‘…..Not SOME of those things…ALL of those things!…’

Written by: Michael Davidson

18 September, 2019

During the summer of 2019, Hertfordshire Music Services’ ( HMS)  fellow Hertfordshire County Council team Youth Connexions Hertfordshire (YCH) ran Positive Alternatives, a county-wide programme of activities in Youth Clubs to prevent vulnerable young people being drawn into youth offending, including County Lines activities.

YCH Service Manager Jonathan Jack told us…

‘The Hertfordshire Serious Violence Needs Assessment (2018) identified a range of recommendations to tackle serious violence in the county and proposed YC Hertfordshire develops education awareness resources for young people on the dangers of carrying weapons and to build these messages into youth diversionary activities. There is strong evidence that music creation activities are effective in engaging at-risk young people, so we invited input from Hertfordshire Music Service. ’

HMS’s informal music team supported the development of the music activities, and provided tutors to deliver the workshops, which ran in 3 of the 20 series of workshops YCH ran across the county. Tutors met with lead youth workers in each of the settings to plan how they would work together.

In the morning sessions, youth workers offered guidance to help the young people take care of themselves and each other; in afternoons young people took part in music activities, with support from our tutors and YCH youth workers.

HMS guitar, drum and music technology tutor Ian Hartley ran the sessions at Bowes Lyon Centre, Stevenage, in partnership with youth workers. Participants included young people from the centre’s LGBT and learning disability groups, and young people new to the centre. The sessions concluded with a vibrant performance of musical outcomes to families and friends, where it was clear the young people had really enjoyed working with Ian and the youth workers. The young woman compering said ‘Best two weeks ever!’ Young people performed songs and original raps accompanied by ukuleles and guitars and backing tracks, including beats developed by Ian. The youth workers commented on how powerful it was to bring young people from diverse groups together inclusively, and it was clear that the music had been a key part of this.

We asked Ian to tell us about his experience of running the sessions, beginning by asking…

How was the work different to teaching instrumental music in schools?

‘The less formal youth centre environment has a different energy to a school setting. There is definitely a more relaxed atmosphere, and the young people are engaged in a very different way. The young people come from very diverse backgrounds and have different requirements and goals, which meant best success came from a flexible approach.

There is a noticeable absence of the expectations and underlying rule sets one encounters in an academic environment. This means that young people can be very forward about where their interests lie, so I found that flexibility and adaptability were as important as good listening skills.

What were the benefits of the partnership working?

It was eye-opening to see how youth workers interact with young people, and nurture them in a different way to a school environment. Watching group negotiations and the collaborative establishment of group aims and rules was a very valuable experience. The debriefing sessions with the young people were also very beneficial.

How did you adapt your practice?

I found being adaptable was key to making sessions work. A typical 2 hour session might include setting up music software, setting up a PA, teaching ukulele, teaching drums, producing a backing track, mentoring a stage rehearsal, setting up stage sound and lights…not some of those things…ALL of those things! But it is all done in the spirit of teamwork, the young people were very helpful, and the Youth Workers were totally supportive.

How important was it to have a final event to work towards?

The showcase at the end of the sessions developed in a very organic process. The young people were working hard on a variety of creative ideas, and it seemed appropriate to make full use of the available facilities, which included a stage, professional lighting rig and PA. It was challenging, but it kept everyone focused, and it was a great success. It was a proud moment for the team, and more importantly, a great opportunity for the young people to show their talents and take pride in their work.

What kind of skills are needed for musicians doing this work?

I found a solid technology background became essential in this setting. Understanding music software, music production, and the recording process, setting up the sound system and stage lighting, basic stage management. These skills quickly became as important as instrumental teaching.

What would be your advice for other tutors taking on this work?

If you are a tutor coming new to this work, my advice would be to have a range of activities planned, but be adaptable. Ask the young people for input, and allow them to steer the course as part of a team.

How will you follow up your work on the sessions? Might those young people be more likely to want to learn music in future?

We will be recording some of the original music we produced together, and hopefully entering it into the Songwriter competition. It’s a good opportunity for these young people to perform on a larger stage.

Will the experience change how you work in schools?

The experience made me reassess how young people are often tempered by an academic environment, and perhaps might have different potential in a less formal setting than they do in school. ‘

YCH Service Manager Jonathan Jack commented on how the diversity of genres our workshop leaders worked with helped balance some young people’s interest in ‘Music with violent lyrical content, particularly ‘trap’ or ‘drill rap’, which is commonly used to recruit young gang members and threaten rivals via performances posted on social media. Working with HMS music tutors / professional musicians ensured inspiring and high-quality delivery, with a wide range of musical genres and traditions challenging stereotypes and encouraging alternative forms of expression’

It was clear also that the final musical performance helped create a positive and more inclusive community than those of gun cultures, and that the teams’ partnership work had been vital to this.
HMS is interested to explore with YCH how we can link the legacy of the Positive Alternatives sessions in Stevenage to our Youth Music-funded Stevenage musical inclusion network, to help expand our work developing music tuition to prevent school exclusion.

Michael Davidson and Ian Hartley, Hertfordshire Music Service

Join our mailing list