way to enable them to contribute later in the session when they are relaxed. For those who have been more confident, allowing them to take responsibility for a sectional rehearsal of parts has challenged their personal development and leadership. One young guitarist from both Bridport and Lyme ensembles has developed in their interpersonal skills in a big way. Initially they had huge amounts of confidence which sometimes meant they lacked tact when working with less experienced musicians. Having been given responsibilities as trainee Music Leader, this individual developed tolerance and encouraging understanding for musicians who are less experienced and now seems to be an exemplary young leader with a rounded approach.
In terms of my own development, I can’t see a better environment in which one could simultaneously develop their personal, social and music leadership skills. Leadership is intrinsically linked to the personality and temperament, and I have uncovered many personal flaws of my own which I have been able to confront, having had no choice but to lead groups every week. When starting Bridport Jams (a project I spearheaded) I was near enough quaking inside knowing that I had to lead a high quality session from start to finish, consult with parents, and have my work observed by national Music Leader mentors. Now, I couldn’t feel further from that feeling and the relaxed confidence I feel in session now also benefits my day-to-day life.
Since 2015, I participated in several intensive periods of CPD. As well as compositional and technical mentoring, I also had regular mentoring to help me to deal with more specific workshop issues and develop my own approaches to further my level. This included being filmed and assessed to give me awareness of my weaknesses and strengths. The Music Leaders providing the training were of such high caliber and awareness of all aspects of the Music Leader role that they achieved instant results for me, and many of my colleagues. I felt enthused by the sessions and ready to take on the next level of my leadership, which included setting up my own style of workshop in Bridport.
Thoughts about B Sharp
B Sharp is an obvious presence with its connections and contributions to the local education system. In recent years, B Sharp has provided highly inspirational, fresh approaches in addition to school musical education. To me, B Sharp’s approaches are generally less academic and relate directly to a realistic creative world within the music industry. A notable project was the large-scale singing project, which was a collaboration between Dorset’s primary and secondary schools. Originally composed music, challenging vocal arrangements, accompanied by a world class backing band, performed in the Lighthouse performance centre in Poole, Dorset. This is the kind of real world creative project that schools simply wouldn’t have the capacity to coordinate. It was an astoundingly inspirational experience for both school students (some of whom were not necessarily interested in music initially) and for Music Leaders who could support and learn from the process. The discipline required to participate challenged these young people to develop personally.
Suggestions for the future
My most important suggestion would be with regard to B Sharp equipment and instruments. I feel that to step B Sharp workshops up to a higher level, an equipment manager/coordinator would help (perhaps a role that a Music Leader could fulfill). I think this would be more cost effective over a long period of time, with less gear breakages through maintenance and storage.
Another point is with regard to the workload of music leaders. I have enjoyed a varied lifestyle and varying levels of work through B Sharp. However, when there are lots of different income streams as a musician, I feel I can naturally waver in commitment/level of engagement. I can imagine that less leaders working for B Sharp but for more of the time and pursuing admin roles/equipment maintenance in non workshop hours could be a model worth trying, thus making their focus B sharp 100% of the time instead of an extra commitment/income stream. Nevertheless the model that my colleagues and I have worked under has also been effective and of course enjoyable.