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What I’ve learnt as a shadow artist on the Wavelength project, the impact it has had on the participants and how it will affect my future practice by Katie Stevens, Quench Arts’ Wavelength Shadow Artist

What I’ve learnt as a shadow artist on the Wavelength project, the impact it has had on the participants and how it will affect my future practice.

The ideas offered in the following blog are by no means definitive statements but rather reflections upon my involvement in the Wavelength project that are still subject to development. Any alternate opinions or advice will be happily taken on!

My role as a shadow artist on the Wavelength project could be a clear list of bullet points on paper but I am becoming increasingly aware that artistic community projects such as this one will continue to morph and develop in every moment. This evolution has a number of contributing factors; who, where, when and how. Mostly, in this project, that has been ‘the who’ and ‘the how’ and it has been my job to read unspoken signals with those around me; the young people and their families or carers, the lead artists and other volunteers. I have learned to make fast judgment calls to feel my way into the correct response. Much like life itself!

At the beginning of the project I had an impression of how it would be – this was modelled on last year’s format. I now know that the life of Wavelength and other projects like it, is in the moment; ideas fluctuate, moods change and consequently, the energy will ebb and flow. I have learned that I should try not to have a set idea for anything and that I should endeavour not to assume, predict or estimate what an outcome will be; in actuality, this project has exceeded my estimations by far already.

Furthermore, and with this in mind, I feel that working in creative music making, we as practitioners should be as open and flexible as possible. This seems especially important when working with young people who may not be restricted by the conventions of music making which we might know to work, or the formulaic way we might expect a song to be.  I feel that a positive group dynamic is created when the young people feel some autonomy over decision-making and that the path has not been completely pre-prescribed. To allow this to happen in a group environment, the lead artists have had to be free and flexible in their approach and I am readily impressed by their ability to do this. I personally have much work to develop in this area! In conclusion, I feel that having a plan or structure is important but of equal value is the ability to disregard it entirely at the drop of a hat!

Alongside working on this project, like other freelance musicians, I am also active in different areas of music making. This project has been informed by and concurrently informs other areas of my practice and work and on my own personal approach to performing and learning. This year of Wavelength has drawn my attention particularly to the idea that is far harder for an individual to make an accurate measure of personal progress in a field compared to that of an external assessor. Naturally, as individuals, we are all able to reflect and self-evaluate, but I think that the nature of being within oneself means that reflection upon development is a smaller steady progression and much less perceptible. The young people on the project have highlighted this to me as they have ALL made considerable transformations in regards to confidence however, I am quite sure that it is far harder for them to recognise this than it is for me. Participants have developed at their own rates, but in each young person, these progressions may be enormous considerations in their everyday lives. Recognising this has allowed me to acknowledge the same notions in my instrumental teaching. My students often have no comprehension that they are making progress and now it is my duty as a teacher to allow them to recognise their achievements and continue furthering them – even when from within, it may feel like there is very limited tangible progress made at all.

Having made this seemingly simple discovery, I am able to apply this to my own learning and development and have recently started learning the violin. Despite these early stages sounding absolutely awful, I am certain that I am making progress. This knowledge in turn gives me an assured confidence and a firm ground under my feet to trust in my ability to move forward. As long as we are trying we are growing. I hope that this is something that I have imparted and will continue to impart in Wavelength and in all of the work that I do.