PIER:One – Continuing the journey with Vieda Mercer

PIER:One is an inclusive ensemble for young people with Special Educational Needs/Disabilities, run by East Sussex Music. Parents/Carers, siblings and friends are also encouraged to participate in our music-making activities, regardless of previous musical experience. Our aim is to provide these young people access to the same world of music-making as is offered in mainstream settings; experimenting with instruments, learning and developing new skills, working together as a team to create music, composing new music and arranging/adapting pre-learned songs.

So, what does PIER stand for? Progressive, Inclusive Ensemble Revolution, and the PIER:One team are already delivering just that! With the programme very much in its infancy in East Sussex, we have completed our first term of activities and are planning our second, with the first date fast approaching in February. The first phase of activity was designed to provide young people a ‘taster’ of what to expect from our new inclusive ensemble. We visited two local schools, The Lindfield School and Hazel Court, where we had the chance to work with young people and their support staff. Introductions were made, young people and staff alike were welcomed with music, songs were learned, and songs were also created by the young people themselves. We also held a similar session at ESM headquarters, which was open to the public.

The second phase of activity saw us break ground with the establishment of ESM’s inclusive ensemble, progressing from taster sessions to collective days open to all. We had a wonderful time meeting new people and learning about each other’s musical backgrounds and influences. We learned new songs and talked about where they come from, before creating our own arrangements. We had a lot of fun creating a whole new song, starting with a simple rhythm and gradually building from there. Every participant had an opportunity to share their ideas as to what the song was about, how the song could develop, and even writing lyrics to feature during the middle section. This was possibly my favourite activity in the whole term; it was such a privilege to witness these budding musicians come together from various backgrounds and create something completely new. Every person in the room participated and engaged with the activity, resulting in a well-structured and creative song featuring small groups playing a riff on a loop, a whole group section and a lyric/strings section. Our first term culminated in an informal performance of our creations, which we recorded, and a promise of things to come in term 2!

I’ve talked about the ‘Progressive, Inclusive Ensemble’, but what about the ‘Revolution’? Well, it has already started! Attitudes to inclusivity are changing in a positive way, and this is just the beginning for East Sussex Music. Looking at the bigger picture, we are part of the Southern Music Hub Alliance delivering our strand for the regional programme Our Future Music, which is part of The Alliance for a Musically Inclusive England (AMIE) and supported by Youth Music. The PIER:One team may just be starting out on our journey, but we are working with a variety of well-established teams and musicians to ensure that all young people continue to have the opportunity to access music in a collaborative and innovative way. It has been a real pleasure to work with these amazing young people, as well as meeting and working with their families and friends, and participate in breaking down the barriers they may face when making music. I am very excited to see how our ensemble grows in the next term!

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