The Trainee Music Leader Scheme is a year long programme which enables musicians from any genre to gain skills as music leaders through mentoring, training and practical sessions. This year, we’re supporting 7 trainees and working in partnership with a host of fellow arts organisations including: Welsh National Opera, LSO Discovery, Opera North, Orchestras Live, The Multi-Story Orchestra and Southbank Sinfonia.
We heard from Lauren Brant, about her first term as a Trainee Music Leader, and her time spent with Soundbox, an all-ability music collective that brings together disabled and non-disabled musicians aged 16-25.
Creating our own music
Soundbox is a large and unique ensemble, comprising of the participants, their parents and carers and the creative team of professionals from the partner organisations. Soundbox members play a broad range of instruments from stringed acoustic instruments and hand held percussion to electronic instruments such as the Clarion.
The Soundbox ensemble creates its own music which gives the ensemble its own musical voice and is an important part of inclusive music making. As the music is not notated, it is possible to provide an opportunity for all voices to be heard and for all participants to play a part that they are comfortable with. Creating their own music also gives Soundbox members a strong sense of ownership and pride over their work which noticeably blossomed during the term.
The use of structure
Although our music was, by its very nature, different each time it was played, players were guided by a structure which contained different sections varying in mood, character and instrumentation. This important framework guided players and helped insure that all voices could shine during the music-making.
As well as having a structure to our music, a consistent structure for our sessions was also important. For Soundbox participants, each session starts with a ‘soft start’ lasting for about 45 minutes. Ensemble members arrive during the soft start and this informal start to the rehearsal means that there isn’t a pressure on participants to arrive on time. They are able to approach the start of the session at their own pace, and if that means taking time to adjust to a new setting, this is absolutely fine. The start of each Soundbox session would typically see a gradual arrival of participants, who would have time to settle and make themselves comfortable. Music would then gradually grow and develop from different parts of the room as participants selected percussion instruments or started to explore sounds on stringed instruments. Musical dialogues were established between participants and the creative team and the soft start acted as a good space for musical dialogue and connections to be explored and developed.
The Soundbox creative team always made time for a pre-session briefing and for a post-session debrief for reflection and discussion. I found these discussions to be very valuable as members of the team all noticed and experienced different things and it was good to share these reflections. During these times I was always struck by how the partnership structure of Soundbox brings together a strong variety of skills and knowledge. The Soundbox music team can draw upon a wide musical knowledge from new developments in music technology, to world class orchestral playing, experienced project managers and experienced music tutors. From a personal perspective this wealth of knowledge is something I really valued and learned from.
During my time with Soundbox I noticed that certain music leadership techniques were used to great effect in our sessions. A particularly powerful tool is giving participants the opportunity to lead the music making and direct beginnings, endings and dynamics. The opportunity to control and shape the music was for participants very empowering, enjoyable and consistently a role that many were keen to participate in.
As well as encouraging participants to engage in music-making, listening to others is part of the Soundbox experience. During our sessions listening exercises were often employed where participants were encouraged to play and then listen. This helped to create a texture where different voices could be heard and of course a texture that was varied and evolving. As the Soundbox music is not notated, recording our creations is a valuable tool. This was handled sensitively by the Soundbox team, who always made it very clear when we were going to record. During each session we would listen to a recent recording. This obviously acted as an invaluable record of our work, but was also a vehicle to spend time listening to our music. It was noticeable that as this process became part of our session routine, the Soundbox participants became used to listening to their music-making and many showed signs of pride when hearing the part they had played.
Our work during this Autumn term culminated in two performances, one at the Saturday Music Centre and one at LSO St Lukes. The performance at LSO St Lukes was organised by LSO Discovery and was an inclusive concert for three ensembles: LSO Create Ensemble, Barking & Dagenham Community Music Service Inclusion Ensemble and Soundbox. The Jerwood Hall at LSO St Lukes is an inspiring and beautiful place to perform in, but its size can seem daunting. Time and care were given to coordinating the arrival of Soundbox members and a relaxed rehearsal gave us time to settle into a new environment and acoustic. The concert was very memorable. Our piece ‘Tick Tock Human’ had a clear structure, but the musical content was always slightly different. Musically I found this very refreshing and for the listeners, our piece was very much of the moment. It was very obvious to me that ensemble members gained a lot from this performance opportunity. At our session after this performance there was the same sense of comradeship that I often find with fellow musicians when we have performed together. At the final performance of the term at the Saturday Music Centre our line-up of participants changed to a slightly larger group. However what I found particularly impressive was that this did not disturb the ensemble, but was seamlessly absorbed into the music-making with little fuss. To my mind this was a result of our clear musical structure, and importantly, the supportive musical environment that the Soundbox team had created.
I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to work in Soundbox. The strong sense of collaboration through music is something that will stay with me, as well as the power of music to act as a vehicle for communication. The use of technology to make an ensemble more inclusive is particularly inspiring, particularly when it can be used to amplify or give voice to ideas. In our final session we had feedback from participants and their parents & carers. This feedback was very powerful and I remember parents describing how their son seemed to look forward to coming to Soundbox and how after the rehearsal he seemed more ‘outward and buoyant’. Another parent movingly and simply stated that being in Soundbox had ‘completely changed [my son’s] life’.
I’ve learnt a lot about how to run and lead inclusive music ensembles from my time on Soundbox. The key lesson that has stayed with me is how Soundbox created space for every voice to be heard and appreciated.