Two museum staff are in a conversation with an older men who holds a tool in his hands.
This is a memory-sharing weekend at Verdant Works, Dundee’s museum about the town’s jute industry, housed in a former mill. John Duncan, now in his nineties, tells the museum’s education and community outreach officer Brian Kelly and his colleague about his experiences as a millworker.
A woman sits at a desk writing a text with notes from the memory-sharing weekend scattered around her.
And this is the office of community musician Petra Vergunst, who carries out the community music project at Verdant Works of which the memory-sharing event is but the start. I’m here to ask her how she thinks her community music projects influence communities. First, though, we need to find out how she develops her projects.
CLOSE-UP OF THE TOP OF A TABLE IN THE LARGE ROOM
A copy of an A4-sized songbooklet lies open on the table and an anonymous hand turns to pages to reveal a series of songs.
Community musician Petra Vergunst (voiceover)
Songs play a central role in my community music projects. I compose the words and music for these songs myself and try to capture the memories, experiences and reflections of participants in them. Here at Verdant Works, for example, we’re looking at the experiences of people who’ve worked in Dundee’s jute industry.
CLOSE-UP OF PETRA VERGUNST IN THE MACHINE HALL AT VERDANT WORKS
You can think of this music, based on the memories and experiences of people who have worked on the mill floor, as capturing a community narrative, a popular discourse that tells the story of the jute mills in Dundee and that many Dundonians feel describes their heritage and determines who they are now.
THE LARGE ROOM
Petra Vergunst is leading a choir of twenty to thirty people who sing from the songbooklet.
You rehearse the music you’ve written in public workshops. Who are your participants and how do they react to your music?
CLOSE-UP OF PETRA VERGUNST IN FRONT OF THE CHOIR
Community musician Petra Vergunst
The participants for this public workshop at Verdant Works were recruited through press releases, emails to community organisations and word of mouth. I won’t say that recruitment isn’t hard work, but those people who do come forward tend to be very enthusiastic about being part of the project.
What impact do you feel your projects have on communities?
CLOSE-UP OF THE PETRA VERGUNST IN FRONT OF THE CHOIR (CONT.)
Community musician Petra Vergunst
It is hard to lay your finger on how exactly community music projects influence communities, as the number of people participating is low as compared to the number of inhabitants of Dundee. But projects are important to those people who participate. In this project at Verdant Works, for example, The Dundee Free Voice Singers, led by Margaret Mathers, asked whether they could round off the public workshop by singing a few traditional Dundee mill songs. Such initiatives can really bring a project to life, and are an example of how this project was embraced by participants.
THE LARGE ROOM (CONT.)
A brief continuation of Petra Vergunst leading the choir who are singing the songs written specifically for the project.
CLOSE-UP OF PETRA VERGUNST IN THE MACHINE HALL AT VERDANT WORKS (CONT.)
Researcher Petra VergunstThis community music project revives the popular story of Dundee’s jute industry. To continue to be meaningful a narrative needs to be reinforced regularly so that people reconnect to it and re-evaluate the meaning of it to them personally. The community dialogue created through this community music project helps people to do so. This narrative, together with the experience of participating in a project that reinforces this discourse, heightens the sense of community participants experience.
Copyright text and images Petra Vergunst