There are always a lot of unknowns when working in community music, even when a project is well established. Beginning a new project comes with its own set of mysteries and excitement and is always a little bit daunting, no matter how experienced you are. Even if plans and expectations are discussed in advance, they can all go out the window when you actually start making music with a group of participants.
This year I have been part of the Plugin project team working at Cygnet Joyce Parker Hospital in Coventry. The format of the project is similar to work I have done in the past (songwriting/ producing/ music-making with young people who are inpatients in a CAMHS unit) but the venue was new to me. The project was also new to the hospital who were keen to provide the young people with some music-making activities alongside the arts activities already on offer. As a music leader, the project has been very rewarding and I hope it has been just as rewarding for the young people and rest of the team involved. There have been some challenges as well all the fantastic successes.
Firstly, the challenges. Establishing a music project in a brand new venue which isn’t used to dealing with music projects is difficult. There are many resources which you come to depend on which simply aren’t available to you. Some careful planning is needed to make sure that you have everything you need to at least do the first session. After that, it was certainly important to re-evaluate if we had what we needed for where we thought the project was headed.
When the project didn’t go where we thought it was headed, then it became really important to be flexible and adaptable to the change in needs, numbers and faces of the participants. A high turnover of people who are interested in the project is always to be expected when trying to establish something brand new. It’s impossible to tell how your message about what the sessions are for is being passed on to the participants until they arrive in the room. Having some musical and practical improvisation skills really helps in this context and it’s important to not let any plans you may have made get in the way of what the session requires of you as a music leader.
Once the project settled down and we established a way of working, we were able to think about what might need to change in order for us to be as impactful as possible. This involved some flexibility on our part but also on the part of our host. This proved a little more tricky as it’s always much easier for individuals to adapt in these instances than it is for organisations. Even when change was slow, I think it was worth it to begin to see the results.
We had some fantastic results too. This is where being in a new setting can be doubly rewarding. Sharing the outcomes of a project with a wider audience can be a real moment of pride for all those involved. When it’s happening somewhere for the first time, all of those feeling seemed heightened. The sense of achievement of not only taking part in the project, but being the first and seeing it through comes with an extra sense of pride from the young musicians and those who have helped to enable the project (music leaders included!)
It’s been a real privilege to be involved with Plugin at Cygnet Joyce Parker this year with the musical highs far outweighing any of the lows of establishing a new project in a new venue. As the project moves into its second year in this venue, I think that a lot can be learned about being open to change, about perseverance, about collaboration and about the importance of giving young people the opportunity to be creative and express themselves through music making.