My transition from Shadow Artist to leading one-to-one sessions on Quench Arts' Wavelength mini Summer project at Birmingham Children's Hospital's Parkview Clinic.
When I started Wavelength, I already felt fairly confident leading music sessions. I had run, during the last year of my degree, around 100 music sessions in various day centres and care homes for children and adults with disabilities. However before I started Wavelength, I had a very limited understanding and knowledge of mental health wellbeing, except those conditions linked to physical disabilities.
When I joined Quench to work on the Wavelength Group sessions as a shadow music artist, the sessions were a totally different environment to what I was expecting. I had anticipated a simplified workload for the participants, for example asking them for help with lyrics, getting them to sing – possibly with shakers - whilst the lead musicians played supporting instruments. In actuality, the participants were highly capable, bright and funny. They were clever with lyric ideas and able to play a range of instruments to a good standard.
To learn more, I attended the Mental Health First Aid training course. The MHFA training gave me an understanding that mental health issues can happen to anyone at any time and do not make up a whole person or define who that person is. The course also gave me a deeper understanding of those around me, not just Wavelength participants but close friends who have suffered with depression.
Besides this eye opening understanding, the group sessions taught me many other skills. I learnt about band set up. I had never worked with a live band before, or in any pop music genre, my closest experience being musicals and singing with a band in an orchestral pit. I learnt about GarageBand and Logic as resources for both starting a song creatively and using them purely for an end recording. I learnt multiple ways of creating a song, for example either starting with chords or starting with lyrics, and the different ways to find lyrics. I learnt to assist participants in playing their instruments, for example finding chords on ukulele or keyboard.
Wavelength has mini projects in settings where the young people cannot access the community project. My mini project was in Birmingham Children's Hospital Parkview Clinic (which has 3 CAMHS wards). As a progression from the shadow role, I was ask to lead some sessions over the summer holiday.
All the skills I had learnt in the community project made for an easy transition into the mini project, where I was able to support various instruments. Most frequently requested was the keyboard, but once introduced, the most exciting to participants was the electric violin, which required a little more brain power and technique to achieve the basics, but created a good sound the participants were thrilled to hear.
The other element that transitioned naturally was helping participants to write new songs. At first I was apprehensive about being in charge of the whole process. I was taken aback by the honesty of the participants’ lyrics, many choosing to write about their time on the wards and express their frustration of their situation through the lyrics. But the open way with which the participants joined in allowed them easy ownership of the project and gave them a willingness to create something new.
The difficult part on the mini project was having such an open plan. I worked alongside Wavelength Lead Artist James, and together we asked participants what they wanted to work on, for example learn an instrument, write their own songs, or learn to cover another famous song. Working on covers was the hardest challenge for me. Many participants who were only available for a handful of sessions preferred the familiarity of singing/playing a song they already knew. Finding the chords with little to no internet was a challenge. Participants often gave names of bands/singers I knew only by name. My approach to this was to work on basic instrument skills during sessions then go home, research the songs - listen to them and print the chord sheets - and work on the song the subsequent session.
Overall I loved the opportunity to be kept on my toes: never knowing what a new participant might wish to do. In many ways the mini project was so different from the group sessions, but there is no doubt the group sessions helped set me up for the one to ones.