Creating inclusive music during lockdown: a digital soundbox

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by Natalia Kieniewicz and Calina de la Mare

Natalia Kieniewicz and Calina de la Mare are two of the creative leaders working with Spitalfields Music, THAMES and Drake Music on Soundbox: a creative inclusive music ensemble for disabled and non-disabled young people aged 11+ of all musical abilities, taking place at THAMES’ Saturday Music Centre. Natalia and Calina share their thoughts on creating inclusive music during the current COVID-19 lockdown.

I’m writing this blog entry on a Wednesday morning, when I would ordinarily be in school, just finishing up teaching music to Year 3, and getting ready to start singing assembly. As a peripatetic music teacher with a performance art practice, prior to lockdown, I had developed a routine in which every day was different. Some days in school, some days delving into my own work, some days working on collaborative projects. In lockdown, I still work on all these parts of my life, but like everyone else, have had to find ways of doing them from home. In many ways, Soundbox is one of the most important projects I’m working on right now.

We create and improvise our own music in the moment, using technology such as iPads, acoustic and electric instruments such as percussion, violins, guitar, ukeleles and keyboards. We meet five sessions a term. I love coming together with the young people and their families to make music together, and I am continually impressed by participants’ contributions to process, their sparky, wild and thoughtful ideas, and the mutually supportive group process that has evolved over the years. I have seen participants grow in confidence as well as in mastery, and as a co-facilitator, I have opened up more and more to the possibilities of creative group process. I have learned to listen deeply to the intricacies of what people are contributing; and the way they are drawn out and developed sometimes feels utterly magical.

It should go without saying that I am really missing getting together with Soundbox. Since the very beginning of the lockdown, we have been working on ways of trying to bring Soundbox into people’s homes, and the team have been engaged in our own creative process to explore ways of creating a ‘digital Soundbox’. We recognise that for our participants as for ourselves, creative connection is an essential aspect of wellbeing. As a group, we have the potential to benefit each other through finding a way to make music together. Plus, we just really want to stay in contact! I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that Soundbox is more than an ensemble – it’s a community.

Approaches to try

We put our heads together to try and think of ways to work doing the lockdown. We started by piloting a project: ‘Musical Consequences’ or ‘Cooking with Sound’. We took the idea from the drawing game ‘Consequences’ (which is when someone draws a head then folds over the paper so the next person can’t see the picture, then passes the picture to the next person and they add a neck, then they pass it on to the next person! etc.,)

We started by videoing one musical idea on a digital device and then sent it to the rest of the group. The group then responded to the clip however they liked musically. We then collaged the responses. I banged cooking pans with wooden spoons (my lockdown drum kit!) in my home to make sounds! Natalia used her washing up brushes on plant pots. These are 2 ideas to show how easy it is to come up with sounds when we are at home! Jez then made an instructional video which we called ‘Cooking With Sound’ to show how we made the video and tips for doing it at home. We would like participants to respond to the initial musical idea how they would like to: via video/audio/in the moment at home with family or carers/drawing a picture/or blowing bubbles!

Sounds at home

Another way to come up with sounds at home is to use the voice and ‘body percussion’. The next video we piloted involved vocal sounds which could be as abstract or melodic as anyone liked! It was amazing to see how many different sounds we could find with our voices.

Sounds with our voices

Music and sound are the fundamental media for Soundbox. They are their own language and we can communicate through them with no need for explanation or words. They are a direct link to the emotions, reflection; a much needed moment away from the hubbub of modern day living and most of all they are – fun! Though we can’t make music in the same room together at the moment, we can still communicate our musical ideas together.

Soundbox members are a regular group of people and a lot of whom have worked together for a long time. It is a strong and cohesive group: people feel comfortable and confident to pitch in ideas, lead and direct musical moments and communicate musical responses. It is a social group too: there are friendships within the group and people enjoy catching up with each other during the sessions.

During lockdown, we are all missing Soundbox sessions and we would like digital Soundbox to be a moment for people to communicate with peers; stay connected and make music until we can do this in the same room again together.

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