After retiring from B Sharp a couple of year's ago, I've briefly come back to help write a grant application. I asked to look at recent testimonies from young people about what music making with B Sharp means to them. One was written by a participant who has recently been diagnosed as 'high functioning Aspergers'. It was a very powerful story, both in style and content, about her thoughts as the participant approached our workshop, the angst that ticked over in the background and then the joy and release of tension upon arrival.
In order to anonymise it, I'm calling the participant 'Sam' and I'm just sharing the punch lines of B Sharp's impact.
"Being there is so much more than making music.
And at B-Sharp, we make so much more than music.
We make people’s lives.
And you know what I think now?
I think year ten, I think stress and GCSEs.
But you know what I also think?
I think finally getting the therapy I never knew I needed.
I think finally being relatively comfortable in my own body, or at least motivated to make it the way I want it to be.
And I think finally, friends. People who ask me how I am, spontaneously, because they are genuinely interested in how I feel, they’re not just looking for a polite conversation starter. And people who know me. Know my quirks and my flaws, and adjust to them. For me.
There are still so many hurdles I need to clear, so many problems to solve.
But you know what?
I’m actually quite looking forward to it"
The participant's parent wrote to us and said, "B Sharp is massive for Sam and also for us, her family. She has struggled with mental health issues for several years, finally being diagnosed as high functioning Aspergers; to say that she has struggled to find her way both at school and socially would be an understatement. She's been teaching herself guitar for about eighteen months as well as writing songs and music to help bring some clarity to the confusion that often comes with being both a teenager and autistic.
"Then, about a year ago, she took a huge step and went along to the Hub Jam at B Sharp. Sam had the most brilliant time and now rarely misses a session. Passionate about music, she's now able to be taught/mentored/inspired by people who welcome her and don't judge her, who encourage her to do things she never thought possible in a million years - like busking solo with her guitar on the Cobb for the Busking Festival - like playing on stage at the B Sharp party and also producing work for an experimental music event. As a parent, B Sharp has been truly exceptional for our child and it has our wholehearted support."
This sort of feedback is important for government and education policy makers to hear. I'm sure other organisations, working under the umbrella of Youth Music and its Quality Framework, have other powerful young people's testimonies. With the national trend of schools cutting back music resources due to government pressure on curriculum priorities, the non-formal music education sector is becoming more and more important in filling the gap that schools should be providing, not just for music as a subject, but as an opportunity for all round personal development and confidence building. Creating a welcoming and non-judgemental environment for young people to create and play music together really does make life changing differences.
I am so pleased for Sam and I hope she coninues her musical and personal journey with B Sharp. As a wider lesson, it shows that a relatively small and well placed investment early in children and young people's lives could save the state a whole bunch of support money later. Think long term, think holistically.