Part 5: Reflecting on Music Workshop Facilitation
Music Workshop at CONNECT
We all arrived in the music workshop full of expectations. Many of us were meeting each other for the first time in a small room in close proximity to each other, speaking different languages and having very different experiences in life.
I remember Richard, my colleague, asking me about how we would structure the workshop – later he explained to me that his question was prompted partly by his previous experience of organising workshops with music students. I said “we will know when the people arrive”.
Before every workshop I try to rid myself of all expectations and prepare myself for a new encounter with the participants. The ‘normal’ thing to do is to prepare and over prepare. But experience has taught me that the best preparation before such a music workshop where the participants are not students of music, is to be open to receive what participants bring to express through music. We felt that it would be helpful to address the expectations of the participants. For our benefit, this was chiefly to enable them to ‘offload’ (so that these expectations are acknowledged but also put to one side) but also to enable us to gauge at the end of the workshop how their expectations had perhaps been met (or not) and/or shaped (or not) by workshop activities. We also hoped that, for participants’ benefit, there was a value in their tracking of their own personal journeys as the workshop progressed. So each participant was given a tag to write on before and after the workshop.
The participants were clearly drawn to the strange instruments including the big Odrugya flute, the Atenteben Flute, Rain Drum, the Calabash, Axase shakers, Goje fiddles, and Irish whistles! Some of these instruments – even in Ghana (where many of them were originally brought from) – are rare and not encountered together as they are played in different places.
So, in a sense, having been brought from Ghana to Scotland (and from Ireland to Manchester) and then transferred to Romania for a workshop with people from different parts of the world, the instruments were objects of ‘migration’ – they were mirroring our shared experiences and carrying stories in how they look and can be looked at and seen, how they are made and how it feels to hold them, how they sound and can be heard, how they can be played by different people with different capabilities, but most importantly how they can be played together at the same time in a little room by many people with differing cultural experiences who are meeting together for the first time.
We had all met earlier on, and introduced ourselves to each other over tea and coffee in a very informal and safe way. So it was time to meet the instruments. Meeting for the first time is always an enriching encounter, that is where we discover how our expectations fit into the reality of the seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling and generally sensing. Participants were encouraged to pick up any instruments they wished and explore them by themselves. This was a somewhat messy, noisy (cacophonous even) encounter but not at all very different from when we all met each other and people were talking among each other, finding out about each other, and initiating in some cases what could potentially became a lifelong relationship of friendship and collaboration or on the other hand, in many cases just a single meeting encounter.
The most important aspect of leading this workshop for was how all of us could journey through discovering our individual communicative capabilities using these ‘strange instruments’ and creating a musical piece that represented a shared common communicative capability through all the instruments. What we all discovered was that this was possible, and more possible than maybe our initial expectations and curiosities, our uncertainties and doubts, our initial nervousness and excitements (which normally characterise first encounters) allowed us to anticipate. For me, this represented the power of humanities and resonate one participants’ hope.
It was very important to continuously relinquish the ‘power of the facilitator’ which sometimes impedes and stands in the way of participants creative capacities. Becoming a part of the circle was an important way of doing that. And encouraging everyone to feel free to make comments and ask questions was another element to this. This circle time of words was as important as the music-making part.
A participant asked: “Can we start playing by one person playing starting and the rest of us joining one after the other?” I took the opportunity and asked him “…can you show us how and lead this?”. He became one of two participants who conducted the final group presentation of the amazing piece created by the group.
Afterwards, Richard and I talked about the workshop. One thing that struck him powerfully was the way the participants, in their small groups, each created a small piece, a soundscape, and then played it and told the group what it meant for them. The meanings were mostly positive (‘hope’, ‘new homes’) but as one man played a one-stringed fiddle in a piece called ‘Hope’ he commented that its plaintive sound reminded him of the pain of his home world. There, amid a cacophony of unfamiliar music-making, was a moment all of sudden, of intense loss alongside a performance of aspiration.
It is in such moments that the power of this music workshop was most evident to him but also in this moment he could see the responsibility of the facilitator for the well-being of those participating. It is so much more than simply bringing a collection of ‘exotic’ instruments from which, relatively easily, sounds can be produced, and allowing the participants to converse; it is a space in which the facilitator recognises and responds to the intense and contrasting feelings which may be brought forth.