Stevenage Youth Music Council Case Study
Stevenage Youth Music Council case study by Ije Amaechi
I found out about Hertfordshire Music Service (HMS) at a gig at an open mic night in Watford. I was around 14 years old and decided to perform an original song for the first time, called ‘Imperfections’. I signed up to the HMS’s Songwriter Programme they were (and still are) running. I attended songwriter workshops regularly and became a Songwriter Ambassador, leading to being invited to perform one of my original songs, ‘Afraid’, at The Royal Albert Hall for the 2012 Hertfordshire Schools’ Gala. I was also a member of both Watford Youth Council and UK Youth Parliament (UKYP) during this time, so was public speaking in my school, Town Halls and having meetings with Councillors and young people.
From the end of my first year at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), studying Music and Development Studies, I became a Workshop Tutor Trainee for HMS. I attended training days and shadowed different Music Tutors until I was ready to become a full Music Workshop Tutor/Instrumental Teacher a year and a bit later. Community Musician, Mark Howe, supported and guided my introduction into working in an Education Support Centre with students one to one, to provide a non-judgemental, creative space of which they could explore music and what it means to them. For the past year and a half, I have worked in more of these settings, run two weekly songwriter clubs, music nurture groups in primary schools and First Access Ukulele.
As part of Stevenage’s musical inclusion, HMS decided to set up Young Music Leadership Training for a group of young people, some of whom were put forward from having previously worked with us and some more vulnerable young people who have not participated in HMS activities before. So far, there have been two out of three days run by Mark Howe and me. We have incorporated music making into each session, which was planned, but also requested by the young people in the first half of the first day when a few of them started jamming in a refreshment break. We gave them about an hour at the end of the session to write something and experiment in different groups that we let form naturally. The groups performed to each other at the end of the day, which many of the young people said was their most memorable part of the day. However, we noticed one of the young people in a group of four was a little on the outside of the group and found it more difficult to integrate socially and contribute their musical ideas to the group. Mark tackled this in the following training day by working with this group and offering more direction in what to play on the guitar, which proved massively beneficial and enabled him to play with more confidence and assurance when performing later that day.
On this second training day, we mentioned the Stevenage Youth Music Council that would be formed and when the meeting would be. In our first Stevenage Youth Music Council meeting, I asked someone to volunteer themselves to take the minutes and explained that it would be great for someone different to take minutes each meeting. It is important for Stevenage Youth Music Council to be youth-led and for the young people to feel like it is their group and that they have power in what they do and where it goes, which I have tried to make clear to them. Therefore, I suggested we rotate the chair too, but that I would cover the first two meetings so the young people could get to know each other more and ease into a new setting and group. A girl who was home-schooled and recently returned to school, put herself forward. She chaired our third meeting just gone with my support. Although youth leadership is important in the group, one of the young people said “the biggest challenge is sorting out groups and volunteering doing things like someone taking minutes”, which hopefully will change as the group get to know each other more.
In the meetings we have brainstormed aims of the Stevenage Youth Music Council and ideas for future events. These included acoustic busking in the town centre, having a stall at local events to promote Herts Songwriter and other HMS projects and running charity events. They also wanted the group to be able to come together to make music, record in a studio and to meet professional artists. I gave them time to discuss all of this in groups of three and everyone seemed to be on the same wavelength in terms of Stevenage Youth Music Council’s future. We discussed actions needed to prepare for the Songwriter Showcase on Tuesday 2nd April. We talked about advertising and how to distribute flyers effectively (not just putting them in school offices, but in registers or communicating with teachers to hand out in class). When I was in Watford Youth Council (WYC), I often gave out flyers or promoted certain things in school and going to individual classes was most effective. However, I was aware that not everyone would feel confident to do this yet and that a couple of the young people looked worried when I started handing them the flyers. I said that some people could take more than others and that even sticking it up in an area with a lot of people passing by would be great. Furthermore, some of the roles for the night include shadowing Rory for sound, helping with lighting, artist liaison and hosting. We established what these different roles entailed.
It is important to note that we have only had three meetings so far, so it is still early days, but it has been a promising start. One of the young people said “it’s a comfortable and open setting. We can say what we need and not be terrified of being judged by what you say. We all have a common interest”. Another commented that “people who are young performers don’t get intimidated and it gives them more opportunity to perform their music that they’ve made”.
I hope that they will be able to lead the Stevenage Youth Music Council’s direction and feel like it is a supportive and encouraging group to be a part of, as that is something that was important to me looking back at my experience in UKYP and WYC. The HMS team and I will think about whether this could be wider than Stevenage and become countywide, which I think it has scope for and something young people would benefit from. It could also link with Songwriter as we have a few songwriters who have been involved for a few years now and could form their own smaller group of Songwriter Ambassadors, which would mean they could develop their skills and relationships in a different space, more regularly.
As you can see, there are more things to consider in terms of what happens next, which challenges will arise and how we will overcome them. It is therefore crucial that the young people feel able to take the lead and comfortable to have their say and to approach me with any ideas or concerns they may have. I think we are heading in the right direction – watch this space!