The Start: I've got a job for you
As part of my PhD practice, I joined weekly Musication sessions as an additional facilitator. Each week sessions began with tea, coffee and conversation. After this, programme director Sue Williamson would introduce a theme for individual songwriting, followed with space to share and discuss music made. This week was different.
Switching on the kettle, from the room next door I could hear some relaxed bossa nova sounds. I had just started a conversation with Sue, noting the calm atmosphere that the bossa nova afforded, when Musication member Bob tapped me on the shoulder and said
‘I’ve got a job for you,
are you in good singing voice?’
In that moment, I remember being surprised that Bob had approached me in such a direct manner with positive assertiveness. Bob was often quiet in sessions and did not ask for much. I responded to Bob with an ‘okay’. As I reflected-in-action (Schön, 1983/1991), this was an attempt to say yes without saying yes. I wanted to respond positively to Bob’s request, to engage in music-making together, but I did not know the specifics of the job, or whether I could fulfil the role; what did Bob want me to sing? This was a moment in my practice that seemed to encapsulate Higgins’ (2012) conceptualisation of the community within community music as an act of hospitality. As a facilitator, I sought to support Bob’s request without reservation. However, at the same time I was aware that any such unconditionally could not be without conditions such as those which may present through facilitator responsibility.
The ‘yes’ therefore inaugurates the future to come, a promise that cannot be guaranteed, and a responsibility that always includes the possibility of turning out otherwise (Higgins, 2012, p.184).
I joined the room next door.
The room next door – an annotated field recording of The Radical Luddites’ first group rehearsal*
*Annotations are primarily included to show facilitator reflection-in-action.
Saying yes and ethical responsibility delineated through music-making
Bob’s ‘I’ve got a job for you’, presented as a critical incident because it led me to reflect with greater nuance upon my practitioner assumption that saying yes to a participant's call to make music automatically equates to ‘good’ practice. For example, I wondered, as part of a responsible practice, can I say yes to music-making that I am yet unable to make? If I have no knowledge or experience of a musical genre that a participant is keen to explore, I cannot pretend to know it. Or if I have little or no experience of playing a participant's instrumentation choice, I cannot pretend to play it. However, at the same time, as a facilitator I recognise the need to take risks; to push beyond the boundaries of my music experience to join the other, and possibly grow through doing so. At the 2010 ISME Commission on Community Music Activity, musicologist and composer John Drummond highlighted the potential wide-ranging scope of expertise necessary for community music facilitation. Drummond described the community musician as a
special person […] He or she is usually required to have a collection of skills so broad they could scarcely be expected to be found in any single individual […] It seems astonishing that there are any community musicians at all (2010, p.327).
At times when I am feeling particularly unconfident in my community music practice, I equate this statement and my own sentiments which echo it, to needing to know more or do better, and at worst I think I am not up to the demands of community music facilitation. However, the music-making moment that followed my acceptance of Bob’s job offer did not feel quite this. As I said ‘okay’ without precisely knowing what I was saying okay to, (which consequently led to my singing of lead vocals for a song that I was unfamiliar with, and from a genre that I had no experience of – see the video on this page) a felt sense of trust, respect and going-for-it together ensued.
On reflection, Bob’s job offer felt more than an invitation. The manner in which his hand tapped my shoulder, the proximity of his body to mine, and the inflection in his voice, pointed towards a kind of ‘I know you can do this’. This led me to realise that despite being significant, this critical incident was not the start. Through making music together in short 1-2-1 interactions in the months preceding this moment, Bob and I had developed a relationship and observed the potential for collaboration through shared interest. Thus, my response was not an automatic yes, it was a considered okay in response to the situation and relationship. As Hogan, (2002) and Higgins, (2012) discuss, decision-making is an important facilitator skill. Adding to this, I suggest that conceiving of the facilitator’s role as collaborator through joint endeavour might open a pathway for the facilitator's yes to be a yes to making something together, which is not a facilitation of the participant's experience alone, but a facilitation of both parties growth through an enmeshing of their different music experience, preference, other.
Drummond, J. (2010). Prelude: The ISME Commission on community music activity and its Oslo seminar. International Journal of Community Music, 3(3), 327–329. https://doi.org/10.1386/ijcm.3.3.327_1
Higgins, L. (2012). Community Music: in Theory and Practice. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199777839.001.0001
Hogan, C. (2002). Understanding Facilitation: Theory and Principles. Kogan Page.
Schön, D. A. (1991). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think In Action. Ashgate Publishing. (Original work Published 1983)