The following blog was written by Annette McNelis, a trainee in our Music Bridge program in Northern Ireland.
About 20 years ago, in the remote little village of Culdaff, in the northern part of Co. Donegal, Ireland, I attended a workshop given by Su Hart and Martin Cradick of the Baka Beyond music group. This was my first introduction to the whole concept of community music.
This little taster awakened my senses and set me on the path that would shape my future. Participation in a variety of workshops over the next two decades left me feeling confident that my little ‘tool kit’ contained a sufficient supply of ideas and material for my work as a creative music educator. Not so!
I consider it a great blessing that in 2014 things conspired in my favour to enable me to become a participant in the Musicians Without Borders (MWB) ‘Music Bridge’ training programme, in Culturlann Uí Chanáin in Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
From the moment Danny Felsteiner engaged with us on day one, I quickly realised that my little ‘tool kit’ was lacking and, furthermore, I was not about to acquire a bigger ‘tool box’. Boxes have limited capacity! I was about to step into a whole new world and this life-changing journey would see me fill a ‘well’ with an abundance of skills and tools, way better than anything I could ever have imagined.
The MWB trainers take their role very seriously. They successfully, diligently and gently guide participants through full days of challenges, fun experiences and effective learning. We have each learned how to draw from our ‘well’ and of the importance of adding to it through new experiences and by the ongoing honing of our skills.
For me the MWB training has delivered way more than it promised at the outset. Morning activities are quickly followed by evening tasks and suddenly I’m setting off for home feeling physically exhausted yet fully alive and totally de-stressed. I drive home filled with this overwhelming sense of gratefulness for the gift of it all.
I’ve been stretched, inspired, encouraged and guided by the great love and generosity of spirit of the MWB team and my fellow participants. What I’ve learned most is that there is no end to the learning, there is no bottom to the well and there is no limit to what can be achieved.
Getting the opportunity to lead a workshop, in any setting, is a precious gift. The simplicity of a circle of people, young or old, clapping their hands together to a simple beat belies the profound impact such a basic experience can have on everyone present. Workshops are shaped by the energy of the participants, the workshop leader and the environment. Each will be unique and many will yield moments that magically unfold to become special memories to treasure. This is food for the soul.
War, extreme poverty, trauma, lifestyle – the chains that bind us can be many and varied but there is no doubt that community music can be a lifeline to a sense of freedom, whatever freedom might mean for each individual. It provides a real opportunity for people to ‘find’ themselves again, making it easier to bring people together through understanding and a sense of connectedness. I believe people need this now more than ever. This is why the work of MWB is valuable, powerful, vital and relevant. It cannot be measured. It has to be experienced and it is a real gift to the world.