I often find it difficult to tell people what my role is for the Plugin project. A ‘facilitator’ feels more at home in the corporate boardroom, ‘teacher’ in the classroom, and ‘workshop leader’ conjures up images of a children’s TV presenter. My title officially is a ‘young music leader’, but am I supposed to be a leader in a project that is participant led? This made me ponder the differences between all these titles, and really emphasised the need for us to have an extensive toolkit and flexible approach to draw on in different scenarios.
When talking about teaching, there is no one more passionate than Paul Harris. Harris puts the success of a ‘virtuoso teacher’ down to three elements:
Communication skills help us connect with our pupils and spur them on to fulfil their musical dreams.
Technique – born from the knowledge and strategies we use to help our pupils develop their playing and singing […] This ‘technique’ reaches far beyond our knowledge of repertoire or how to operate the instrument.
Artistry and imagination which will help our pupils to develop their own musicality. (Harris, 2017. P7-8)
If we expand ‘technique’ to include song-writing and use of recording technology and change the word ‘pupil’ to ‘participant’, then I think that gives a good basis for a music leader role. The aim of Quench Arts’ work with young people is “to nurture artistic talent and progression in areas and musical genres where opportunities may be limited.” Certainly, the job of a teacher is to aid progression, and so in many cases this role may be appropriate.
In Plugin, we work with young people across a whole spectrum of musical experience. For some, we need to be able to teach them basic musical skills so that they can begin to realise their creative ideas. Others may be more experienced but need new musical techniques to keep the creation process fresh and exciting. In these scenarios, having the skills of an experienced teacher to hand would be extremely useful. However, in all cases, whenever we are in the realm of teacher, we must be continually attuned to the participants goals and intrinsic motivations, not led by our own agendas.
This moves us towards the role of facilitator for which there are a number of definitions online: *
someone who helps a person or organization do something more easily or find the answer to a problem, by discussing things and suggesting ways of doing things (Cambridge Dictionary)
someone who helps to bring about an outcome (such as learning, productivity, or communication) by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance, or supervision (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
You can see the parallels with being a teacher. Helping a person ‘do something more easily or find the answer to a problem’ could easily be a general substitution for helping ‘our pupils develop their playing and singing’. However, it is by ‘providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance’ that music leading becomes an art. This is what transforms the sessions from a teacher-led lesson to a participant-led collaboration.
Plugin music leader Paul Carroll has written a great blog post on the importance of the participant-led approach, especially in hospital settings (see references). In particular, he notes that we give “people as much choice and control in sessions as possible to help them see that they can contribute meaningfully to a positive collaboration and to help counteract the possible lack of autonomy in other aspects of their lives.” We want participants to have a real sense of ownership of the music that they create, so that it is absolutely their song of which they can be proud.
In this case, as a music leader, we may need to guide the participant through each stage of the process, sometimes giving space for the young person to work out a problem themselves, other times stepping in and offering a ‘micro-lesson’. However, we must always ensure that the decision-making power is within their hands.
In many ways, our job is to illuminate a map, perhaps teaching someone how to read it and offering descriptions of the different routes and viewpoints that they might find. We should walk alongside them, offering help if they get lost and picking them up if they fall. However, the journey should always be their own and we mustn’t set the route. It is this tightrope that the music leader must continually tread.
*I also found these ‘eight roles of a great facilitator’ interesting to read from findafacilitator.com.
Motivator: From the rousing opening statement to the closing words of cheer, you ignite a fire within the group, establish momentum, and keep the pace.
Guide: You know the steps of the process the group will execute from beginning to end and carefully guide the participants through each step in turn.
Questioner: You listen carefully to the discussion and quickly analyse comments to formulate questions that help guide a productive group discussion and challenge the group when appropriate.
Bridge Builder: You create and maintain a safe and open environment for sharing ideas. Where other people see differences, you find and use similarities to establish a foundation for building bridges to consensus.
Clairvoyant: Throughout the session, you are attuned to signs of strain, weariness, aggravation, and disempowerment, and respond in advance to prevent dysfunctional behaviour.
Peacemaker: Although it is generally better to avoid direct confrontations, should it happen, you step in quickly to re-establish order and direct the group toward a constructive resolution.
Taskmaster: You are ultimately responsible for keeping the session on track. This entails tactfully cutting short irrelevant discussions, preventing detours, and maintaining a consistent level of detail throughout the session.
Praiser: At every opportunity, you should praise participants for good effort, progress, and results – praise well, praise often, praise specifically.
Harris, Paul. The virtuoso teacher: the inspirational guide for instrumental and singing teachers. Faber Music Ltd, 2017.
“The 8 Roles of a Great Facilitator.” Find A Facilitator, August 20, 2021. https://findafacilitator.com/8-roles-facilitator/.
Carroll, P., 2021. Maintaining a participant-led approach when delivering inclusive music. [online] Youth Music Network. Available at: <https://network.youthmusic.org.uk/maintaining-participant-led-approach-w... [Accessed 2 December 2021].