Case Study – Talena Cuthbert Songwriter sessions at Stevenage ESC

By HMS workshop leader trainee Hannah Coombe. The participant’s name has been changed.

Emma is a year 11 student at the Stevenage Education Support Centre (ESC or Pupil Referral Unit, PRU) and has recently started 1-1 songwriter sessions with Talena at school.

In August this year, a young teenage boy named Jordon suddenly died after waking up with back ache, extreme enough that he went to hospital. It was then found the cause was a tear on his heart causing his body to fill up with blood resulting in his death hours later. As expected this has had a profound impact for the people around him; and Talena reports that ‘a lot of these kids at this ESC were friends with him.’ ‘It has really affected everybody,’ including Emma.

At first, Emma was reticent about the sessions, and decided to go on the basis that it was a choice of Songwriter or a maths test. However since starting the sessions, Emma has become an advocate for these sessions, challenging ESC student’s perceptions of what these music sessions are like. Talena sums up the expectations of some of the students as ‘they think that you’re going to go in there and make them play on the xylophone and shake a tambourine at them.’ Since Emma started sessions, another member has said that he would like to write a song about Jordon too.

Realising very quickly that ‘Emma didn’t know what to expect at all’ from the first session, Talena just started by asking what songs she liked and listing to them together. It turns out that the pieces Emma selected were some of Jordon’s favourite music and music that was played at his funeral. With Emma having never written music before and not being confident at rapping or singing, the music programme Garageband was the place to start composing a piece in a similar style to the ones Emma had wanted to listen too.

Talena reports ‘I said… ‘’Can you rap, can you sing, have you ever written music before?, and she said ‘’no’’; so I was like ‘’alright, let’s get Garageband on the case!’’ And we started writing, and all of a sudden she was like ‘’This is awesome!’’ And then she told me that the two songs that she had played to me were … Jordan’s favourite tracks, and got played at his funeral. And then she said that she really wanted to write a song about Jordan.’

So far the lyrics Emma has come up with express her reaction to the event – ‘’every night every day, I think about you’’ – and has helped her reflect and remember what Jordon was like, writing ‘think about the times that you remix me’ referring to a cheeky habit Jordon had of messing people’s hair up whilst saying ‘remix, remix!’

This is a snapshot of the ongoing work Talena has started with Emma. We hope her song will be included in a Songwriter showcase which will be curated by young people at the Stevenage Festival in May 2019.

Hertfordshire Music Service, October 2018

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