FOCUS: Into The Light

Hi everyone,

I hope you well and that those of you who come into contact with the the delight that is the half term holiday have managed to get some rest.

One of the things I want to do through this new site is share some of the work I’ve been doing… to pull out some themes, and perhaps start a conversation around them (should there be some willing and interested voices out there).

Over a year ago now, the wonderful folk at Musica Kirklees – the music service in Kirklees – asked me to facilitate a region-wide songwriting project. 

Initially, I visited four different high schools, delivering some workshops around songwriting and trying to drum up some interest. I had to spend quite a bit of time with the children de-mystifying the songwriting process; trying to turn it something they felt they could have a go at… not something that was for ‘professionals’ or ‘talented’ people. 

The schools and I selected a group of fifteen children from the four schools. This was not based on skill or talent. We purposefully tried to include students who had other strengths and interests, such as in creative writing. In most cases, we chose the kids at random, or schools prioritised kids who they felt would get a lot out of the experience somehow. We wanted a diverse group of children, and we got one.

I spent two days with this group of young people at a high school in West Yorkshire in October 2022. The schools were really great to work with, even laying on transport for certain kids who otherwise would have been unable to get there. They really bought into the value of the project and, in doing so, enabled us to be far more inclusive in the work we did. 

The idea was for this group of children to write a song that could be rolled out across Kirklees; a song that could be sung by primary school children; adopted by music centres, orchestras and brass bands. It needed to be a post-Covid anthem; a song of joy, success and freedom. At the same time, I was conscious that I wanted these young people to be able to put themselves into the song; I wanted them to have the space to express what they wanted to express. This was a balance we would have to work out, and something I wasn’t entirely sure how to negotiate without there being some sense of compromise.

From the off, I explained how we might make the song accessible for its intended audience (melodies that are easy to sing, catchy, not too many chords etc.), but it felt vital to me not to restrict the lyrical content. We started off by working on lyrics. Everyone wrote down their own ideas, before we enveloped a selection of these into a giant ‘mind-map’, and then developed this into a chorus and verses. Then, we started building music around the words. Everything was created by the kids. I supported. The verses became a place where the kids could share their experiences of lockdown – as memory – whilst the chorus (‘Out of the darkness into the light’) put these memories into the context of the NOW. 

It was wonderful to see the extent to which kids from different schools connected with each other through the process. I was blown away, not just by the sheer quality of the song that the children produced, but their ability to have a sense of how the song would work for younger voices. If I felt the melody might be too complex for younger children to remember, I would point this out: but it was one or a group of them who would come up with an alternative… with complete commitment and enthusiasm. 

This was a wonderful opportunity for a group of young people to meet and connect with like-minded musicians through a songwriting process. It provided an opportunity for them to collaborate and express perspectives on the experience of the pandemic. However, it did so in a way that was goal-orineted; that ultimately pointed to something positive. Not all of the lyrics are happy; the verses express feelings I am sure most of us experienced during that time. However, the song itself turned these experiences into something optimistic, something useful, and something that would have a region-wide impact. 

The song has gone on to have even more success than we had hoped for it. I went away and arranged it for an orchestra and massed ensemble and also recorded a backing track for choirs to use. It has been performed by groups and choirs across Kirklees. The centrepiece of this was a performance by an orchestra, choirs and massed ensembles at Huddersfield Town Hall. You can see some of this in the video. It was a truly wonderful way for the project to come to a close, made even more special by the attendance of some of the kids who wrote it… they even gave the audience a wave!

I could write about this project all day. It was a very though-provoking experience for me. It is rare that I, as a facilitator, get to see a song through to such a developed degree; to see such a diverse group of young people write a song, and to see that song have such an extensive impact. Thank you to Musica Kirklees for asking me to a part of it. I am sure that this won’t be the last time I write about it. 

You can hear the song and see pictures and videos on the Inclusive Workshops Page.

Please do write any thoughts/ideas in the comments section below… let’s get a conversation going!