My name is Charlie Law, I’m a singer-songwriter-guitarist based in Suffolk, UK. I began my Trainee Music Leader (TML) journey with only a little experience leading group workshops, having previously taught one-to-one guitar/vocal lessons. I’m a seasoned player/performer, but I’ve found my love of songwriting has taken centre-stage in my trainee year. Join me as I reflect upon my TML year with Spitalfields Music and Britten Pears Arts (BPA), leading workshops in schools, criminal justice and later life settings.
Throughout our journey with Spits we participated in Skills Lab sessions, which formed a core part of our training. The sessions, run expert workshop leaders, were packed with icebreakers and compositional games.
At the backbone of the scheme were discussions and one-to-ones facilitated by our producers Nicole Artingsall and Alexandra Jackman, and mentors Fran Lobo and Sam Glazer (music leaders at the top of their field). Their guidance came at key moments throughout the scheme and offered us support and experience as we got lost experimenting and trying new things. They formed a key bridge between all of us TMLs encouraging open discussion and self-reflection.
Trainee Music Leader Cohort 2023 – left to right Alex Fryer, Charlie Law, Electra Perivolaris, Nii Kwartey Owoo, Yusuf Narcin
Primary Schools Projects
My work in schools involved co-leading my own sessions with my fellow TMLs in primary schools in East London. Consisting of two mini projects and one large project, the sessions were focused on songwriting and singing around a theme on the curriculum (Ancient Egypt, Spring and Meerkats).
After observing Fran’s plans which she used for a project at The Roundhouse, we created our own plans for the project using material we learnt at the Skills Labs, bringing our own unique flavours to them. At first, co-leading proved challenging as we tried to lead the sessions in different directions. Through critical reflection together we found effective ways to co-lead. By the end of the Traineeship we were able to lead as a tag team and bounce off each other. We had so many more games/activities up our sleeves so we could chop and change the session at a moment’s notice. Leading with a partner means you can be so much more responsive to the needs of the participants – one person can take control of the class whilst the other supports and prepares for the next section.
In our final project where the brief was ‘Habitats’, we wrote a calypso style song about all the animals in the zoo being sucked up by a tornado, and then running around wild in the school. It was a really fun song which had great engagement with the year 2 class. I recorded this last session using my Zoom recorder which you can listen to below. I am playing the guitar and my fellow TML Yusuf is rocking the trombone.
‘All The Animals, Running Around The School!’ – Charlie & Yusuf Meet Beetroot Class
Britten Pears Arts & HMP Warren Hill
With BPA, I was guided by Catherine Bullough and Lucy-Eve Wright through several projects and felt very supported by them at every step of the way. My major project was a week-long Criminal Justice program in HMP Warren Hill, a category C prison. Having completed the traineeship, I am booked to work as a music leader on BPA’s next criminal justice project, Participate. This is testament to the success of the TML program, and a dream come true for me.
My songwriting skills have never been so useful. I was able to help the prisoners using my songwriting process, so that all the lyrics were theirs, all I was doing was helping them move forwards with the process. Usually this was by hinting at rhyming words, or structurally – showing them a new direction to take the song without being too specific. Before we knew it, the warm up sessions were over and it was time for the week long project. This involved creating a music studio into the Multi-Faith Centre and recording the prisoners’ songs with a band. The participants then had a chance to submit their work for the Koestler Awards, where the prisoners can receive recognition and an award for their work.
I saw change in all of the participants over the week-long project. As the prisoners worked together to record the songs, I saw their ability to listen to each other greatly improve. Music has the power to bring people together in a way that no other discipline can and this is why it’s so powerful in criminal justice settings. It transcends language barriers and class division. Seeing the participants immerse themselves in songwriting showed me its’ great power as a window to self-awareness / self-reflection.
Participate – Adults In Later Life
Participate is a participatory music group for adults in later life operated by BPA. Every session was completely different. They ranged from discussions about Spring, to creating a film set out of Lego and then writing a song inspired by it.
In the breakdown of the song, we passed around a shaker and asked each of the participants to say their nice thing out loud to the group whilst shaking it. It was like a therapy session. The carers got so much out of it as they were being thanked for their work – one participant said that their carer was ‘the best man in the world’, which we included in the song. It was so powerful to hear everyone singing it together.
I learnt so much from this session. It is so important to recognise people’s roles in our life and let them know how much it means to us. It costs nothing and has the power to make us so happy. Songwriting let us open the door to this for lots of people in a short two hour session.
Suffolk Artlink – ‘‘Shake Yo’ Money Makers!’’ – Later Life
Throughout my trainee year, I completed lots of other extra-curricular work. In collaboration with Suffolk Artlink I created a resource for carers to use in care homes, handing out shakers and encouraging people with dementia to keep active by shaking along to records that they love. I went into a care home and performed my shaking song, along with other songs from the fifties and sixties. I also wrote a song with the participants of course! This time about Spring and new beginnings. Playing egg shakers gives participants something to concentrate on so they are not anxious, and it gets the blood pumping making them feel good. It often leads into participants standing up and dancing or playing air guitar. The project was a great success, you can hear the resource I made for them via this link:
Turning My Open Mics Into Community Music
All my community music work has spilled over into my live shows. My covers gigs have become much more interactive as my confidence to take the lead and make big requests of the audience has grown. I feel more comfortable commanding the audience, and just ducking out and letting them all sing it for me. The open mic nights I host have more of a community feel as I have placed greater importance on the community aspect of the nights, providing a keyboard and multiple drums and percussion so people can jam along with each other.
The open mic took on a new lease of life when I ran ‘Busker’s Corner’ at a festival called ‘Weird & Wonderful Wood’. I ran it like a workshop, teaching them how to shake and drum in front of a live audience, and then we performed a song together with other musicians from the festival including double bass, professional percussionists, harp, Native American flute, banjo and guitars. Some of the children led a song they could sing as well. Parents were fascinated to see me teach their child a new skill so easily with creative techniques I learnt in the Spitalfields Music Skills Labs. A jamming open mic at a festival has a great deal of power to spread a love of music throughout many communities all at once.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article – possibly you are considering whether you might like to lead your own music workshops if you are a musician. Perhaps like I was, you are thinking you do not have the skills to do this kind of work.
I have discovered my workshop skills, strengths and weaknesses on my TML journey and it took a path I would never have expected. Though I am walking my path for the first time, I know it is the path I am supposed to be on, even if I take the wrong road sometimes! If I had never tried to walk my own unique path, it would not be trodden at all. I will not pretend that I did not get lost from time to time. However along the way, I have inspired a great deal of people and held a communal space where they can feel safe, connected and like they can be themselves. Of that, I am the most proud. Each day is a new opportunity for connection. The music is really just a side hustle.
Spitalfields Music runs the Trainee Music Leader Scheme in collaboration with partner organisations each year. Keep an eye out for more information soon about applying for our next year’s cohort.