Blue Cabin colour block graphic

Don’t worry about mistakes, no one will notice if you keep smiling

Carol Bowden, Programme Leader at Sage Gateshead, reflects on facilitating Early Years Music Making training.

I do occasionally find myself thrown in at the deep end and I was certainly expected to hit the ground running when I took on maternity cover for Eleanor Mooney, Programme Leader for Early Years and Loud & Clear at Sage Gateshead.

I was introduced to the handover notes only three days before taking over. I won’t try and make it sound like it was a completely scary and alien experience as this is her second child and I had done this maternity cover thing for her before. Boom!

However, Blue Cabin was a new partnership for me, and luckily I knew Jenny from her having been very involved in the Loud & Clear programme at Sage Gateshead way back in the day! She was instrumental in instilling the programme and our musicians with LFAP – Learning Framework for Artist Pedagogues, and I can probably state that this was the beginning of Jenny’s obsession and in creating Blue Cabin.

Jenny was always someone who a colleague could go to for sound advice and support and I think that anyone who meets her would say the how much they value and respect her. I know I learnt a lot from watching her, in her gentle and knowledgeable way, in how to be an effective and caring leader. Pedagogue to the bone!

I should probably give you a bit of a background on the Loud & Clear programme at Sage Gateshead. Loud & Clear is a Youth Music funded project at Sage Gateshead. We started the project back in 2012 with Sing Up and are now currently providing weekly music making sessions for foster and adoptive families with children aged 0 – 7 years.

For more information including an overview of our pedagogy and project structure, our evaluation reports can be read and downloaded here:

There is an early report here:

I have worked on the Loud & Clear programme for many years and, with Eleanor Mooney, developed the Early Years and Family Training for the CoMusica Inclusion Training package at Sage Gateshead.

The Early Years and Family Training package was only the second opportunity to deliver a full day of training. The package was started before Eleanor went on her first maternity holiday and I continued to develop it during that time.

It was a perfect fit for the ‘More Stuff Like This Please!’ training day scheduled for Monday April 8th 2019. I can say unequivocally that I was nervous about it, but I also had confidence in the package, despite the couple of tweaks I made to it the night before!

I have been to a number of training sessions over my life as a community musician and it is surprising how many of them are not creative. Being talked at and sitting for long periods of time does absolutely nothing for me. I need to move (dance background) and chat (theatre background) and learn from others (nosy background).

There is always a wealth of experience and anecdotes (hopefully funny ones!) in a group of people so drawing on their expertise is essential. I believe that we are in a constant flux of learning and the experiences of others is just as important as our own to learn from.

I was lucky enough to receive some training, paid for by Sage Gateshead. This was in designing adult training using an experiential learning model, based on the work of Glaser and Roadcap 2007 (you can find more information here

My eyes had been opened!

For me, delivering training is a flexible and organic process as, between each delivery, I am constantly developing my practice working in Early Years, deepening my knowledge, and having many more new and exciting things to share. I am aware that I will be faced with sharing this knowledge with adults/professionals from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds in working with young children and need to be aware and responsive to their needs and wants from the training. I also don’t want to teach anyone to suck eggs!

I am also aware of myself and my own fears and insecurities about my expertise in this field. As a musician/artist/creative person my fears are a constant battle. Most artists will probably agree. You can still find yourself amazed that you get paid for doing something you love so much. You can also feel completely smug that actually, you really do enjoy your job!

To share this experience and my love of working with children, I felt the need to bring everyone back to how they felt at only 5 years old. To feel attached to their favourite toy, to want to be silly and playful and to laugh, lots. I also have a favourite saying that I share with other practitioners and performers – “Don’t worry about mistakes, no-one will notice if you keep smiling!”

Smiling and laughter is integral to learning, in my world, and I wanted to make sure that everyone had fun as the day progressed. Washing lines were hung so that we had somewhere to hang our thoughts and ideas, little jelly sweets were laid out for us to nibble and chew on while we pondered and each participant got a toy to look after and cuddle. I must add that some participants were noticeably more caring of their toys than others … just saying!

I filled the day with movement and chat, sharing thoughts and ideas, and a couple of short films to generate thought. Afterwards, it took me a good 24 hours to calm down and reflect on the day, what worked, what could have gone better, what I could do to improve it. I also worried about whether people had fun, did they learn anything, did they think it a waste of their time, were they mourning the loss of their toy, did they enjoy the jellies or should I have gone for chocolate?

On reflection though, I felt the day could have been longer. There was quite a bit of a rush at the end of the day to get wrapped up. During the practical session, when we had the opportunity to really share and discuss practice, we could have extended that as people really came to life with ideas. And, also, who doesn’t like to play for a while? It’s also quite likely that I talked too much! However, I would like to think that everyone took something from the day, either a thought to question, an awakening, a song, or a ‘I’m never going to do that’ decision.

Anyway, I’m going to keep smiling, and, if I made mistakes, I’m hoping that no-one noticed!

If you are interested to learn more about this work, email