Brighter Sound's Charlie Morrison looks at the key ingredients needed for musical progression, and finds similarities between emerging professionals and young musicians.
As I stood watching one of our culmination performances – 14 musicians who’d spent the week writing, collaborating and learning – I began to think about what Brighter Sound had provided that had enabled the change that the participants had experienced.
The first ingredient; A place, and reason to meet.
Putting them together in the first place was important – providing a platform for the meeting of musicians – people – with similar interests creates a unit, and an energy and enthusiasm that can be harnessed by each individual to relax and delve into whatever it is that carries them through the project. The project itself is an envelope, a theme that contains everything created, said and aimed for within a protective identity and space.
Second; Space to fail and try again
The atmosphere of the week was simultaneously relaxed and fired up, the result of the removal of everything but a shared creative goal and the freedom to play, in every sense. There was modesty but also honesty, criticism was non-judgemental but clear and purposeful, everyone could fail but no-one was allowed to fall and the strength of the collective group was high as a result.
Third; Support to succeed
The project setting, the project team and the lead practitioner were vital in enabling the right balance of freedom and guidance for the group. Too much freedom can be as disastrous as overbearing guidance; the leadership to get this right is a real skill, and a quality possessed by great practitioners. The development of a culture of giving feedback and suggestions for improvement within the group was vital. There is a knack to this in any case (see the coaching theory of COCI*) but an overarching environment in which this can happen is a great foundation to establish. On a one to one level, simply finding a shared idea between two people can be enough to send inspiration and ambitions soaring or veering off in new directions, and can provide the support scaffold for creative ideas to start leaving the safety of the brain.
Belief is the best gift we can give to inspire determination and forward momentum
The final ingredient; Confidence to proceed
One performer said when introducing her song to the crowd that developing her confidence had been the most important factor of the week. This is a familiar line. Some people just need to be told, “Yes, keep going in that direction. You’re on the right track” (especially by someone they hold in high regard) to realise that what is coming from them is good enough, creatively or otherwise. In the same way we rarely give technical advice to an athlete sprinting down the home stretch (opting instead for the “Yes! Go on!” angle,) often belief is the best gift we can give to inspire the determination and forward momentum that the creative mind needs.
It felt like a fair analysis as I stood and watched the stage performance in front of a sell out crowd at our host venue Band on the Wall, as these musicians played some of the most imaginative, creative and moving music I’ve heard live in years. All created within five days. One performer – as she announced before her piece – had never played a note outside her bedroom before this project. The project was, in this case, a one-week artistic residency with emerging professional musicians. The lead practitioner was Beth Orton. And the results were brilliant. I was proud that this is a part of Brighter Sound’s work alongside our programmes with children and young people, however a strong connection between the two felt overwhelmingly clear…
Young musicians develop and progress in the same way as emerging professional musicians
…I was struck afresh that two aspects - the experience level of the group and the high profile lead artist - were the only things that were different between this project and those we run with young people. The lead practitioner is a different expert. The participants aren’t yet emerging professionals.
But the principles and foundations above are all followed, as part of our ethos and approach. Young musicians develop and progress in the same way as those progressing at career level. They meet like-minded musicians, they collaborate and form new connections, they create, write and take risks in a safe creative environment, they are told, “yes”, and “amazing! Now try this!” They discover their belief.
Provide the key ingredients and people can and will progress their ideas, skills and self-belief
The needs in essence remain the same. Professionals thrive in the same way that young people do when in the right environment. Or to make the same point more poignant: there is a universal benefit for people to be given holistic development opportunities through music. Provide the ingredients and people – young, old, amateur, professional – can and will move forward and progress their ideas, skills and self-belief.
And it’s what any music organisation can and should aim to provide; to be a supportive space, place, organisation or person is to provide young people with an opportunity to be creative, to learn what music means to them and what they are capable of producing from within, and to point them toward what their next step could be, make choices, enjoy music making, create networks and move forward.
*COCI: Clear; not shrouded in apology, or nebulous, Owned by the giver; don’t blame anyone else for your opinions, Constructive; make a useful point that will be helpful to the listener, and have the correct Intent for feeding back; if you just want to vent, wait 24 hours and re-think.