We’re not alone. This type of practice has been developing for more than a decade and there is a nationwide network of practitioners using this approach, supported by a wealth of research evidence to show its impact.
The charity Youth Music is at the centre of this work – you can find out more about the impact of the projects it supports on the Youth Music website.
When Hamish and Callum first met, it was obvious that Callum had a keen interest in singing. On the surface Callum was a outgoing teenager with a remarkable voice, but between the cracks, there was an ever present glimmer of a deeper struggle. A struggle well hidden....
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When Hamish and Callum first met, it was obvious that Callum had a keen interest in singing. On the surface Callum was a outgoing teenager with a remarkable voice, but between the cracks, there was an ever present glimmer of a deeper struggle.
A struggle well hidden. A struggle mapped out by a history of exclusion, ducking the mainstream and avoiding traditional curriculum; a childhood spent in the margins, without a channel for his creativity. Sometimes releasing his deepest anger, often burying it.
Each week, sessions would strike a familiar refrain. Callum would enter the room wracked with angst and lethargy, showing little interest in the opportunity to make music in a meaningful way.
Then, slowly but surely, reflecting on the previous week’s successes, the energy starts to build. Crafting deep, empathetic and honest lyrics and meaningful performances. Some weeks were focussed on lyric writing, some weeks on singing covers. Some weeks were just too hard to face making music, and instead, Hamish and Callum would reflect on the journey and focus on the future, to keep the momentum going; each approach just as important as the other.
Callum quickly developed a genuine command of singing improvised melodies to improvised accompaniment. Within moments, the empty classroom became his studio, his rehearsal room, his stage, and his ‘safe space.’ He’d close the door to the outside world, and enter his own.
Hamish says: ‘I’ll always remember the day everything changed… After months of singing different pop songs, Callum began exploring his voice in ways he’d never done previously. Callum always strayed away from singing in his higher register, as he just didn’t feel good enough. But that day was different, he showed a sense of vulnerability to enter the unknown, but also the determination and strength ready to face his fears head on. Step by step, together we sang a song, continuously getting higher. For every step, I could see Callum unleash another part of himself, leaving his fears behind him.”
“When COVID-19 came to light, we were all keen to make sure we could build on the progress Callum had made – worried that it would all come to a halt. Instead, the opposite has happened; he seemed to be just getting started. Over the last month, Callum has continued working through our online sessions via video chat. He has shown a passion and drive like no other, working beyond contact hours on both written work and practical. Now Callum regularly attends sessions overloaded with ideas and songs he can’t wait to present.
Click the video above the amazing original song ‘Falling’ performed by Callum with Hamish on keys.
For four years now, we’ve been working with young disabled musicians at Foundation House, one of the supported living units of National Star College, the county’s flagship support centre that enables young disabled people in all aspects of living and learning.
In the beginning, we were working with just one young person, but have now grown to work with over half of the residents in the centre week-in-week out after receiving a boost to funding from St James’ Place.
Having the opportunity to work with the residents over a sustained period of time has allowed our music leader and disability lead Lee to carefully plan and develop personalised support for the complex and individual needs of those who attend.
Lee’s dedication is critical to the work. In describing the varying nature of the sessions he says “In any given week, I go from creating long pieces based around recording and looping vocals, to singing classic rock songs, to carefully crafting hip hop tracks – no two weeks are the same and it really keeps me on my toes as a music leader!”
The sessions grew out of work with David, a young man who loves music, but was only previously able to enjoy it passively.
Lee worked with David, his mum and the carers at Foundation House to modify equipment, allowing David to trigger sounds with a joystick and buttons so that he could begin to play along with Lee. This interaction was the key to unlocking David’s potential, and, over a number of weeks, more and more technology was adapted to suit David’s needs and developing musicianship.
This led to significant improvements in David’s fine motor skills and coordination, helping him develop his speech and breathing through singing. Lee then worked together with a speech therapist to begin embedding a therapy approach into David’s musical play, using the sessions as a way of improving David’s wellbeing and heath.
“David has always loved music,” says Lizzi Ussher, David’s mum, “but Lee’s unique brand of music leading has enabled David to really blossom. He is able to strum the guitar, play the keyboard and he is much more vocal and communicative. He absolutely loves his sessions with Lee and stays engaged and alert all through the sessions with lots of laughter and a great rapport with Lee.”
Kerry Hactcher at Foundation House has noticed a step change in David’s communication skills. “David seems a lot more comfortable and socialises with others much more easily thanks to the help of the sessions with Lee. He’s much more responsive, visibly enjoying the music making and is always so smiley and relaxed following each session. Physically, David is opening his hands out more in order to play his keyboard and there seems to be more purpose to his movements when engaged in therapy and music activities.”
Whilst at Foundation House, other residents asked if they could begin to access music sessions and the programme was expanded to provide a range of tailor-made 1:1 sessions accessible to all of the young people at the centre.
Lee says, “These sessions are as varied as the residents themselves, ranging from interactive sensory experiences to recording and performing, with the choice of musical genres being just as eclectic. I’m sure I learn just as much from the residents at Foundation House as they do from me.”
Kerry has noticed lasting changes is other participants too:
“Dom is always very proud of the work he produces in his music sessions and is keen to play any recordings to his peers and staff members. This massively helps Dom’s speech and communication with others, often struggling to maintain focus and engagement but music therapy has supported the development of these skills. Ruben started sessions recently due to his love for music, especially hip hop and rap and he seems to really enjoy making up his own lyrics and again this massively helps with Ruben’s communication development.”
Find out more about our work with disabled children and young people: themusicworks.org.uk/videos/
“Sam and Jake absolutely love the workshops. They come away buzzing every Saturday, always having learned something new and feeling inspired. We’re seeing both boys growing in confidence and ambition, and they’ve made new like-minded friends too. The workshops have ‘perked up’ the weekends no end and it’s not quite such a battle to encourage them to get homework done, once they’ve released some of their creative energy!”
Susie Newman-Turner, mum to Sam and Jake who attend Audio-Base in Tetbury.
“I am so elated, because finally there is something for young people playing in this genre. You have orchestras and brass bands, but there’s been nowhere for kids playing popular music to get together. They don’t really get opportunities to experiment with different instruments and ways of making music, and having the technology side is great. And the music leaders are lovely, they’re very open and very generous in how they deal with students.”
Deirdre Maguire-Toombs, mum to Saffira and Alesha, aged 12, who attend Audio-Base in Forest of Dean.
“The Music Works enabled our most vulnerable students to express themselves freely and confidently. All 28 students absolutely loved blending rap and poetry together, and it was great to see our students enjoy writing and creating poetry. This session was truly inspiring and our students took so much away from it: confidence, engagement with writing and self-worth.”
Nicola Toohig, English Teacher, Archway School.
“The year 6 children from Chesterton Primary School, Cirencester, had a wonderful time combining music and technology. Even our most reluctant musicians are finding out about time signatures, chords and composition as they enjoyed exploring GarageBand on the iPad.”
Sue Dearsley, class 6 teacher, Chesterton Primary School.
“It achieved all we wanted it to: understanding of musical concepts as well as composition – often the hardest thing to deliver. It was successful too in engaging ALL pupils through music. We have a few in year 5 that have behavioural issues, ADHD, family members with mental health problems- so they find concentration and engagement really hard, but they were completely. I think it has changed their perception of themselves, how they feel about music and what they can achieve.”
Diane Bainbridge, Headteacher, Whiteshill Primary (nr Stroud).
“Our students literally jumped to join the sessions when it was their turn. It seemed to really boost their self-esteem and sense of achievement, they worked really well together and supported each other throughout, they had lots of ideas and rose to the challenges presented. Your music leader was always well prepared, on time and enthusiastic, he seemed able to deal with whatever we threw at him – he was always prepared to go the extra mile.”
Howard Eason, Heart of the Forest Special School.