by Author Natalie Mason

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Sharing ourselves: routes to creative engagement - MMM project

The Multicultural Music Making (MMM) methodology comprises four strands: learning - sharing - creating - legacy. In this post I will explore what 'sharing' means in our sessions, one of the most important elements in defining our approach to our work with young musicians.

Now in its second year, the MMM project began in September 2015, as a partnership between myself and Friction Arts. Since then, the opportunity for ongoing development and reflection on our work has been invaluable in refining the project's principles of practice. Sharing in our sessions appears in various forms: as a musical input to our work with the groups - sharing repertoire; demonstrating instruments; or as a non-musical contribution which help us with our creative work in different but equally valuable ways.

Sharing skills As our participants move up through the school years, they are graduate from being 'learners' to 'leaders' in the project. Sharing becomes an important element in creating a legacy for our work, with Year 5 pupils helping to teach the newer Year 4 members of the group the songs or the instruments they were taught when they were 'learners'. Our Year 6 'ambassadors' are invited as special guests to our group sessions and events, assisting the other members of the groups and sharing observations with myself and Ricardo. Sometimes the older children in the group are sharing performance skills and calming nerves, currently giving our newer musicians some tips on performing at Symphony Hall next month!

Sharing sounds Our annual MMM 'family dinner' has been a great way for us to connect with the relatives of our young musicians and an opportunity to share some of the sounds and music we like, starting many conversations about the music that our participants and their families listen to at home. One great experience at this year's dinner was listening to a compilation of 70s Nigerian hits with one of the mums of a child in the project, who selected a track she had not heard before but was curious to listen to. Originally from Nigeria, she instantly connected with this particular track, dancing by the CD player and translating the Yoruba lyrics for me and other people gathered around the 'listening station'. She was a parent who had been reluctant to let her daughter stay every week after school, as she has two other children to transport home, meaning a return trip to school. But in that moment I felt the project and our work suddenly made more sense to her, as we connected in a way that had more impact than our brief conversations at the school gate. She has since signed up to Friction's partner project 'Recipes and Stories', working with the families of MMM participants.

Sharing words During our first of four taster sessions at a Primary school in Walsall we introduced the group to our H-E-L-L-O warm-up, where different members of the group share their language knowledge with each other. "Bonjour", "Labdien", "As-Salaam-Alaikum", "Cześć" say the group and we repeat it back, fitting in with the rhythm of the song. Each week different members of the group are taking it in turns to 'lead' and share a word with us, but one girl sticks to English, only saying "Hello" in English. She explains she is too shy to say 'hello' how she did in Zimbabwe, and though we welcome all contributions, including English, we hope that she feels comfortable to share her first language with us too. In our final week together, as we move round the circle she has a big smile on her face. When it is her turn, she quietly says "Mhoroi", which is how you say hello in Shona. Then quietly she turns to me and says "That is the first time I have used my language at school".

Sharing ourselves Sharing can be a great indication of participants feeling safe and comfortable in a group environment/session. This links to an idea common in music therapy that it is important for a practitioner to 'hold' a space, tuned in to the energy of a group and using music to create a 'safe space'. A Y4 child involved in the project at one school has frequently been disruptive and argumentative with other pupils and teachers, with the suggestion from staff that her rudeness could lead to her being asked to leave the group. (We have not yet followed this route with any of our young musicians who have 'challenging behaviour', and often patience and belief in them has brought some of the biggest creative and personal shifts for the project's participants). Last week, this young musician approached me asking to share a composition with the rest of the group, that she had been working on at home. Sat with with a small sheet of paper and her violin, she strummed and sang her song, all about having "big big dreams". She received a big big round of applause from everyone in response. Inspired by her sharing we arranged for composer and performer Germa Adan to join us at our inter-school rehearsal this week. Germa often writes music where she sings and plays violin at the same time, just as another young composer had demonstrated for us the week before.

When young musicians share something with the group, they are demonstrating confidence, but also using the opportunity to show a different side of themselves. Schools can be so used to a particular child having behaviour issues that they can become labelled by pupils/staff as 'naughty'. Children who are asked to leave other after-school clubs due to behaviour problems have stuck with us, and when they share something, we feel it is a sign that they trusting us to try out another way of behaving, feeling comfortable enough with the group and our musical world to demonstrate their positive creative potential.

As we move through our final term we are now busy preparing to perform the repertoire we have learned, composed, and arranged for our finale concert in July. This will feature all the young musicians involved, with an audience of pupils and staff from the schools, our families, and guests from the wider community. They will be there to help celebrate what the young musicians have achieved and share everything we have learned and created together.