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Holiday Music Project


Project overview


A 3-day music-making project for looked-after young people in North Yorkshire, supported by North Yorkshire Music Action Zone (NYMAZ) and North Yorkshire County Council Virtual School (NYCC).

At a glance:


  • Project duration: 3 days

  • With: North Yorkshire Music Action Zone (NYMAZ) and North Yorkshire County Council Virtual School (NYCC)

  • Who: 9 young people aged 10 - 17

  • When: 10.00 – 15.00 for 3 days at The Forum Theatre, Northallerton.   



The Holiday Music Project was a bespoke project set-up in collaboration with NYMAZ and NYCC for this research by way of a pilot study. NYMAZ is a youth music development charity with the “vision […] that all young people in North Yorkshire will have the opportunity to actively engage in music, regardless of their circumstances” (NYMAZ, 2018). However, in North Yorkshire rural isolation presents a significant challenge to access to group music-making and instrumental tuition for young people. During initial conversations with NYMAZ, ‘looked-after young people’ were identified as a group that had received less provision to support their access to music-making. NYMAZ were therefore keen to explore what might be possible for this group. And since my practice as a community musician in London included music-making with looked-after young people, collaboration in this context felt like a good fit. NYMAZ subsequently contacted NYCC Virtual School, “a specialist support team responsible for raising the attainment, progress and aspirations of North Yorkshire's Looked After Children and previously Looked After Children” (NYCC, 2018) and they were keen to participate. The Holiday Music Project was developed through collaborative design with NYMAZ and NYCC. For example, the 3-day project duration was agreed since the young people living in remote rural locations would need to travel across considerable distance to attend the project, which for some would require facilitation through a social worker chaperone. See Making Music with NYCC Virtual School’s Young People for further project information and reflection which I provided for NYMAZ at their request post-project.


Why this project for PhD study?

Since my PhD study is supported by a York St John University studentship, where appropriate I was keen to undertake PhD practice in York. However I felt tension in establishing practice for inquiry within a context that I was new to. (A point that I articulate further under Why this project for PhD study on the PaR Setting Musication page within this portfolio). And so, during my first year of study I approached NYMAZ as a gatekeeper to music-making in the area – to learn about existing music provision and to explore options for collaboration. A pilot study was agreed,

  • to support an initial engagement with NYMAZ & NYCC

  • by way of exploring research method processes and possibilities (the timing of which felt apt since the agreed project dates coincided with the end of the first year of my study)

  • to test the feasibility of working in this way with looked-after young people living in isolated rural locations.



As most of the group had never met before, we began the three days by getting to know each other through games and group conversation, with everyone in the group having a chance to say what they wanted to do during the project. Most of the group wanted to try something new, perform their own music and have a go on instruments made available through NYMAZ and Connecting Youth Culture including a selection of electronic guitars, bass guitar, microphones, keyboard, drum kit and hand percussion. Sensing an initial hesitancy to sound making, perhaps through participant feelings of anxiousness, or unsureness in this new context with new people, I made sound first.

post it notes stuck on a window

In recognition of THS’s location on Bad Bargain Lane, York.


I offered a choice between three existing songs for the group to work from and performed the song chosen by the group. As I sang and played the chosen song (Tinie Tempah’s Written in the stars) there was tentative humming and tapping along, which grew to a group singalong. The ice was broken and we were on our way to sound making together. Written in the stars was subsequently used to support the development of the group’s first track. Over the project four original tracks were created by the group. NYCC social workers joined in throughout the process, becoming band members and were particularly supportive in responding to, and creating space for, the young people to take breaks from the music-making as needed. As part of the pilot I invited the group to draw, collage or write about their daily experience in reflective diaries. Despite not including a performance output in the original project plan, the NYCC team were keen for the young people to share their music-making with their carers on the final project day. Eight of the nine participants wanted to perform and so we worked towards an understated event for those that chose to participate, which developed to a real sense of occasion.


Reflection for PhD PaR settings is made available through critical incident discussion within this online portfolio and the exegesis. Here, I offer some brief points specific to the Holiday Music Project. The 3-day project duration flagged a ‘persistent troubling’ (Hughes & Lury, 2013) in my practice as a community musician. I often wonder about the possibilities and problematics of parachuting in to contexts through undertaking one-off projects as a practitioner (for discussion see Hope, 2011; Dougan, 2016). The one-off project is perhaps to suggest the visiting artist as catalyst, whereby their interjection or intervention may spark a reaction that disrupts, shifts, and changes what was at play before. I wonder to what extent this type of artist-as-catalyst impact (usually presumed to be positive) is possible within one-off visits, and the extent to which such assumed outcome is entrenched in democratisation of culture models and rooted to the aestheticisation of music paradigm. Moreover the provision of existing repertoire in projects with the aim of ‘writing your own music’ is another point of tension within my practice (see my initial reflection documented within critical incident Rewritten in the stars). Finally, the meeting points between research, advocacy and evaluation in socially engaged participatory practice emerged as a line of inquiry from this project. For example, when working on reflective drawing and collage diaries with the group (completed by young people and social workers) on the theme of ‘how did we make music together today?’, the social workers were particularly keen to advocate for the project offering testimonials ‘for [my] tutors’.




Dougan, B. (2016). Editor’s Introduction, Time and Place: Hosting and commissioning artists. Engage: The International Journal of Visual Art and Gallery Education, 37, 6-16.

Hope, C. S. (2011). Participating in the ‘wrong’ way? Practice based research into cultural democracy and the commissioning of art to effect social change [Doctoral Thesis, Birkbeck, University of London]. Birkbeck, University of London.


Hughes, C., & Lury, C. (2013). Re-turning feminist methodologies: from a social to an ecological epistemology. Gender and Education, 25(6), 786–799.


NYCC. (2018). CYPS info: Virtual School. Retrieved September 8, 2018, from

NYMAZ. (2018). About us. Retrieved September 8, 2018, from

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