The following piece was written by Lisa Convery, Music Bridge trainee, following the first training week of the 2016-2017 program.
My heart has always been in music, whether it’s been teaching the piano on and off or promoting the arts and bands where I live. For some time I have also been volunteering with people with mental difficulties through music and it has been such a fabulous experience and thoroughly rewarding.
The more I got involved, the more I realised how many other people were looking for opportunities to get involved in music. For many it is a lifetime ambition, having previously thought they couldn’t get involved because they either didn’t read music or they couldn’t play an instrument. I decided that I would finally ‘go for it’ and devote myself to playing whatever part I could to help that happen because I know what a release it is to be able to express yourself through music when words fail you for whatever reason. It is a gift to give to someone and when I see the joy in someone who can finally achieve this, it makes me want to bring this gift to more people who need it. Although I’ve taught groups different subjects, I have never taught music in a group situation and I was so happy to discover the Music Bridge project. This was, for me, the perfect opportunity to try and acquire the skills I needed and so it was with great anticipation that I stepped through the doors of the Culturlann on the 13th of November, 2016.
I knew from that moment that we were in very experienced and friendly hands. The building itself was an inspiration with its open atrium and modern architecture. There is a lot of thought gone into the building and this transposes itself onto the people who work there. It was clear from the beginning that Amanda was very accomplished and professional as a musician and a teacher. I knew immediately that I was going to learn a lot more than I had even hoped for. Josie, the music therapist, gave discreet but strong support both to Amanda and ourselves and so we felt very secure in that we had more than one person to go to with any questions. The second year students who joined us in the beginning were very encouraging and it was great to hear how they’ve incorporated a lot of what they’ve learnt in their work. There was also an observer from Scotland who was both contributing and helping us throughout the week and this was an added support.
We began our own first class as if we were teaching ourselves. Amanda demonstrated how we might begin through name games and the rhythm was repeated for everyone’s name. Although we were in a group, we were given individual recognition and I can see how important this would be in many situations, especially where people feel they have become invisible. Various techniques like this were explained to us throughout the course, as were the benefits. This demonstrative style of teaching is very familiar to me and I find it much more effective than simply telling someone how to do something.
We learnt how to use call and response methods with sticks and songs. You won’t find the lyrics of the songs in the English dictionary! To me, many of the songs sounded like they were of African origin but it didn’t matter. It was the sound of the words that was important because the tunes were then open to interpretation. This showed us that we could communicate with anyone in any language though music. We also learnt that having an instrument was not the be all and end all. In fact, apart from the sticks and the little egg shakers, I don’t think we used one single instrument until the last day when a few were left on the stage for us to jam on after our consultations with Amanda and Josie! That was a game changer for me. I was taught how to play classically and I am always envious of people who are not as dependent as me on reading music. For someone who wants to start a new group it also showed that you do not need an orchestra to create a music class in the community. Hallelujah! You just need your hands and some sticks! Sorted.
Speaking of orchestras, I fulfilled a lifetime ambition, thanks to Amanda, by finally getting to conduct and what an orchestra it was! In a never to be repeated performance, I was incredibly grateful to get the opportunity to conduct two high pitched squeaks, a couple of very guttural volcano type murmurs and a splatter of pebbles against gritted teeth for good measure.
Music brings many emotions to the fore and I believe fun should play a huge part. Fun is important as an escape and it makes learning easy. It plays a massive role in children’s lives and for those who are short of fun, music can offer some welcome respite.
The combination of play and music is what gives people the courage and freedom to express themselves. This is exactly what Music Bridge provides and it offers all participants the opportunity to pass on this gift to anyone. I am so happy to be part of it and I cannot wait for the next module. Thanks to all our teachers and the wonderful people on the course. Three syllables – FAB-UL-OUS.