Friday, 27 January 2012

One subject, two takes

Just after I completed the Culter Mills project last year I met Amy Marletta who was working on the Arts Development project Artist In The Green. A visual artist from Glasgow, Amy had involved residents and business people of The Green, an inner-city area of Aberdeen, in a series of photographic portraits and written a song on basis of their memories of the area. Though the idea of writing a song on basis of people’s memories is similar to the one I took in the Culter Mills project, I felt that our approaches were subtly different.

Whether a community music or arts activity is approached from an artistic or community development perspective influences how the relationship between artist and participants is negotiated and developed. Lyn Gardner even goes as far as warning against projects in which artists dash in with their own agendas and needs without real reference to the community. In my experience, even if a community artist or musician has own ideas at the outset of a project, he or she is often also genuinely concerned with incorporating the ideas of participants. Rather, I’d like to think that the kind of impacts of the two approaches are different.  

In the Culter Mills and Parallel Lives projects my intention was to contribute to community relations, while my Whaling and Songs Of The Earth projects have been driven by my enthusiasm for music composition. When I engage people in the latter kind of projects, I hope to contribute to the participants’ personal development by contributing to their (artistic) skills and inviting them to reflect on interesting subjects. This is different from the community development objectives in for example the Culter Mills and Parallel Lives projects. Such community development involves bringing communities together through, as Alison Rooke and David Kendall suggest, dialogue, sharing, friendships and action. Though I felt that Amy’s approach differed only subtly from my own, I now realise her work mainly engaged people on an individual basis, thus contributing to their personal development whereas my approach aimed more at enhancing community relations. The community development objective often involves a degree of personal development among the participants, but the personal development objective not necessarily includes the improvement of community relations. 

There is merit in both approaches to community music. Though I prefer to use both takes on the subject, I think it is important to be clear about my objectives for specific projects. As I’m interested in developing my ideas about the impacts of community music and arts on participants and their communities, I’d love to hear from other community musicians and artists about the work they’re doing.

For other blogs on community music:
Learning to sing together
More than music
On whose terms?
Why folk songs?
Community music - music for communities

Copyright text and image Petra Vergunst

Thursday, 19 January 2012

More than music

Arts Development have asked me to set up a choir to follow up to the Parallel Lives project. I’m excited about this opportunity as it allows me to build upon previous work rather than starting all over again in a new setting. And the choir will not just be any choir. It will be an intergenerational choir, bringing children and adults in the community together. As the choir will be a community development project, the role of the actual singing and music making may, however, be less obvious.

Intergenerational work brings different generations together to build more cohesive communities. Young and old benefit from such meetings. In an intergenerational choir younger participants will have an opportunity to meet trustworthy adults who are willing to take time and show interest in them, nurturing their talents. Older singers may have an opportunity to feel valued and share their stories and memories. Like in the other community music projects I've been involved in, the choir will be an opportunity for different groups of people to meet each other and create a dialogue.

A few days ago I read Lyn Gardner’s blog in the Guardian about community theatre in London. She argues that community theatre is about process rather than product. This is no less true for a community choir. Singing together in an intergenerational choir can help children and adults to bond. In Torry, community members want the choir to provide an opportunity for children to meet people who can take on the role of grandparents. Everybody who has ever sung in a choir will have experienced the sheer joy of singing together. The choir can also help the singers to understand community relations. To produce a good sound, and thereby a better experience, all singers will have to carefully listen to the people around them, and – quite literally – sing from the same (hymn)sheet. Everyone’s contribution is important.

In the community choir I’m intending to sing a lot of Scottish folk songs. Folk songs tell about the events, experiences and feelings of the people who wrote them. They may be a starting point for the adult members the choir to talk about their lives and the community. The very fact that there is scope to add new songs to the repertoire means that younger members of the choir can return this favour by writing a song about their own lives.

So what role is there for music in an intergenerational community choir? I’d say that even though singing may not be an objective in itself, it will be important as a means to achieve the wider community development objectives of the choir. 

Copyright text Petra Vergunst