by Author Tjohnfranklin

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Multicultural Music Making in Birmingham

Multicultural Music Making is a high-quality music in education programme for young people in Birmingham. Each week small groups of Key Stage 2 young musicians explore a range of music tradtions, composing original work, and engaging critically with international sounds. The choice of music is based on the heritage of the young people, as we seek to connect to their parents' and grandparents' cultural and musical traditions and understand the global journey of people, stories and music. As the musicians grow in skill and confidence they perform to one another's schools, families and neighbours, sharing what they've learned and created in their communities.  

In February 2016 I attended a Multicultural Music Making (MMM) workshop at St Patrick’s School in Birmingham. Natalie Mason has been working with 3 schools in the Ladywood area of Birmingham since September 2015. In this project small groups of Key Stage 2 young musicians explore a range of music traditions, composing original work, and engaging critically with international sounds. This was the first time that all three groups were coming together to form a larger group and share what they have been learning. It was a great introduction to the project for me as a new member of the administration team at Friction Arts. We joined the group whilst Natalie encouraged the young people to mix with each other, playing a range of games and exploring different songs. There was singing, dancing and smiling as children from one school taught us a circle song from Cameroon, a place many of the children have connections to. And we used body percussion inspired by the Garifuna drumming of Belize, a place another pupil has family from, working together to create a series of beautiful rhythms.

I remember my childhood and what singing at dancing was like at school for me. In the mornings during assembly we would sing Christian hymns. I never really thought deeply about what I was singing, and the meaning was never explained to me. I did look forward to it, and to hymn practice because I just loved to sing so much. In later years I recall learning songs from Disney movies that we sang for our parents, and that is as far as it got. As a child, my Punjabi and Indian heritage remained at home when I left for school, and I could feel the clear divide between my family and cultural way of life from what I was taught in the classroom. When I see these young people in Ladywood, who have parents that were born in different parts of the world, I am so pleased that their culture and music is being explored in school at such a young age. The music traditions being studied are all based on the heritage of the young people in groups, with an intention to connect to their parents’ and grandparents’ cultural history. MMM has been designed to understand the global journeys of people, stories and music and whilst doing this the young people grow in confidence, performing for their schools and one another’s families.

Natalie the lead artist on MMM worked closely with Friction Arts to develop the core programme whilst being mentored closely by Sandra Hall, Co-Director of Friction Arts. I can see clearly how the vision and commitment from all partners including teachers and parents are enabling MMM to move forward positively. In our workshop the young people were invited to work in small groups, working with children from other schools, to discuss and explore ideas for their final performance. We spoke about set and design, food and logistics, and musical ideas for their new composition, part of the performance devised for their family and friends to see. We encourage them to think about the ways in which they are connected between the three schools, and the possible themes for our concert. One girl comments, “we are all from the same solar system”.

It’s a privilege to be part of a group of intelligent young people thinking so creatively, beyond the realms of the world we inhabit. We can all learn from this, adults and children alike. It’s a joy to creatively celebrate our differences in a project such as this one, drawing upon the things we have in common as we work toward a more healthy and vibrant society.

Harpreet Kaur

Administrator, Friction Arts.