Music Spark is a community music project for young adults with additional needs aged 16-25. The project involves training and work experience to develop skills to become musicians. There are two main elements to the programme; Music Spark Traineeship and the Music Spark POD (Progression, Opportunity, Development). Music Spark is led by four Project Musicians who are skilled musicians in a variety of instruments and contexts.
The traineeship supports young people to:
Lead, devise and evaluate music activities primarily for children, young people and adults with learning disabilities
Explore development and progression routes within the organisation
Develop skills and experience so they can access paid employment
Explore and develop their confidence levels and sense of self belief
Develop independence and confidence through training that explores diverse styles of workshops, decision making, appropriate content and choice
Achieve Arts Award accreditation and NCFE Level 1 Award in Personal and Social Development (Sage Gateshead, 2019).
The POD groups work with the graduated trainees to develop skills in certain areas and gain support to further their development.
I have been a Project Musician on Music Spark since 2015. I have worked with the young people to develop their skills in music performance and workshop delivery. Within my work at Music Spark I always aim to create a safe space for the participants. Creating a safe space allows them to feel comfortable and be themselves. Every participant has a disability, and I believe this allows for an openness around disability, and for it to be accepted without it being the main focus of sessions. The participants of Music Spark have various challenges throughout their life which can impact on how they are during sessions. It is important to be someone they can trust and feel safe around, as Moser and Mackay (2006) state, the building of trust happens from the moment they walk into the room' (p.6). This helps the sessions flow and also allows them to feel more at ease.
Song writing is a huge part of the Music Spark programme. Throughout the year, numerous songs are written by the traineeship group and POD groups. Each Project Musician on Music Spark delivers song writing sessions in their own unique way which brings about a diverse range of songs over the year.
As part of Much Taboo About Nothing I have been delivering song writing sessions with the traineeship and POD groups. Although all the participants and myself have a disability, the theme of our songs do not primarily focus on disability. The themes of songs range from space and the four seasons to disability perceptions.
Below I will share the development of our new song - Much Taboo About Nothing - throughout a small number of song writing sessions.
Creating a new song as a group can be a daunting process and some of the participants voice ideas louder than others. Some of the young people in the group also have speech impediments making it harder to be heard over the others. It is imperative to strike the right balance to allow for a creative environment to ensure that the activity is a joint process and not led by a small number of individuals but the whole group.
Hallam and Gaunt, (2012) state that 'everyone is influenced by the environment within which they find themselves' (p.52) this is why it is important to have a safe space within which to work in and be accepted. With this in mind, my goal was to ensure that the song writing activity was as engaging as possible and that those who could not contribute to the initial discussion would get a chance contribute musically.
Hallam and Gaunt go on to state that 'for an individual to engage in musical composition, they must have the opportunity to become involved in music, to experiment with ideas, and to have them accepted and performed' (2012). Within Music Spark the abilities of each individual ranges from being able to play an instrument/sing with no support to having to be prompted and shown when and how to play. This diversity can be challenging but also rewarding as new ideas are needed for everyone to be able to participate.
The process for creating this new song began with an initial discussion about what the song would be about. During the first week of the song writing activity session I told the Music Spark group what I was doing for my Masters; a new show, similar to my previous show they had been a part of - Twitch. I shared with them the idea behind the title and what I would like their part to be within the show; which was to contribute to the song that POD 3 would be performing on the night.
After introducing the research, we went on to discuss taboo and its meaning. The discussion started with what does taboo mean/what is a taboo? Initially no-one really understood the concept of it. As a group, using google, we found that the Oxford definition of it which stated that: Taboo is - 'A social or religious custom prohibiting or restricting a particular practice or forbidding association with a particular person, place, or thing' (“taboo | Definition of taboo in English by Oxford Dictionaries,” n.d.). This was comprehensible for the staff but not the young people, therefore we discussed it further and came up with an understanding that taboo is something that not everyone is comfortable to talk about within society.
Once the definition was more comprehensible we had a discussion around disability and what makes it a taboo subject. This is what the initial discussion produced:
These ideas were the initial thoughts from the Music Spark group. The following week I took these initial thoughts from the trainee session to POD 3; the group who would be writing and performing the new song at Much Taboo About Nothing. POD 3 consists of four young people with autism, they are also known as a band called Ausome. We carried on a discussion around disability and taboo and they came up with the following ideas:
Using the combination of these two discussions we began to write our new song. During the POD 3 session my co-worker played some chords on guitar which we decided would work for the chorus as it was upbeat. We then started working on the chorus. I had some ideas about this, so put these forward which the group liked. I wanted the message to be simple and to include the title of my show. Between us, the chorus developed and is as follows:
"Nothing taboo about me,
Nothing taboo about you, (Oh No!)
There's Much Taboo About Nothing"
Once the chorus had taken shape we moved onto the verses and used the ideas from POD 3 to write them. I sat at the piano and came up with some chords that would work with the already written chords for the chorus. I then played the chords in a loop and the participants began to piece together lyrics from their initial ideas. By the end of the first session we had verse one which goes as follows:
‘Are you sitting uncomfortably?
It’s time to chat about disability
Be open, don’t be afraid
We’re all here to listen to what we have to say
It’s okay to be different
In every single way
Don’t hide it, show it
Be who you are, meant to be’
In the following sessions we wrote two new verses and the ideas all came from the participants with only some structural guidance from myself and the other leader. By the end of the second session we had the whole song together and we were now using the time to rehearse the song. In the following three sessions, in the run up to the show, we rehearsed the song, making adaptations to improve it and have more musical structure.
For a more detailed analysis of the song writing process, please follow up in the section.