Case Study 1 EC 15 years old. First language Romanian.
Attendance: EC has consistently attended the sessions and all we could offer during holidays.
Start: “I want to do keyboards.”
EC started the sessions with his cousin Sebastian. Neither of them had been in UK long. EC did not say much, but his cousin explained to him about how the sessions worked etc. He knew what he wanted – to play keyboards as much as possible. He seemed delighted at the opportunity. He could play some chords and seemed to have a really good feel for music. He did not mix however, sticking with Sebe, and saying very little; he seemed quite low in confidence, understandably, as a new comer without a lot of English. But he remained very focused.
During half term, we offered radio training sessions to the group. Only SC and EC came from that hub, and on the days they came, only AI came from the other hub, We set up the session so that Jason the radio trainer would take them into the studio first and show them the rudiments of broadcasting, with an opportunity to create some recorded content later in the afternoon. However, after introductions EC made it clear he only wanted to play the keyboard – saying ‘Miss. No keyboard? Where is keyboard?’ with such gentle insistence that I realised we had not successfully explained in previous meetings that these were actually radio training sessions. But he was quite clear in what he wanted and we were happy to be flexible, we switched the day round.
The three of them gelled enough to share the keyboard and to take turns in singing and choosing what they were going to sing. It was clear that EC was the most intuitively musical because he was clearly aware of mis-timings and chaotic tempo. He made gestures accordingly that One member was racing ahead on the cajon and the other was coming in at the wrong point but didn’t have the vocabulary or confidence to direct the situation.
In this tiny group, he asked to take over the singing part. It is hard to express how amazing it is when a usually silent boy suddenly sings, and carries on singing all afternoon. He was quite elated and appeared to take charge more then, in finding tunes on the laptop and deciding what happened next. He did a cover of Elton John’s ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’ and recorded a couple of Romanian songs with Sebe.
Later, he immediately took to the broadcast desk and was – within half an hour – very competent and confident. This is all with barely a word of English – but nevertheless he mastered the phrase ‘ALLFM 96.9, welcome to the show!’
EC continued to come to the weekly sessions, mainly on his own and kept aloof. Rachel our singing tutor offered to hear him sing – he refused pointblank. But she drew him in by asking him to play the Avicii chords for some who were working on it with guitars, drums etc. He agreed with some hesitation –I think he’s never quite sure what everyone is saying/planning etc. But from then on seemed to join in more often, and began accept help from Rachel and other group members.
Although he changed his mind about playing a tune on the piano at the Easter gig, he only did so at the last moment. It could be assumed it was a case of nerves, but I think it was more that he realised he needed to rehearse more before he would let himself perform in front of people – it was a fair and mature assessment of his own ability. I could see it dawning on him, as he watched the other performers that the weekly sessions were all about this moment. He said to me later that he definitely would perform next gig, because he would practice more and more.
Since then he has grown in confidence: with his singing – he recorded a solo at the Easter radio training sessions, in front of more of his peers (bewitching the whole of the radio station at the same time); socially: his association with AI has become more of a matey comradeship (see pictures) and brought a new girl to one session, who was also a newcomer to the UK – G, from Iran, whom he was looking after and encouraging to join things – and he freely mixes in the group and entertains with new tunes he’s learning, the latest, an Indian folk song. I challenged him to learn the singing part for next gig….. but, instead, he quietly worked on an original piano piece and played it at the end-of-project gig – which wowed us all because we had barely been aware of him creating it.
He has never missed an opportunity to make music at the sessions (which he has attended 100% since he started). In sessions leading up to the end gig he accompanied new members – eg as they developed their raps, at first with a little bit of mis-timing but once he understood where his riff fitted in, he was solid; with a new drummer DH whom he accompanied as he was getting up to speed with a song they’d been working on as a group – showing he has developed in terms of playing with other musicians in a more ad hoc way too.
His scores out of 10 at the beginning and end of the project:
“My experience of being with other music professionals – at start: 4, at end: 10
My ability to play an instrument – at start: 1, at end: 7
My ability to create my own songs – at start: 5, at end: 8
My confidence in performing – at start: 3, at end: 7.”
My ability to sing in public – at start:3, at end 5.
He also said: “Rachel helped me – I have made my own song. I sang and recorded during the radio training. At the gig in April I didn’t want to perform because I needed to practise more. Now I practise more! [The project was] very good, it has helped me to learn”
Case Study 2: LOH, 15 years old. British English.
LOH has consistently attended the sessions and most of what we could offer during holidays.
Being a later arrival to the project myself, I didn’t meet LOH until November 2014. At that point she was having regular singing tuition from Rachel the vocalist and help with her writing from Chris the lyricist. She rarely missed a session but didn’t seem to want to mix outside her very tight-knit group of friends who came with her. She seemed very shy and I didn’t hear her sing at all for weeks. She would stay in the teaching room with Rachel for the whole session, with her friends all sitting round the table, keeping up a continual banter. She seemed unable to separate from the group as an individual. Then on one occasion, when her first original song was ready, we suggested scratch-recording it with some of the other young musicians – the enthusiasm with which the others joined in was great. The situation meant LOH standing up, at the mic and performing. She was petrified. But she did it.
From then it seemed as though she became the calm pioneer of what could be done in the project. She was the first of the new term at the Burnage hub to go to SSR to be recorded. Her entourage wanted to go with her, and others were doing some shadowing in the recording studio, and yet others had offered to musically accompany her (Stuart on bass guitar and Bilal on cajon, with the tutor Rachel on keyboards). Consequently the studio was buzzing with young people – a very exciting start to our series of studio visits. She had written two of her own songs by then but recorded only one that session. This was her first time in a professional recording studio and I knew her nerves were troubling her, but she went ahead regardless and sang her song over and over, in front of all her pals, and at the end of the session received her first CD.
She attended the radio training sessions during which her focus was on the rap she was involved in with her small group (JW and FK). They rehearsed the piece for over 2 hours and then recorded it in the studio, and it went live at the end of that week. The degree with which they focused was quite remarkable. I feel certain that the example LOH set during her recording was reflected in the way her friends approached the radio recording of their piece.
At the live gig she vowed she would only do one song (a cover) because she was so nervous, but once on stage she found the confidence to sing one of her own compositions – showing how her drive manages to break through her nerves, enabling her to develop a very professional approach.
As the sessions have gone on she makes sure she has time with Rachel, and has carried on writing songs and has had two further recording sessions at SSR. To date she has written 7 songs. In terms of performance her nerves still bother her, but she keeps taking up the challenges pushing forward – she has never refused to go on stage. But not only this – I think she has unwittingly raised the bar for the whole group. Her friends FK and JW – at first just spectators with no commitment – seemed to taker her lead and approached me themselves and asked for recording sessions. To date they have recorded 4 songs and aim to return to SSR with further songs to record.
LOH’s scores out of 10 at the beginning and end of the project:
“My experience of being with other music professionals – at start: 5, at end: 8
My ability to create my own songs – at start: 5, at end: 8
My ability to work in a group of musicians – at start: 0, at end: 3
My confidence in performing – at start: 1, at end: 5.”
My ability to sing in public – at start:2, at end 5.
She also said: “It ‘s been a real confidence booster; my dad was really proud! I’ve learnt a lot with Rachel (piano/singing tutor).’
Re singing and writing her own songs: “I got help from Chris (lyrics tutor) – he helped me to look at things differently, and now Rachel helps me to think of the tune and do the chords myself”.
Re confidence, performing and working with others: “It’s (my ability to work with others) gone up because I’ve been working with other people regularly for a year. I’m still really nervous – just doing it really helps. It’s been really good – the recording sessions were a different experience”.
Case Study 3 – AI: 13 years old. First language English (Lebanese origin)
Attendance: AI has consistently attended the sessions and joined in the majority of what we could offer during holidays.
AI joined the Burnage hub in January 2015 and his story reflects the high and lows possible in young people’s projects .
He self-identified as being on the autistic spectrum and explained that his brain had developed beyond his years whereas his social skills were of a younger boy. He seemed very polite and positive – and extremely precocious and erratic. He demonstrated a wide range of musical skills – in piano, drums, guitar and vocals – although his particular aim was to gain an audience for his electronically generated music and beats, that he created using Fruity Loops Studio.
From the start he was quite demanding and forceful re getting his time with the tutors. He dominated the shared space with his sounds – but he was also very likeable and with lots of input and explanations from the coordinator and youth worker, was usually able to curb his high-energy demand for attention and unpredictable behaviour.
It quickly became apparent that his older fellow pupils at the local school, who also attended the project sessions, were in the habit of picking on him. They shunned him openly and complained about him during the sessions, particularly FK, BM and LR . When we questioned them they said they ‘couldn’t stand him’ because he was always hanging around them and being ‘really annoying’ – he was ‘asking for it’. It seemed the more AI tried to impress them with his musical ability and creativity, the more they alienated him. However, we explained that bullying was not permitted within the project and kept a close eye on how things developed.
AI seemed very aware that he wasn’t wanted by them. He would only occasionally express his dismay at not being accepted by the older boys, and not having any friends. He seemed to compensate his feelings of rejection by behaving with bravado – but he never gave up trying to impress them – this came to a head when BM badly pinched his neck (see report) . His usual bravado deserted him and he retreated into the drum tutor’s room. This incident was dealt with, the perpetrator duly warned and AI comforted with counselling from the coordinator and drumming tutor -and tea and biscuits. He recovered very quickly but it was obvious he was really upset.
A few weeks later, he arrived wearing a cast on his forearm and injuries to his nose and lips – but still chirpy, saying ‘ I fell over’ followed by ‘I’ll tell you the truth later’. He disclosed to each tutor, the youth worker and the coordinator in turn that his stepfather had beaten him up. We contacted the school who explained that an intervention in the family was being made. We realised that this young person had a very disturbed family life. In general he turned up to the sessions very cheerfully and enjoyed the attention from the coordinator and tutors, which he demanded a lot of – and continued to create songs using FL studio. But overall he represented a significant challenge in terms of his emotional and social needs.
A turn in his fortunes regarding his need for acceptance from the older boys seem to come on 8th April 2015 at the gig. He was last on the bill (which he liked because it meant he was the best). He got on stage with his laptop – he played his original material and to his surprise the older boys got on stage spontaneously and danced to his beats. He was visibly delighted. From then on he didn’t get as much negativity from them, to the point where, at one of the later ALLFM sessions, FK and JW asked him to do the backbeats on their third recording – which was to be in the middle of July. We were really pleased that AI was getting the acceptance he craved. He worked with them during a couple of sessions to get the songs together.
However, whether connected with his elation at being accepted or for reasons we don’t know, but managing his erratic, demanding behaviour became very difficult – not made easier by the necessary restrictions imposed on all the young people at the radio station – the need for quiet working due to live radio sessions being broadcast in the same small building, staying in designated spaces to keep within our safeguarding guidelines, taking turns regarding recording for example. Unfortunately after many explanations and warnings he insisted on roaming around the building, disturbing other young people’s tuition and random smoking breaks (he was found smoking an e-cigarette in the session, which gave everyone a giggle – but the attention he got unfortunately seemed to encourage further unmanageable behaviour).
The outcome was that, on the day before the final gig , his behaviour was such that we had to ask him to leave the session early, which he struggled with. We made a deal with him that he could return for the final gig the next day, if he went home without further trouble. He did, but then, for reasons we don’t know, he didn’t come the next day. He missed his last chance at performing and then subsequently missed his chance to be recorded professionally with the older boys. He went to abroad for the whole summer so there was no possibility of rearranging anything for him. He had shown such pleasure in scoring his achievements only days earlier, it was very sad that he didn’t benefit as fully as he could have. Although his progress appears to have been hampered by his struggle to behave appropriately, we did not fail to recognise that particular expertise and an optimum environment would have meant a much better outcome for him.
His scores out of 10 at the beginning and end of the project:
“My experience of being with other music professionals – at start: 0, at end: 10
My ability to work in a group of musicians – at start: 2, at end: 5
My ability to create my own songs – at start: 3, at end: 11 (!)
My confidence in performing – at start: 1, at end: 6.”
He also said: “The amount of experience I’ve gained is a lot – like the happiness you get is awesome.”