Plugin has certainly been a challenge, though not an unwelcome one. Through my role as young music leader I’ve discovered a lot about myself, the way I work, what I think is important and, in many cases, completely new skills. My role is to support the lead artists in two of the inpatient settings in which Plugin takes place whilst also learning the skills needed to work well in these environments. Through observing and working with the lead artists, taking on feedback as well as participating training I have learnt a great deal about how to respond to the challenges of working with mental health inpatients.
Initially, one of the challenges I faced was quite unexpected and rather specific to me. As of the start of the project, I had just finished a composition degree and so was very much in the mode of taking music rather more seriously than I needed to. Starting on Plugin was great as it forced me to re-evaluate what I thought was important about music and remember why I enjoyed it in the first place. Seeing the enjoyment and empowerment that creative expression can bring quickly changed that.
As the project got going I started to identify a few areas in which I needed to improve. Most notably, my communication skills. I found that unless I had already thought through how to explain something in advance (particularly anything technical) I ended up overcomplicating the explanation. While supporting the music leaders, I observed that explanations always served a purpose with an end goal. There was never an attitude of “dumbing something down” but rather meeting a participant where they are and giving them just enough knowledge to help them engage. This is going to be different for each participant and requires the leader to be able to judge what is needed in any given situation.
This participant-led approach highlights the importance of building relationships with participants. As you get to know participants better it becomes easier to make judgements about what will be most helpful for them to engage well. Hopefully the participant also begins to trust you more as a leader and will share their own ideas more often and allow you to introduce new skills.
Prior to Plugin I had a little limited experience of working with children with ASD. Through the training Plugin has provided, and the weekly experience of working with participants with ASD, I now feel much more confident. I have learnt how a different approach is required in all areas of running a session, from how you communicate to the way the room is set up.
One of the most useful things I’ve gained from the project was made clear to me one week when the lead artist wasn’t available and myself and another YML were asked to run the session without them (this was after 7 months of being on the project, so I knew the setting and participants well). Despite it being a bit nerve wracking to begin with, I quickly found that I had gained enough experience that I instinctively knew what do to. Plugin has enabled me to grow an intuition for how to work in these types of environments and adapt to the participants’ individual needs. This made me greatly appreciate the opportunity to work with and observe several different lead artists and experience the unique approaches they bring to sessions.
I will definitely keep feeling Plugin’s impact for years to come. If at all possible I would love to keep doing work in a similar vein as I think it is important and, when done well, can have a huge impact in the lives of the participants. The project has also helped me to evaluate what I would like my own artistic practice (experimental electronic bleeps and bloops) to look like. Maybe more community focused projects are something to pursue as I think there is great value in artists inviting people into their work as an addition to going out and meeting them where they are at.