Percussion instruments for early years music making

Pedagogy and Covid: challenges, creativity and teamwork

Associate Artist, Carol Bowden, talks about initiating conversations with care-experienced young people to learn about their experiences of Family Time (supervised contact) during the pandemic.

As an Associate Artist on the Time Together project, my role was to initiate conversations with care experienced young people and learn about their experiences of Family Time (supervised contact) during the pandemic. I was to engage them through musical activities to explore and represent their experiences of the pandemic, the impact that it had had on contact time, what it entailed and how they felt about the adjustments.

Heather Yeoli, the assigned researcher, shared a sheet of questions to help guide the conversations I was to have with the young people. Becoming overwhelmed by the enormity of what I was undertaking, having been exploring my own responses to how the pandemic was impacting my life, I questioned whether I was really emotionally ready to explore this with care experienced young people.

Since the start of the pandemic I had not led on any face-to-face sessions and there was a lot of trepidation in the run up to delivery. The team at Blue Cabin were fantastic, ensuring that all safety precautions were being taken, leaving me secure in the knowledge that I could focus on the delivery.

However, it was so much in the forefront of my mind that the gathering of data was the purpose of the session that I wondered if the music making would fit at all. I was so practiced in delivering music making sessions where conversation flowed naturally around the activity of music that I wondered how a structured conversation would impact on the music making.

I made a plan of action that I felt covered all aspects. I condensed the questions and made a note of them on coloured paper for myself and the young people to reference during the session, I made sure that I had a range of musical instruments to explore and purchased a range of creative materials that would hopefully inspire the young people to make their own musical instrument to take home. I reminded myself that my practice is pedagogical and my music sessions are, in the first instance, implemented by the welcome, the hospitality of the “open-ended affirmation” (L. Higgins. (2012) pp137). I am “with” the group of participants and working in collaboration with them. I knew I could create a safe space, I just had to be open and honest with the young people if I wanted them to reciprocate.

One other challenge was using recording equipment to capture the conversations. I was concerned that our voices would be drowned out by any music making, so I tested it a couple of times at home, with varying success. I just had to hope that it picked up enough.

Then my confidence tailspins. What if I wasn’t cool enough, what if they thought my creative activity was totally pants, what if they didn’t like music! However, they were both a pleasure to meet and we chatted and found connections in our lives, where we could explore the harder questions with ease and trust. On reflection, I felt that I had spent time with friends and was concerned that the conversation had not drawn much useful information to feed the research.

Afterward, I had the opportunity to read a draft of Heather’s write-up from the transcripts of the recorded conversations, which luckily came out quite well. She identified things that had passed me by during the session, joining dots and making connections that told the stories of the young people with clarity and purpose. From beginning to end, the Time Together research project has demonstrated that challenges can be overcome with collaboration, creativity, connections and communication.

Find out more about Compass and Time Together here.

L. Higgins (2012). Community Music in Theory and in Practice. Oxford University Press.