Reflecting on Skills Lab East : Music in a Criminal Justice Setting

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Our practical training programme, Skills Lab Academy, gives budding musicians and music leaders the opportunity to develop their technique in a creative and collaborative setting. Last month, we kicked off our 2023 series with the first workshop: Music in a Criminal Justice Setting.

Musician, composer and music leader Gregorio Merchan shares his experience of the day below…

I am Gregorio Merchan, a Colombian musician, performer, drummer, and composer. I currently work as a music teacher in primary and secondary schools, and also as a music facilitator in an interdisciplinary arts community project that involves drama, dancing, and music with children.

I have been interested in the social action of music making since I was in Colombia. I decided to come to London to do an MA in Music in Development at SOAS University of London, because I believe in music practice as a space for social development. During my studies I found Spitalfields Music, which seemed like an interesting organisation that could support me in continuing my learning through their programmes. 

The first session about music leading in a criminal justice setting was very inspiring. It began straight away during the train journey to Suffolk, where I had the chance to meet all the participants who live in London and have a good chat about our music experience.

The session was held in a big room at the Snape Maltings, the Britten Studio, a really nice venue to make music. The first part of the day consisted of running through warm-ups, introductions and a series of body percussion exercises, all very useful for music sessions in any context.

I found out during this part of the training that my background as a percussionist is helpful in developing these kinds of activities in schools and other contexts. My piano and guitar playing are a great help here too, and the possibilities of what you can do here are endless. Through this part of the day I also learned that it is important to identify my “voice” as a music leader in order to be more connected to myself and as a consequence more connected with the participants.  

The second part of the training focused in on music leading in criminal justice settings. I learned the importance of taking into account considerations such as the absence of digital technology, and how the participants often display better concentration during activities, partly because they are not used to social media or online information, where information is compressed in short videos. I found it extremely interesting. It showed me how important it is to identify the context and the conditions the participants are experiencing for any music activity that I lead.

We had the chance to make music together throughout the training day. It reminded me of the importance of listening to each other and producing ideas that can connect the team during the process of the music making. I’m looking forward to applying those experiences and insights to my future work and new projects. 

I am very excited and committed to continue the training, supported by a bursary place offered by Spitalfields Music, which has made it possible for me to attend the series. 

Our next session of Skills Lab Academy is on 16th March: Music-Making with Others will explore techniques in creating music collaboratively in a workshop setting with music leaders James Redwood and BBC Concert Orchestra violinist and music leader Sarah Freestone 

Tickets are available to buy here. We hope to see you there!