by Author Annie Sheen

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A Musician in a Youth Work Setting - What can we learn?


I’m sitting here on a Wednesday morning, in my sixth week of a new job role. The position is the part-time Youth Music Worker with Carefree Cornwall – an amazing Cornish Youth Work charity who work with young people (ages 11-25 years) who are in and leaving care. Our music programme is funded by Youth Music and I have the exciting task of designing, administering and delivering our upcoming year of participatory music activity.

Carefree is a Youth Work charity first and foremost and to have an embedded music worker in their organisation is a step change for them. Comparatively, all my previous roles have been within music and cultural institutions - so it has been a new challenge for me to be the only music specialist amongst a team of highly-skilled Youth Workers - It has shown me just how much both sectors can learn from one another.

A Youth Worker will work with me in every one of my music sessions and I know how lucky I am to have this - a lot of Music Leaders who work in similar settings don’t have this luxury - expected to become overnight experts in how to deal with trauma, challenging behaviors, and often harrowing safeguarding disclosures. However, I think it would also be fair to say that most youth workers aren’t normally encouraged to sing in their team meetings or supported to build their musical skills and confidence alongside the young people they work with. That’s why me being at Carefree is so exciting – the possibility for internal CPD is boundless.  

A few years ago I had the pleasure of working on the design of two world-class music education CPD initiatives: Music Excellence London’s Teach Through Music and Trinity Laban’s The Teaching Musician. Both programmes’ main message lies in the importance of music being the dominant language when music leading – sounds obvious when you say it, but sadly, many things can get in the way of actually making this objective a reality. Having supported the design of these training programmes – sitting in curriculum strategy meetings and reading vast amounts of academic and pedagogical theories - I’m finding myself on the delivery side of things once again...

The work here at Carefree focusses on supporting the young people we work with to develop a stronger sense of self and place, build resilience through identity and increase confidence and self-esteem through inclusive group work – that is our mission. The charity has a range of approaches already in place to achieve these social and personal development goals and they are one of the few charities I have worked with who truly value Youth Voice. But as the Youth Music Worker I have been contemplating how these social and personal objectives can be translated and explored in my purely musical contexts.

For example - Musical Identity – what does this look like and how do I not only support it in our young people, but successfully measure it as well? How will I make group work the main focus of our music sessions while at the same time support individual progression if I need to? How will I facilitate a Person Centred Approach? How can I explore and develop more subtle skills such as empathy and self-worth in a musical way?

And finally, how can we support our young people to make the link between their musical development and their wider social, emotional and personal development as young adults? Can we come up with an evaluation framework which successfully measures this?

I guess this blogpost has been a self-indulgent reflection tool but it is also a plea for ideas, practical advice and resources on some, or all of the above.

Thanks for reading and I would love to hear from you.


@AnnieMusicEd /