Diversifying music services – beyond representation

A summarised version of this article was first published in Music Teacher magazine, April 2021 

Ije and Michael at the Music Mark conference 2018

In a recent issue, Music Teacher referenced Changing Tracks in an article about diversifying representation within orchestral music. To find out more about the Changing Tracks approach to diversity, representation and inclusion, we caught up with Hertfordshire Head of Rock, Family and Community Music Michael Davidson, and Workshop Leader and Project Manager Ije Amaechi.

What’s Changing Tracks, and what are it’s aims?

Michael: Changing Tracks works with music services nationally in order to diversify practices, pedagogy and progression routes more widely, in order for services to engage a wider range of young people.

It uses action research as a catalyst for change, and has an overall research question of ‘what are the challenges, enablers, and benefits of music services embedding musical inclusion practice?’

When music services start thinking about musical inclusion, they often begin by working to increase representation of potentially marginalised groups (e.g. Free School Meals Pupils) in an existing offer. This is a great starting position, but we’ve found there’s benefit in a wider approach. For instance, one previous project began by seeking to increase representation in school orchestras, but we found that when we asked them, pupils wanted to progress in different ways.

What other progression routes have you developed?

Michael: One example is Songwriter, a creative music progression pathway developed by Hertfordshire Music Music that has engaged pupils who are interested to learn and progress in different ways to grades and formal ensembles. Ije started as a participant in this.

Ije, what were you looking to get from Songwriter?

Ije: I was having guitar lessons at school as part of GCSE music, but this involved learning grade 2 pieces which didn’t really excite me or make me feel like it was helping my song-writing, which is what I really wanted to do as I’d loved creating songs from a young age. I guess the tutor was limited by the exam syllabus and so the only choice I had was which piece to learn from a list of songs I wasn’t very interested in.

How did you progress as a result of Songwriter, musically and educationally?

Ije: I had already written a few songs, but since I had only just started learning the ukulele and guitar (after taking a break on the piano due to feeling disengaged from learning grades), the songwriter workshops helped me with chord sequences and song structure – all within a day’s work. Very soon I was invited to join a songwriter ambassadors group formed from young people around the county. We met regularly and had workshops with professional songwriters such as Boo Hewerdine. The Songwriter team picked up on one of my songs ‘Afraid’ which I wrote on acoustic guitar, which is mainly about emotional learning and vulnerability. I was chosen to perform it solo at the music service’s biennial gala at the Royal Albert Hall…so I stood in between the orchestras and choirs, just me on my guitar. You can see it here.

I didn’t take A-level Music, it just wasn’t the kind of music I was interested in. I used my song-writing and experience on Songwriter to get me into SOAS. I wanted to explore my interest in West African music in particular and at the end of the course went on a sabbatical to study Kora (a West African harp) in the Gambia.

How did that feed into what you’re doing at present?

Ije: I kept in contact with the Songwriter team, and when I was still a student at SOAS I was invited to get involved as a trainee. HMS was looking to build up its song-writing team, and I began by shadowing a community musician working with young asylum seekers in a youth clubs. I really enjoyed it, and learnt a lot from how the youth workers worked with the young people.

Now, I am part of the HMS music tutor team. We attract a wide range of pupils, probably wider than you’d expect in most music centres…and they’ve written some great songs. Some of whom are now also interested in becoming workshop leaders, as well as writing their own songs, so I guess it all comes around…They put on regular showcases where they perform their own songs. We’re building a songwriter community jointly with our Young Music Leaders who have organised and run such events as part of their training.

In a recent vlog you recorded, you said that it was important for young people to see themselves represented, do you feel that song-writing can help?

Ije: Yes, but I think it’s representation in a number of ways. A lot of black music and song-writing can be a form of repository for a hidden social history of black communities. This comes through the lyrics, more diverse genres and musical practices that perhaps gets missed in other genres that just focus on the music. I also studied a course on Global Hip Hop at SOAS which completely opened my eyes to the way music can be used for social change, expression and capturing the socio-political climate. Studying music and people from other cultures revealed how music has different functions and uses in different countries. It feels like the wider function and meaning of music is missing in the UK music curriculum. This limits the kind of connection people can make to it, thus reinforcing the idea that music or musical instruments are only for those who are really good at it, do grades or have parents who are musicians, when that is of course not the case.

What do you think music teachers can get from teaching song-writing?

Michael: It’s quite different from how we work with pupils to get us through exams, which for me often tends to focus on a lot of tutor instruction and pupil listening. I’ve noticed that encouraging pupils to create their own music leads to more ownership of their music generally, and they always perform at a higher level when playing their own songs! But to make the most of it, it really requires opportunities to showcase and perform them to other people, and for pupils to join a wider community of young songwriters. Young people are often really interested in wider social issues, and teaching lyric-writing can link them into this. At one school I taught at pupils wrote songs as part of an Amnesty International project, so lyric writing can open up ways of linking instrumental music teaching into forming reflective and democratic citizenship through education, taking us right back to John Dewey. That’s got to be a good thing!

Ije, Do you think young people would be interested to study these kind of things also in curriculum music?

Ije: Curriculum music is beyond the Changing Tracks brief, but yes – Perhaps teaching song-writing could link music to schools’ citizenship curriculum? With a bit of blue sky thinking, perhaps we could have an ethnomusicology GCSE or A-S Level, where people learn about the social history of music from around the world? I think young people would be really interested in that! It shouldn’t have to be something so niche that’s only available at a few universities!

So, take us back to the Changing Tracks research question, what’s the benefit of music services doing this?

Michael: I think largely because it helps engage a wider range of young people. We’ve found that creative music making also brings considerable personal and social outcomes to young people. We’ve noticed this particularly in PRUs, but also on a creative musical nurture group project that we’ve been running for the last couple of years in Stevenage. This has landed very well with schools and the local authority, which are looking for ways to keep young people from being excluded from schools.

They really want music that can build social inclusion and wellbeing for as many young people as possible. Song-writing is the most accessible project, as anyone can take part, even just by writing lyrics, a melody, chord sequence or creating a backing track and we’re currently producing some amazing songs about their experience of lockdown, which they’ve written with our Songwriter tutors.

So diversification goes beyond representation then?

Exactly, music services sometimes get a bit stuck with diversifying recruitment, as they can’t do positive discrimination, or affirmative action in recruitment, but you really don’t need to.

It all starts with finding out what a more diverse group of young people want, taking the first step of running diverse projects, through which you diversify participation and progression opportunities, and you’re starting to develop a more diverse future workforce… And when they return, they bring skills that other tutors can learn from. It’s been fascinating to be in training sessions where song-writing tutors compare notes with violin and cello tutors. Lots of value in different approaches!

And we’re currently developing training and resources for (for want of a better word) more mainstream instrumental tutors to do more song-writing in instrumental lessons in schools…We know that many of their pupils are really interested in song-writing and composition, like Ije was, and music services in the 21st century really want to support this. If tutors are interested to find out more about this, we hope to be offering this online in April, as part of Music Mark’s series of CPD for music tutors.

Changing Tracks is a programme of peer support and learning for and with music services wanting to improve equality, diversity and inclusion. It is run by Hertfordshire Music Service and funded by Youth Music as part of the Alliance for a Musically Inclusive England. It was previously called MusicNet East. We help music services to be more inclusive by providing a peer network facilitated by Music Mark, funding for action research, support and challenge, advice and resources.

Find out more about us, or check out the other resources and blogs on this site for more helpf for music services, and If you can’t find what you need, visit the AMIE Musical Inclusion Resource Hub for more inclusion tools and guidance, blogs, videos, and case studies, to help you break down barriers to music-making.

Changing Tracks has a new, practical and fast-paced ED&I Twilight Bootcamp series for music service leaders and inclusion managers. The short series of four one-hour sessions will help you to create an audit an action plan for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion ready for the next academic year. You can join the waiting list for the next series, as we are fully booked for the series beginning 12th May.

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