Musication “provides a platform for musicians who have experienced homelessness, addiction or mental health difficulties” (Musication, 2018) through weekly sessions at Tang Hall SMART CIC, York, UK.
At a glance:
Project duration: 2 years*
With: Tang Hall SMART CIC
Who: 30 adults across project**
When: weekly sessions at SMART, York
*2 years indicates my PhD research engagement with Musication. This programme is ongoing.
** NB 30 indicates the number of participants that I made music with as part of the study.
A Tang Hall SMART CIC course, Musication is “…appropriate for musicians/vocalists of all levels… Priority is given to people who have been/are homeless, or experiencing mental health difficulties, and/or are in recovery, but we accept anyone who has been experiencing low mood, and who feels the course may benefit them” (Tang Hall SMART CIC, 2018). Located in the Tang Hall area of York, Tang Hall SMART CIC (THS) is a social enterprise that delivers music and arts clubs and classes to the community, alongside running an electronics workshop and record label. The project was instigated following announcement that Tang Hall’s Burnholme Community College was due to close in 2012. As a former teacher and SENCO at the college, Sue Williamson launched THS to do 'something else' with the “social aim … to address the issue of there not being enough for people to do in this area of York” (Tang Hall SMART CIC, 2018). Musication offers weekly sessions to members with a focus on songwriting towards track recording and release through the Musication label, alongside gig opportunities. This is demonstrative of an active promotion that recognises its members as artists through online platforms, record release and pubic events.
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. Being an outsider to York, I felt it problematic to launch into community music activity as a practitioner-researcher since I had little awareness of the context in which I would, or rather could, undertake Practice as Research. I understand this point of tension to resonate with contemporary international community music discourse, through which attention is drawn to the privileging of non-indigenous outsider perspectives over indigenous communities (for discussion see Howell, 2013; 2016; Bartleet & Carfoot, 2016; Rakena, 2018). Therefore, I spent considerable time during my first year of study to meet and join in with several Yorkshire based groups that make music with varying communities. THS was selected for the research because it operates within an interventionist framework of community music, underpinned by an activist approach through focus given to participant creation and dissemination of their own music. Within the THS programme offer, Musication was selected as an appropriate project to join since it had many connections to my practice including, a focus on songwriting and a commitment to ownership and empowerment through participant creation of their own music. Moreover, Musication’s specific project focus to support participants to become facilitators, connected to my research interest in the role of the facilitator and interrelationship between participant and facilitator in creative music-making contexts.
Musication sessions take place weekly at THS. Courses run for sixteen weeks, with up to ten members participating per course (however some participants undertook more than one programme dependent on need). I joined the Musication staff team each week and worked within their existing session framework (see the Musication session outline PDF), providing additional support when needed for member independent songwriting, share back and group work. Working with members during the independent songwriting section afforded one-to-one interaction, which allowed me to explore approaches to inquiry such as recording the early stages of devising material together. I was initially unsure of this process since it did not fall within my typical working practice – with concern that recording the messy and perhaps more vulnerable stages of making might be disruptive or inhibiting for some participants. However I continued with a ‘felt’ sense of appropriateness, afforded by relationships developed over time through long-term engagement. Having a recording device available at this stage of music-making, participants began to direct its usage.
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 Musication. Working with Musication raised several ethical considerations, for example participant vulnerability and participant visibility. With member music platform and promotion as a framework for Musication, many members sought active recognition for their music. For those members that opted-in to this research through completion of ethics forms and ongoing discussion, all indicated that they would like their full name to be included in the research, and several members emphasised that they would like their music made through the research to be actively recognised as theirs. However, through reflecting on such interactions, a point of tension presented. Namely, when does the sharing of vulnerable participant material (particularly in unfinished form – as a moment, rather than output) become oversharing? And, to what extent do practitioner-researchers have a duty of care for participants in the context of community music inquiry through music-making? Alongside participant vulnerability and visibility, I began to question my own vulnerability and visibility in this setting. There were some sessions where members did not request my support. During these sessions I took part in the independent songwriting activity (as other THS staff members did), in effort to be with participants and to see what the experience was like. This led me to question, as community musicians work with vulnerable participants within a helping framework, how might opening out to the group impact the process, and is it appropriate? For further discussion of community musician vulnerability see critical incident It makes me happy.
Bartleet, B. L., & Carfoot, G. (2016). Arts-based service learning with Indigenous communities: Engendering artistic citizenship. In D. J. Elliott, M. Silverman, & W. D. Bowman (Eds.), Artistic Citizenship Artistry, Social Responsibility, and Ethical Praxis (pp. 339-358). Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199393749.003.0017
Howell, G. (2013). Finding my place: Examining concepts of community music as a visiting artist in rural East Timor. International Journal of Community Music, 6(1), 65-78. https://doi.org/10.1386/ijcm.6.1.65_1
Howell, G. (2016). Transnational working and learning in community music [Conference presentation]. The International Society for Music Education 2016 Seminar of the Commission for Community Music Activity, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Musication. (2018). Musication: What do we do? Retrieved August 24, 2018, from https://www.musicationlabel.com/
Rakena, T. O. (2018). Community music in the South Pacific. In B. L. Bartleet, & L. Higgins (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Community Music. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190219505.013.38
Tang Hall SMART CIC. (2018). Musication. Retrieved August 24, 2018, from http://www.tanghallsmart.com/musication-course