[VIDEO] Putting diversity and representation at the heart of our music services

Video of Hertfordshire Music Tutor, Ije Amaechi

In this blog to accompany her video, Ije Amaechi, music tutor and workshop leader at Hertfordshire Music Service, and Changing Tracks Project Officer, shares her views on representation and diversity in music services, and her progression route through the music service. 

How I got involved with Hertfordshire Music Service 

My introduction to Hertfordshire Music Service (HMS) was at an open mic night in Watford back in 2011 at the age of 14, where I was to perform the first song I had ever written. It was this night that I signed up to Songwriter 2012, which helped kickstart my song-writing journey beyond the four walls of my bedroom.

I regularly attended HMS’ songwriter workshops, performed my original songs in school assemblies, local gigs, showcases and events. I was then invited to perform at the Hertfordshire Schools’ Gala at The Royal Albert Hall and performed my song ‘Afraid’ solo with my guitar. It was an amazing experience and to this day, over eight years later, I am still proud of how confident and composed I was! 

My interest in social development

As well as music, I have long been interested in social development. I was a Member of UK Youth Parliament in years 10 and 11 and part of Watford Youth Council. In both groups, we surveyed thousands of young people to find out which issues were most pressing for them.

After sixth form, I went on to study a BA in Music and Development Studies at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, where I developed my knowledge on why and how the world is the way it is politically, socially and developmentally; about music around the world, and how history and politics can influence an area’s music and people’s relationship to it.  

Alongside my degree I started as a Trainee Music Leader for HMS, shadowing other teachers and attending various trainings. A year later I became a part-time Music Tutor/Workshop Leader, running my own songwriter workshops and teaching song-writing, ukulele and singing in various settings like youth clubs, schools and education support centres, taking music classes to those who have never had instrumental music lessons before. I am now also working on project development, evaluation and communications within HMS and Changing Tracks (a national programme for music services wanting to improve equality, diversity, and inclusion, funded by Youth Music, run by HMS). 

As part of this work, I’m keen to raise awareness of my experience as a mixed-race female going through a ‘typical’ music service system. I’d like my work not only to enable every young person to have access to music, but also to influence the practices and structures that may act as barriers to that, including for BAME young people.

Why we need to be having conversations about diversity and representation in the music education workplace

Growing up as a mixed-race female has had its challenges. You’ve probably had your own – no matter what your race is, or your background. Yet when a person of colour is talking about challenges like bullying, struggles, finding oneself and making friends – there is an added layer of “stuff”. This stuff has been created by society – racism and white supremacy. It infiltrates our institutions, co-operations, the structures within them, our politics, and our minds… whether we like it or not.

I can only speak for myself, as not every mixed-race person will have the same view or experiences as me. But I know from conversations with many mixed-race friends, the commonalities are there. It is a constant questioning of who you fit best with and where you belong. We are definitely not, and have never been “White” and often don’t fit into being “Black” either, due to missing parts of the culture of the country we haven’t grown up in, even though many of us will identify as Black and/or mixed race.

The topics of race, diversity and representation have always been a discussion point with my family, friends and online, but they haven’t ever been a key discussion point at work. When the Black Lives Matter movement came into the mainstream earlier this year, following the tragic death of George Floyd by police brutality, people were forced to wake up and to speak up, even if they didn’t yet have the language or tools to do so. 

What mattered most was people saying that what is happening is not okay – and that they know they need to do more work. Beyond that, a commitment and action plan is what separates desire to be anti-racist and create anti-racist environments, and real change. So it starts with a conversation, but that needs to be quickly followed by a plan. That’s why Equality, Diversity and Inclusion plans are so important for music services.

How can we encourage more open conversations leading to action in our sector?

Until recently, I hadn’t felt able to talk openly about my experiences and my desire for change around diversity and representation in music education. The Black Lives Matter movement and the important discussions it inspired, felt like the perfect opportunity to talk about my experience growing up and how music education can be more inclusive for BAME people. 

I acknowledge that I am the exception and that there’s much work to be done and learnt to become a core part of all music services. Although black males are over represented in school exclusion statistics, they are proportionally underrepresented within the music service, even within musical inclusion projects, let alone wider service activities. 

It is extremely important that we recognise these facts, think of ways to change this and improve our services for young people, so that no child is left behind.

Here are five simple questions that may help you to start the conversation in your team meetings and discussions:

  • Are black people represented within your music service proportionally to the local population, both as tutors and as pupils?  
  • Do you have more than one or two black employees? 
  • Are your comms’ images diverse?
  • What are the barriers for black young people in your area?
  • How can you research overcoming these barriers? Who needs to be involved? E.g. surveys, questionnaires, focus groups 

Ethnicity can be a taboo topic within service improvement, but it is crucial. We need to start having serious, honest conversations about the inequalities within our music services and the impact that this is having on young black people every day and how this affects their music education in the future.

See Ije playing her song ‘Afraid’ at the Royal Albert Hall Gala, May 2012

To help take this conversation forward, Changing Tracks is developing a series of  Equality, Diversity and Inclusion resources, the first of which is a blog and infographic on using ED&I in your strategic planning. If you’d be interested in receiving peer-to-peer support on how you could use this your music service, please be in touch via team@changingtracks.org.uk  .

Hertfordshire Music Service is a founder member of the Alliance for a Musically Inclusive England (AMIE). Its Changing Tracks programme helps music services to become more inclusive by providing a peer network, resources and tools, and funding for action research on the barriers and drivers to inclusion.  Visit the AMIE Musical Inclusion Resource Hub for tools and guidance, blogs, videos, case studies and more, to help you break down barriers to music-making.

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