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Some thoughts on access...

One of our Sounds of Bronze trainees, Lucy, has some thoughts to share on accessing music in universities. Lucy is a 3rd year undergraduate studying Music at the University of York, and has been playing gamelan with us since starting the course in 2019. A gamelan is a set of bronze percussion instruments from Indonesia, played by a group of people working together as a team. Sound of Bronze offers young people a chance to creatively explore these instruments and learn to play traditional Indonesian music.

Since beginning my undergraduate degree two years ago, and in turn beginning to play gamelan, I’ve found that issues surrounding class and access to music have become increasingly frequent in my thoughts. I’ve consequently found this at the forefront of my musical life and output, and I find myself to be increasingly conscious of how I can navigate this on a practical level.

To clarify my position on this, prior to university I was state school educated, and from a lower income family. Until I was 16, my musical education was solely reliant on my local music center and my schools, for which I’m incredibly grateful. Though, I think I have often held it in the back of my mind as something I’d have to make up for, and was quite unaware of the extent to which inequalities within the education system were and are still present. Upon beginning university and attending open days, I found the whole process unbelievably intimidating. I’ve often discussed this among friends of similar backgrounds, and it seems quite universal to hold a sense of inferiority, or of being ‘lesser than’.

Being a trainee for Sound of Bronze, the University of York’s youth gamelan project has offered a great opportunity in understanding how to navigate this as a facilitator or workshop practitioner. My experience as a trainee has both assisted me in understanding the delivery and facilitation of workshops and music sessions and has also aided my application and practice of many thoughts around accessing music making. During my time as a trainee, I’ve always been delighted to see that access is at the forefront of the minds of those involved in Sound of Bronze, alongside a continual questioning of how we may improve and maintain access. The team are very willing to make accommodations and arrangements to ensure anyone who wishes to participate, may.

One of many things that I believe Sound of Bronze does incredibly well is facilitating continued access to music making in a university setting. During term time, Sound of Bronze offers weekly gamelan sessions with opportunities to learn traditional Javanese gamelan, to compose, to improvise, and more. For our weekly sessions, bursaries are made available, and whilst financial barriers are not the only ones to bear in mind, it is more advertised than any other bursaries I saw growing up. I must add, this isn’t meant to sound like an advertisement, more that I’m incredibly proud to work alongside such a great team, with whom I share many common goals. The facility itself, offering regular access to a university, feels like an incredible opportunity to me, and a rather important one too.

I expect that regular access could play a huge role in encouraging those from minority groups and backgrounds such as my own, to attend university. Not to say that a university education is the right path for everybody, but a much more diverse pool of students making up the student body within an institution undoubtedly has numerous benefits. This regular access, combined with the practice of gamelan appears to create a sense of belonging with the young people we work with. Whilst this is just at one institution, I feel that had I had such an opportunity, many of my fears around open days and beginning university would have subsided at least a little.

The practice of gamelan itself and this sense of belonging is also a key aspect. When playing a set of instruments where everyone’s role is no more or less important than one another’s, it becomes apparent quite quickly that there’s a shared sense of community and respect. Often, we have heard of this positively affecting participant’s confidence levels, and their engagement with other educational activities. Which in the long term, may once again lead to feeling much less daunted by higher education institutions.

            Further to this, the gamelan itself is in many ways easier to access for many than traditional Western instruments, as there is no need to purchase or own instruments, or at least not at this level. The instruments are also suited to many different levels and experiences of music making, consequently offering a lot to mixed ability groups.

If you or anyone you know may be interested in joining us in our weekly sessions, running on Thursdays from 4:45-5:45pm at the University of York, please contact Katie Maloney via email on The Sound Of Bronze is a programme of the Department of Music at the University of York, supported by Youth Music (using public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England and the Youth Accelerator Fund) and the East Riding of Yorkshire Council.