Following on from the development of the song writing process in the previous section, this section focuses on the process of leading the song writing sessions. It will discuss my leadership, without my ideas being the main input, or more than those of the participants in the group, and allowing the participants ownership of the song.
With regards to leading song writing workshops I have a wide range of experience in facilitating song writing with marginalised groups. Within this group, the participants are all known to me and this allowed us to get on with song writing very early on in the sessions. All the participants have a strong, positive relationship with me. Within my leadership I find a relationship that is built on trust and understanding the most important aspect because; ‘once trust and confidence have been established, musical learning can begin; students are in an environment where they feel safe to speak up about their challenges’ (Fisher, 2018).
This relationship between myself and the participants also allowed the discussion around the topic of disability taboo to be approached in a way that was comfortable for everyone to share their thoughts, ideas and experiences around it. Therefore, I contributed my experiences to the discussion as equally as the participants. Due to the participants’ learning disabilities it was important to get the right balance between giving ideas and letting them develop their own, and this is discussed below.
This acknowledgement of everyone having a say and contributing to the sessions sits within dialogic pedagogy;
‘dialogic as opposed to monologic, assumes that there is always more than one voice. More than this, dialogic assumes that meaning is never singular but always emerges in the play of different voices in dialogue together (Wegerif, 2013).
Being disabled in society, sometimes our/their voices and views are not taken seriously or are overlooked, and so within my sessions I focussed on everyone having the right to share their experiences equally. This approach gives each individual a voice in the session and the sense that their contributions carry equal weight.
My pedagogical approach also resembles that of critical pedagogy;
‘For Freire, Pedagogy was central to a formative culture that makes both critical consciousness and social action possible. Pedagogy in this sense connected learning to social change; it was a project and provocation that challenged students to critically engage with the world so they could act on it’ (Giroux, 2010).
Within my work with POD 3 the aim of the sessions was to produce a song about disability taboo and to highlight that it should not be an issue, and that those with disabilities should be accepted within society along with those without disabilities. The content of the song came from the initial discussion around my experience of living with various disabilities and society’s reaction to it, followed by the participants sharing their experiences too. As Giroux states;
‘For Freire, pedagogy had to be meaningful in order to be critical and transformative. This meant that personal experience became a valuable resource that gave students the opportunity to relate their own narratives, social relations and histories to what was being taught’ (Giroux, 2011).
Therefore, sharing my personal experience allowed the participants to open up and share their experiences and turn them into ideas we could use for the song. Not all the experiences and ideas that the group shared were used within the song, however, the main concepts and experiences were collated and shaped into lyrics. As Giroux (2010) states ‘experience is crucial, but it has to take a detour through theory, self-reflection and critique to become a meaningful pedagogical resource’. This was done through a discussion to decide which elements were most relevant to the majority of us.
‘People with learning disabilities tend to be undervalued members of society, are much more likely to live in poverty, and are much more likely to suffer hate crime than their non-disabled counterparts’ (Fox and Macpherson, 2015, p.15). My experience of having a physical disability is similar to that of those with learning disabilities and so the ideas and experiences we all shared were used in the writing of the song. The most consistent experience amongst all of us was that of societies perception of us and how we respond to it.
Carol Dweck (2012) describes two different mindsets – Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset. Dweck describes the fixed mindset as ‘believing that your qualities are carved in stone - [it] creates and urgency to prove yourself over and over’ (P.6). Growth Mindset on the other hand, ‘is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way – in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments – everyone can change and grow through application and experience’ (p.7).
With relation to working with Ausome, the participants and myself sense that due to our disabilities, society has perceived us as not being able to do as much as we can; they underestimate us and this can come across as us having a fixed mindset. This negative belief is seen throughout society in some circumstances; such as through the charity model of disability, and so throughout this project I intended to address this stigma and reinforce the belief that we can do more than what people think, i.e. we have a growth mindset. The negative labels society places on people with disabilities can be turned into a positive label through a growth mindset; ‘the growth mindset lets people – even those who are targets of negative labels – use and develop their minds fully. Their heads are not filled with limiting thoughts, a fragile sense of belonging, and a belief that other people can define them’ (Dweck, 2012, p.80). From my experience of having a disability and working with others with disabilities, due to the life experiences we face, disabled people are more resilient and ‘those with the growth mindset found setbacks motivating’ (p.99).
With this in mind, the lyrics to the song resemble that of a growth mindset, including the following lyrics;
‘don’t hide it show it, be who you are meant to be’
‘respect us to get on with our lives, keeping our hopes and dreams alive’
‘get our voices heard, get our message out to the whole wide world’.
Similarly, to what Mather and Camlin (2016) say, ‘we are concerned with our participants development as musicians, and we are also concerned with their development as people’, and so the concept of being able to share their experiences as well as develop their musicianship was an important part of this project.
Productive leadership of any group requires that ‘facilitators are never static in one approach or another but move in and out of roles as the group dictates’ (Higgins, 2012, p.148). Throughout the facilitation of these sessions my leadership varied across different approaches and had benefits for the participants along the journey and development of the song. At the start, although I have formed a strong relationship with the group it was important to be a directive leader who; ‘assumes major responsibilities for organizing, convening, guiding, identifying tasks, maintaining flow of ideas and emotions’ (Benson 2009, p.28)to get ideas initially flowing. Once the initial ideas had been shared I was able to allow the participants to develop their song writing skills without my assistance. This process is similar to the ‘scaffolding’ concept which has ‘inspired pedagogical approaches that explicitly provide support for the initial performance of tasks to be later performed without assistance’ (Lave and Wenger, 1991, p.48). We had written the first few lines as a group but then I passed it onto them so they could develop the verse lyrics based on the ideas we all contributed and I just overlooked what they were doing.
With reference to Marcia’s Identity Statuses, this experience starts with the moratorium status. Without support, the song writing could not happen. Initially, they did not understand the topic without clarification. Disability taboo proved slightly confusing to understand without support. They presented ideas for lyrics but not all were relevant.
As the workshop sessions continued, their understanding increased but not fully to the level of independent song writing. Similar to the foreclosure status, ideas were put forward and the song structure began to develop but support by myself was still needed to decide on the relevance of topics used for lyrics. The decisions of these lyrics was initially made by me.
As more workshop sessions progressed, their understanding of the topic – disability taboo, increased. They understood the meaning of the song and the message intended to be shared. They were able to develop the song on their own without help and this is similar to the identity achievement status whereby they were expressing themselves as songwriters in their own right.
As the piece began to form, I then contributed to the structural elements and the performance of it, such as the tempo and dictation of some of the lyrics. My pedagogical approach; ‘A way not The way’ (Fisher, 2016) emphasises that once the relationship has formed and motivation of the task is underway, ‘constructive criticism, of musicality, not disability)’ (Fisher, 2016) is then imperative to progress their musicianship. In this case, this was pursued through the dictation of some of the lyrics which some of the participants struggled to pronounce at first. With the right support and focus we were able to overcome this challenge and eventually they were able to sing the complicated lyric in time to the music.
Overall, the outcome of my workshop sessions was to develop a song with a meaning that resonated with all of us equally, but the content to predominantly come from the participants and then construct it as a team; ‘rather than being expected to be told what to do, and either agree or disagree with it, learners who are part of a dialogic process become active co-creators of its outcomes’
On reflection with Ausome done via a video discussion, (below) they said that;
Your ‘song writing process is really good and exciting and we want to write a song that has a meaning for Sarah’s show and a positive message.’
‘Your leadership was very clear and precise and you got us where you needed us to be’
As this was an arts-based research project it was important to look at the ‘creative practice’ which includes not only a focus on creating new concepts but also the way the making of these ideas develops to a transformation in the ideas which leads to new works (Candy and Edmonds, 2018). Within this section of the project, new work was produced in terms of the new song Much Taboo About Nothing, as well as developing new ideas and ways around facilitating the song writing workshops which benefited myself as the community musician as well as the participants. I have been able to develop my leadership around song writing workshops whilst the participants encountered a different experience to song writing to what they are use to with their other session leader.
Together, we devised the content for the lyrics and structurally I pulled together a pretty well established piece which enabled everyone to share their experiences and perform as musicians on stage, and have the meaning we all wanted to portray.
Video of Ausome's responses to questionnaire following Much Taboo About Nothing show: