Music Spaces: My 5 Learning Curves with Faye Polden

Faye is a Music Leadership Intern at Brighton & Hove Music & Arts, working on our inclusive music programme: Our Future Music. These are the 5 most significant pieces of learning she's taken from supporting our drop-in inclusive Music Spaces in East Brighton and Hangleton for a term:

1. Small gestures mean the world to young people! And I mean THE WORLD.

This became clear in many situations. Let me illustrate:

Going out of your way to locate kit needed to bring to sessions for the young people who need it.

Providing music in folders for engaged young people to take home something that’s ‘theirs’.

Helping a young person to produce their music physically to distribute to their friends.

Within our inclusive orchestra (o360), I saw these gestures happen when we trained our older participants to be young leaders. Giving the young leaders the responsibility, we could see how much they enjoyed being helpful and assisting with younger participants on the instruments. Each of these were personalised and thoughtful gestures which strengthened the sense of belonging to the sessions.

2. Young people don’t always know what they want from music hubs, however they are keen to explore, and they appreciate guidance when they find what they like.

Whilst working with young people occasionally I was asked to consult them to find out what they would like from music education and how music affects them. I can tell you this; music plays a major role as an outlet for young people to express themselves and the difficulties they have, when they don’t always have the words or want to talk. I can also tell you they don’t always know what they want. They do want more ways to engage and more options to explore in order to answer the questions we are asking. I suppose maybe we forget that they are probably asking themselves the same question.

We know young people are curious but only if the activity seems approachable. Young people like feeling part of something and listened to. Being the age I am (24), I was in a very privileged position to watch the internet develop, starting with that delightful AOL dial up tone to spending far too long looking at funny cat pictures and searching for the best sims cheats to what the internet is now, a global social network… still with cat memes. This quick development and infinite digital connection are making feeling part of a physical community increasingly difficult for young people. This is the why music spaces are important. Maybe that’s the answer we need to keep hold of. These physical spaces allow young people to become curious and to build their communities and interests outside of school. Music and sport have always been great at keeping physical spaces open to young people. Lastly in holding these physical spaces, we must also make them a little spicy: you don’t go out for dinner to have a korma 😉. It’s a tikka at the very least! It’s our job to keep the interest and curiosity in our musical menus as music hubs. Which leads me on to my next point.

3. Exploration, direction and engagement are needed.

It was a privilege to witness and be part of a young person’s progress towards finding they can play drums… really quite well. For one young person I could see there was a desire to be at the sessions and to belong, however they couldn’t find a comfortable way to approach and engage with musical activities. With the help of an iPad we were able to demonstrate drumming to tracks and a basic drum pattern. That young person sat down and played those drums for the rest of the session with a smile on their face!

At the following sessions the same young person arrived keen and ready to play drums. With help from the leaders, they developed their skills on the iPad drums and we saw their confidence grow. By the end of the first term they held down the drum beat for other musicians to play over the top, beatbox and rap. At that point, this was about 5 hours of learning and practise on an instrument the young person had never tried before! It was an amazing transformation that caught the attention of all staff across the partnerships.

4. Young people like to talk about music to leaders and have a willingness to learn more about that genre if the leader has the knowledge.

I mean who doesn’t like talking about their favourite music… right? Remember your first concert, vinyl or cd… everyone has one! It is most likely a guilty pleasure or embarrassing now, however playing it will take you right back to that moment. As a working musician I have been on many forms of public transport with my guitar (usually nervous for an audition or gig) and someone has sat next to me wanting to spark up a conversation about their favourite band, guitarist, artist and concerts they have been to. It’s the same for young people, they like talking about bands to people who will listen! Giving young people that space to talk all about their favourite bands opens a discussion for them to explore more about a band’s influences, history and genre. This leads young people to get curious and research outside our music spaces. This point is underrated and something I have strongly reconsidered in my own teaching!

5. It is important for us as music leaders to be active musicians and/or learners.

With one foot in the industry, this allows us to convert new learning into valuable knowledge for young people, for example: new instruments that are fun to explore like tongue drums and developments in music tech. This learning of the new and old is important so we have the knowledge to answer questions or guide young people to resources. Having discussions about bands before the current bands, where rap culture came from and how it is evolved. There are many lessons from the development of house music, the tb303, rap, beat making, collecting samples from unlikely sources to create film tracks, explaining the music industry, what is ‘reality’ and challenging what is seen on music videos. These are just a few of the topics we have been asked or facilitated a discussion around.

In conclusion, although we are called music leaders, after a term of music spaces, I’ve learnt our job is a wider facilitating role for the young people who drop-in. We use our knowledge to help guide them to explore music and find their motivations. Our role is to help them explore to find a music activity they want to develop and progress in, and to talk about how they utilise music in their lives and find common ground with leaders and peers. Most importantly we are there to hold the space for young people to explore options freely, without rules and pressure, because there is lots of that already and more as they develop.

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