Over the last decade, digital music-making has become increasingly popular and accessible to young people as a space for creativity and personal development; both mediated by adult allies and unmediated.
Taking the work of Noise Solution as a stimulus for discussion, the creative conversation hosted on Zoom brought together participating colleagues’ experiences and perspectives to explore:
Discussions embraced a wide range of wellbeings, including physical, psychological, emotional, social, educational and musical. We invited participants to share their own philosophies and practices to help dig deeper into what really works and why. The event intention was to stimulate fresh thinking and knowledge sharing about the role of digital music-making in children and young people’s lives and lead towards new collaborative research proposals and developments in training and support.
Our Creative Conversation began with a presentation from Simon Glenister (Noise Solution) on their approach to digital music making with young people. Participants then broke into small groups to discuss:
The link to the presentation is here.
An extended version can be found here.
More research is needed to understand whether the high levels of trust and connection reported from the work of Noise Solution would be equally achievable via the same platform and with young people in the same circumstances using different kinds of musical content and processes. Informal evidence shared from other music organisations working with young people would seem to suggest that there may be a connection between relationship building, trust building (epistemic trust) and the kinds of musical activities, challenges and achievements that are available during the process of digital music-making.
Most of the successful work under discussion was largely 1 to 1 focused. There is some anecdotal evidence emerging that rewarding ensemble experiences can be created online, but much more experimentation, evaluation and research is needed to test whether / how the principles of SDT might play out in digital ensemble work (given the inherent challenges of domestically available technology) and how the experience of digital ensemble participation might impact on mental wellbeing.
Relating to the point above, there was discussion as to how best to flex the digital space to maximise social connection, support, and benefit. Again, how is trust built in the digital space? What are the most effective ways of working to ensure the sense of safe, stimulating social connection?
Any research process or extension of digital (or blended) music making to reach more young people must see this as a priority. There is otherwise a risk that young people will be excluded from opportunity.
This question has particular relevance and poignancy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when live music performance has effectively been lost as a modality. Sharing online either to closed or public groups goes some way to meeting the need to mark and celebrate creative achievement, but there is clearly something lost in terms of the visceral experience of performance – both in terms of learning (for the young person) and in terms of listening (for audiences). There was a strong sense in the group that a blended model would be ideal, allowing for live performance/sharing of work whilst retaining the strengths of the digital approach. Does created digitally mean shared digitally, or is there an approach that brings digitally created work to the live space, or vice versa?
The Noise Solution programme works on 12-week units, so the opportunity for long-term engagement in the creative learning process isn’t available. Other programmes offering music learning (e.g. instruments /composition/ improvisation) via digital media are finding that young people may not as engaged or able to stay connected as they would wish to be, or as they are when participating in the live experience. This needs further investigation with young people at the forefront of enquiry in order to work out best ways of providing deeply engaging digital music learning opportunities.
There is a need for musicians, young musicians and music organisations to know as much as possibly about what platforms and associated technologies are available to realise the specific visions and goals that they may have in their music making. Are we knowledgeable enough yet about different platforms?
This is an important question that requires more connected conversations, and perhaps small pilot projects to test possibilities.
Following these discussions, participants gathered around three key themes to explore in more depth. The conversations included consideration of access, equity and inclusion; music itself (performance/learning/live); engagement and retention. Further questions sets were generated in these groups, alongside a clear commitment that the voice of young people must be to the fore in the design of projects exploring these new ways of working.
What would a digital / live music making programme be like? What should it contain? What should be the balance between the two modalities? How should they link? What balance between individual and ensemble work, and between creative process and creative performance? How can the key principles of SDT be best integrated in the live elements of a blended learning programme?
Practice and Practitioners
What music/ pedagogical practices work best in the digital space? What do practitioners need in order to build their skills to work well in this space? What is required to ensure wellbeing of both practitioners and young people in terms of physical and mental resources, as well as safeguarding?
How does music-making in the digital space impact on music-making in the live space in the context of a blended model? What is so special about ‘the music’? How do we ‘double down’ on the proofs about the particular value and impact of music in the digital/blended learning space? Is it any more or less beneficial to the mental wellbeing of young people as anything else? Does that matter, or is it simply valuable and important to make sure that young can be involved in rich, supported, creative musical experiences irrespective of life circumstance and resources?
All participants agreed that in the short time available to us we had only been able to start on a deeply interesting and vitally important conversation. All look forward to further collaborations and discussions. Individual insights and commitments from the afternoon were as follows:
We concluded the afternoon by listening to music made online by Lauren Peck and Jade Eaton.
Lauren Peck, Young Musician
Jade Eaton, Young Musician
Susie Jones, North Tyneside Music Education Hub
Sam Scott, Grants and Learning Officer
Callum Given, Interim Head of Community, Britten Pears Arts
Chris Rolls, 64 Million Artists
Boris Hunka, Music Generation Limerick
Michael Goodey, Artist/Manager, Noise Solution
Kimberley Bartholemew, Noise Solution trustee, eminent SDT academic, UEA
Suzanne Turner-Jones, Assistant Director of Childrens Services, Barnados
Max Wheeler. Charanga
Tibbs Pinter, CEO, Suffolk Young People’s Health Project
Simon Glenister, CEO, Noise Solution
Natius Oelfson, Clinical Psychologist
Dickon Bevington, Clinician, works with Noise Solution
Jayne Knight, Suffolk County Council, Arts Officer
Jack McNeill, Musician
Sarah McWatt, Director, NYMAZ
Phillipa Reive, Director Music Programme, Britten Pears Arts
Katherine Zeserson, Facilitator