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Developing emotional resilience through music making by Meldra Guza (Quench Arts’ Wavelength Music Leader)

My thoughts on developing emotional resilience through music making. 

Emotional resilience - when it comes to personal development, this is probably one of those expressions/themes that is easier to understand in hindsight.  A lot of people tend to start to think about mindfulness, mental health, and emotional balance only when they have already experienced burn out, depression, anxiety and any other mental health conditions so building up emotional resilience is often just about remembering and finding that strong person within ourselves that hides behind the fear and worries, or just rebuilding the emotional strength from the ground up.

In music, literature and other art forms, we can hear about someone's journey and how eventually they found the strength and realised their potential. It all appears so easy in songs and films - the main hero finds magic power and becomes strong and resilient to anything damaging. If only it was that easy in real life! Every single human being experiences major and/or minor changes in their life and whilst some appear to cope with anything, others struggle with even the smallest deviation from their plans. Eventually this can also be accompanied by anxiety, constant worry, as well as feeling down on oneself. Rejection, failure, personal circumstances - it all can affect one's ability to deal with everyday events.

Creative activities such as music making can be very useful when learning to take new risks, experimenting and trusting oneself as well as sometimes allowing oneself to make mistakes. It is a great opportunity to not take oneself too seriously and try something new and learn more about what we are capable of doing.  This can be done solo or in group work. Personally, I find that in my practice, group work is more beneficial in building the emotional resilience in young people as the participants often are encouraged by each other in a positive atmosphere and do not feel the pressure to perform individually. When we work with young people on Wavelength Project, we encourage a lot of creativity with practically no boundaries of what can be done in music. The young people work together and experiment with various sounds, various instruments, only softly facilitated through the technical and theoretical side of the music. It is an opportunity to create an idea, try it and gain a little bit more self-belief based on the success and praise received from music leaders and peers. Really, it is a replica of everyday situations of facing fears but it is wrapped in a pretty wrapper of music making. The young people take the risk by trusting others when they express their ideas, they trust themselves when playing an instrument, singing and showing their voice. In fact, singing can be one of the most intimidating activities if no trust and comfort is created prior to the activity and in contrast, when the trust is there, it can turn into one of the most uplifting activities.

In light of the positive attitude in group sessions, the young people learn that it is OK not to be OK at times and it is acceptable to sometimes make mistakes. It is an incredibly important understanding to gain in the world where almost everything is expected to be perfect. Sometimes young people might feel like they have no one to ask for help. In the music sessions, we encourage young people to work in pairs and help each other with their music parts, that way finding their own realistic role models; again it helps decreasing the notion that everything has to be pristine and allows the young people to set realistic aims.

As with any performance, very often there are last minute changes (someone couldn't make it; something has changed in arrangement; the stage looks different than imagined etc.). As these issues are overcome by the music leaders, the young people do not need to take any different action but it may be unsettling for them. With positive re-enforcement, they realise that literally the show must go on and it is fine to have changes in the scenario as long as everyone works together to do our best. That is one of the most valuable lessons- keep going even when things are not going to plan and that really is the whole point of building the emotional resilience- the ability to stay grounded and strong during times of change.

To summarise, I find that through music making young people learn to be kind to each other and themselves, they learn to accept that mistakes happen and not everything can be or should be perfect. They learn to encourage each other and, most importantly, they learn to stay positive whilst going through changes. The impact of music is beautiful. It is life changing.