Don't even try to get it
I met Lily* at a Musication taster session for new members. Tang Hall SMART (THS) director Sue Williamson introduced us, suggesting that since Lily wrote poetry and had expressed an interest in singing, we might like to work together to create a song or rap. Lily and I went on to make several songs and raps across Musication sessions and this critical incident offers one example.
A field recording of the first making session
Sharing deeply personal experiences through lyric writing
Lily often drew upon deeply personal experiences as subject matter for her lyric writing. This Friday, Lily was working on lyrics that described her experience of psychosis and had asked if I would work with her on an accompaniment and melody. Moving to a breakout space, we sat at a keyboard and worked through some ideas. The field recording to the left documents the early stages of this making. It begins with Lily singing ideas for a chorus, before attempting a rapped verse. After this, I offer options for extending lyric content.
Intersections between community music and music therapy
During the twenty minutes that Lily and I worked together, I actively chose to direct my focus to the music being made, rather than explicitly discussing Lily’s experience of psychosis. For example, I drew attention to the interesting melodic and image juxtaposition Lily had created though incorporating an ascending interval to sing “I’m sinking”, the internal rhyme and scanning of the lyrics, and suitability of the accompaniment. Reflecting-in-action, I felt troubled by this. From a safeguarding and wellbeing perspective, was focussing on Lily’s description of her experience in terms of lyric content alone, the ‘right’ thing to do? In this moment, I felt the intersections of my practice with music therapy. The efficacy of songwriting as a therapeutic intervention has been well documented (Baker & Wigram, 2005; Baker, 2015). Rolvsjord explains that songwriting seems to be meaningful in therapy since;
‘Songs are a common form of expression
Songs can be performed over and over again
Songs can be shared
Songs can be kept and stored away’ (2005, p.98).
These are also some of the reasons why I turn to songwriting as a community musician. As Lily and I worked on Don’t even try to get it I recognised the therapeutic potential of this interaction, yet as a boundary walker (Kushner, Walker, & Tarr, 2001; Higgins, 2012), I simultaneously understood that since I was not a therapist, my interaction needed careful consideration. I gave focus to the music being made whilst working with Lily, because in that moment I felt it to be the most responsible response. This is because whilst at times my work might boarder that of therapist or social worker – and in this songwriting interaction I felt that support from specialists in these areas could be helpful – I could not ‘step into’ such roles.
As a course of action, after this music making moment I decided to speak to Sue as lead of the organisation to inform her of the interaction. In doing so, I drew upon my experience of music teaching in schools whereby I reported incidents that caused concern for pupil safety and wellbeing to the safeguard lead in accordance with school policy. THS afforded follow-up of the safeguarding concern in this way because Sue had connection to external agencies and professionals that work with participating members. In other contexts that I have worked in as a community musician, such follow up has not been possible. In the UK whilst there are practitioner codes of practice, for example MusicLeader and Sound Sense, n.d.; Deane, 2014, and organisations may have their own policies, these are not statutory requirements. Furthermore, when working in diverse non-formal and informal contexts there is often not the infrastructure or clear route for implementation.
Through further reflection, I suggest that giving focus to the making of music together in community music activity is an advantageous part of practice. It offers an opening to meet through music, which emphasises people, interrelationship and co-creation through music-making as joint endeavour. To meet through music is to meet as people (with different experience and expertise) with a shared aim to make music. Thus, facilitator-as-musician meets participant-as-musician, not inmate, looked after young person or mental health service user for example. Subsequently this shift of focus can support openings towards interaction without judgement, which in this moment supported Lily to write about a significant experience, making visible what she wanted to make visible. However, meeting through music concerns balance since to meet the other as they manifest in the moment without regard for the context that has shaped the current position, could amount to what Vaugeois (2007) criticises as ‘ahistorical’ ways of engaging. Being present in the moment, and meeting the other as they present in than moment, is important then for community music facilitators, alongside consideration of the context of that meeting – especially when making music with vulnerable individuals and groups.
Baker, F. (2015). Therapeutic Songwriting Developments in Theory, Method, and Practice. Palgrave Macmillan https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137499233
Baker, F., & Wigram, T. (2005). Songwriting: Methods, Techniques and Clinical Applications for Music Therapy Clinicians, Educators and Students. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. https://b-ok.cc/book/698181/6e2506
Deane, K. (2014). ArtWorks code of practice. Paul Hamlyn Foundation. http://collective-encounters.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/ArtWorks-code-of-practice-pdf.pdf
Higgins, L. (2012). Community Music: in Theory and Practice. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199777839.001.0001
Kushner, S., Walker, B., & Tarr, J. (2001). Case studies and issues in community music. University of the West of England.
MusicLeader and Sound Sense (n.d.). The Music Education Code of Practice. Retrieved September 6, 2019, from https://www.soundsense.org/developing-practice/professional-conduct
Rolvsjord, R. (2005). Collaborations on songwriting with clients with mental health problems. In F. Baker, & T. Wigram (Eds.), Songwriting: Methods, techniques and clinical applications for music therapy clinicians, educators and students (pp. 101–118). Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Vaugeois, L. (2007). Social Justice and Music Education: Claiming the Space of Music Education as a Site of Postcolonial Contestation. Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education, 6(4), 63-200. http://act.maydaygroup.org/articles/Vaugeois6_4.pdf