A little after arriving at The Orb to perform at the festival with The Radical Luddites, Sue approached me. She explained that Des (a Musication member), had made the 16-mile trip from York to Knaresborough, wanted to perform and had a starting point for a song. Congruent with the “yes” in community music (Higgins, 2012; 2020), Sue asked if I would accompany Des at the keyboard to support his inclusion in the festival. She passed me an A4 piece of paper with Des’ lyrics, sang an opening melody idea they had worked on together the week previously, and asked if I could help work it up. This was risky. I too wanted to say yes to support Des’ inclusion, and did, but felt vulnerable in my responsibility to make something happen for the impending gig – we were due to go on stage in the next 1-2 hours.
A field recording of It Makes Me Happy performed in a car park.
The Orb's car park , Knaresborough.
A positive spotlight
The gig venue was a small building, with an area outside that was being used for festival games and food stands, and an adjacent area for parked cars. There was no keyboard or electricity to access aside from what was on stage, so thinking on my feet I asked Graham (co-facilitator of The Radical Luddites and former Musication participant, now facilitator) if he would join us on acoustic guitar. Des, Graham and I pitched up a spot between the cars and began to work on Des’ song. As we established some chords and a melody for the verse, another Musication participant moving to facilitator was sitting nearby and began to join in by drumming on his lap and coke can. Soon other Musication members had gathered to watch, and as we were nearing song completion (an Orb gig iteration) they sang along with the hook – ‘it makes me happy’. This was an uplifting moment.
The field recording to the left documents a final run through of the song created, by way of a pre-performance to Sue at Des’ request in the car park before going on stage. At the end of the recording you can hear cheering from the crowd that gathered. This felt like a significant moment with regards to Des’ visibility under a positive spotlight before peers. Friends were important to Des as his lyrics articulate,
hanging around with my good mates,
not getting into trouble
hanging around with my good mates,
not getting into trouble
it makes me happy and it makes me happy
And the opportunity to be affirmed by friends, such as this moment, was valuable to Des’ developing confidence and positive positioning of himself. Performance platforms, being able to access them, and having something to share, can serve as important vehicles through which individuals and groups can make visible what they want to; telling their story, presenting on their terms, and challenging negative narratives often attributed to the ‘vulnerable’, ‘marginalised’, and ‘disadvantaged’. Des expressed a feeling of pride after his performance and later that year we went on to perform a version of It makes me happy with full band at Tang Hall SMART’s York Barbican gig.
Performance of It Makes Me Happy at York Barbican.
Vulnerable and vulnerability are terms often associated with, or applied to, participants of UK community music activity. They are not often connected to facilitators. In my practice, I usually attempt to embrace and open up to feelings of vulnerability. I do so because I find that it can support a working with participants that develops through openness with awareness that the interaction cannot be controlled or predicted, alongside supporting connection with others. But this moment felt different. With
1) a specific goal of performance to an already gathered audience, which was
2) explicitly articulated by Des as something he wanted to do, both verbally and through travelling to the gig venue, alongside
3) a tight timeframe, we had 1 – 2 hours to set Des’ lyrics to music in a form that was ‘gig ready’,
in saying yes to Des’ request I felt an acute vulnerability in my responsibility to make this happen. Questions that presented in the moment included; By saying yes, was I overpromising? What if we were unable to make something? Was I going to let Des down and compromise the developing sense of trust and relationship that was building through the early stages of my work with THS staff and members? In short, was I good enough? Although our car park music making had a positive outcome, reflecting later I still wonder about the limits of facilitator responsiveness and the possibilities of saying no as part of a responsible practice alongside resistance to closure. As practitioner support begins to receive greater attention (Naismith, 2019; 2020; Help Musicians, n.d.; Musicians Union, n.d.), I suggest that facilitator responsiveness is an important part of practice that warrants further exploration in the context of concern for ‘artists practising well’ (Naismith, 2019).
Help Musicians. (n.d.). About us. Retrieved February 19, 2020, from https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/about-us
Higgins, L. (2012). Community Music: in Theory and Practice. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199777839.001.0001
Higgins, L. (2020). Rethinking Community in Community Music: The call, the welcome, and the “yes”. In B. Jansen (Ed.), Re-Thinking Community: Towards Interdisciplinary Community Scholarship (pp. 231-246). Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-31073-8_13
Musicians Union. (n.d.) Wellbeing. Retrieved February 19, 2020, from https://www.musiciansunion.org.uk/Home/Advice/Your-Career/Health-and-Safety/Wellbeing
Naismith, N. (2019). Artists Practising Well. OpenAir @RGU. https://rgu-repository.worktribe.com/output/235847
Naismith, N. (2020, January 2). Caring for the carers. Arts Professional. https://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/magazine/330/feature/caring-carers