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Essay: Community music projects and engagement

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  • Subject area(s): Sociology essays
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  • Community music projects and engagement
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3.1 The Community

A Community Music project cannot exist without the vital component of Community. As a transitioning concept, Community Music begins with the people and society surrounding the project; Principally, community is at the centre of the project. Community is a liberated term; thus, it has been defined as;

“A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” (Oxford University Press, 2018)

In summary, in connection of this definition, a community has an instant connection and bond by having one or more traits in common.

These elements of Community characteristically include;

• A group of people-

“when a group of people live together and share a common life and binded by a strong sense of community consciousness at that moment a community is formed.” (, 2018)

• Locality- A geographical area where the community belongs to a specific region with a strong connection of community living in one definite territory.

• Community Sentiment- A general belief of belonging of having similar conformities and expressing similar attitudes.

• Common interests and likeness- A community bonds by having a shared way of life. For example; morals, traditions, customs, language are comparable.

• Permanence- A community should be stable and not temporary

• Neutrality- A community may be a group, but it is important to relate to a group of induvial and the unique individuals being brought together to form a diverse, neutral community

• Size- No matter big or small the population, the group of people is a community nevertheless

• Regulations and Laws- People in a community come together to meet the primary needs of rules and regulations which are set by government institutions and organisations.

However, in post-conflict Northern Ireland, there are certain Communities and areas that are divided due to conflicting politics from the harrowing past known as ‘The Troubles’.

Divided communities can arise from several factors. A community is made up from mostly social interests. If the community bond breaks it could be for several reasons, leaving the community vulnerable and insecure. For example;

• Social Background or status within the community for example working class or marginalised communities such as migrants could be excluded due to their minority status within the community.

• Limited education history or lack of qualifications could be a reason for exclusion from job applications or community activities.

• Inability to join a community group or club due to a personal issue for example health issue or language barrier.

• Lack of amenities or facilities in the area to socialise can result in neglect of a Community.

• Poverty; a high rate of depravation could include the lack of education and a lack of monetary skills.

• High rate of crime in the area; perhaps drug issues or alcoholism resulting in less community involvement, weaker attachment to community and community decline.

3.1.1 Community Engagement

One of the key fundamentals of a Community is the impact of Community Engagement. Through this, the Community will develop and strengthen while encouraging the preservation of tradition. This component can connect communities, specifically those who have been divided;

“Community engagement is a purposeful process which develops a working relationship between communities, community organisations and public and private bodies to help them to identify and act on community needs and ambitions. It involves respectful dialogue between everyone involved, aimed at improving understanding between them and taking joint action to achieve positive change. Community engagement is supported by the key principles of fairness and equality, and a commitment to learning and continuous improvement.” (Scottish Government, 2018)

Overcoming Barriers to Community Engagement

• The limited financial capacity and ability of different stakeholders to participate: This could include statutory funding bodies or arts organisations who should be aware of the barriers to overcome funding issues and the ultimate requirement to participate in techniques and methods which are needed to target Community Engagement.

• Hard to reach groups’ such as young people, older people, minority groups or socially excluded groups: To overcome this barrier of engagement, create a need for independent facilitation and have a location and accessibility for a suitable venue. Another example of this could be rural isolation where transport is a vital requirement to create a means of engagement within the community.

• Levels of community infrastructure are low: By planning a number and type of engagement events for the community, the community are guided to an approach of Community Engagement.

• Contested or divided communities; Generate a process to make community involvement the key focus of Community Engagement and bring the community together to reconcile differences for example, formatting communication and making public announcements.

• Literacy and numeracy levels and dominance of oral culture: The need for outreach activities for example, this is pertinent in rural communities of Northern Ireland who are reliant on oral, word of mouth communication.

The process of Quality Community Engagement

The USC Thornton Community Engagement Program

The above project is a diverse and extensive music education-oriented program that provides unique learning opportunities for children in the local community, as well as significant service-learning opportunities for Thornton students, based in LA. The main aims and objectives of the project are;

• Making a positive impact on Community Engagement by participants engaging more within the group.

• Accomplish an instant connection between education and creativity.

• Being available for all; making the program inclusive.

• Initially for students who can’t afford private music lessons, advancing the Communities accessibility to music making.

• Making the project a limitless atmosphere for the children, having imagination as a free concept for the children to explore.

The program is taken over by Community Music students who are practitioners;

“Some of the children don’t realise that they have a musical talent and because they are exposed to it they start developing this love for music” (Garcia, 2017)

Ultimately, for the participants, they are gaining several key skills while obtaining numerous lifelong benefits;

• A sense of meaning; a delight to discover what the music means to the individual, having a sense of enjoyment in an activity without the burden of requiring learning.

• Confidence; creating a spirit of imagination and allowing everyone to be confident in their self-expression.

• Inspiration; The children can become inspired to do better and inspired to learn by the Community Musicians who are encouraging and leading the children along their learning curves.

• Creativity; Becoming creative with open-minded learning and developing creativity through the ability to identify and solve problems.

• Fresh Insight; Although the children benefit greatly from the program, the leaders also gain a fresh insight to their methods as they learn there are no filters with the children. The children will freely express how they feel or think.

• An innovative approach; a new way of learning compared to what the children may learn in school.

• Skills; Gaining a new skill or developing a current skill such as critical thinking, creativity, communication and adaptability. Eventually, everyone is learning something new and valuable.

• Wellbeing; Gaining insight to the improvement of physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.

“Regardless of what they go through in their leaves they can turn to it as a source of expression or creativity if they ever need to” (Olson, 2017)

Focusing on the USC Thornton Community Engagement Program, it is evident that Community Engagement can bridge a gap between Communities who are broken and need to come together as one. The concept of Community Engagement is an essential part of what can enlighten meaningful contribution to a society that is in need.

“Engaging in community music activity can be a positive experience, helping learners build resilience and maintain a sense of confidence in their capacity to be successful. Music lessons can play a critical role in building the foundations for their future learner identities.” (Lee Higgins, 2017)

3.1.2 Community Capacity Building

“Building community capacity and influence by enabling individuals, groups and communities to develop the confidence, understanding and skills required to influence decision making and service delivery. This could include enabling communities to provide and manage services to meet community needs.” (, 2004)

A Community can bring a wealth of assets;

• Experiences

• Knowledge

• Skills

• Resources

These assets help a community to assess and outline their concerns and issues. This concept is known as Community Capacity for example a community who has capacity can run clubs for social benefit and mutual support, manage their own community centres, offer social and learning activities, mount campaigns that address important issues, help inform and improve social services and, in some cases, provide services which are for the people, by the people. It is necessary to highlight that this type of community is a strong exciting community. However, there are other traits which a strong community hold;

• A range of groups or networks who work together with the wider community to tackle shared issues.

• To build upon the community capacity could be supporting people to take part by removing barriers. For example, actively encouraging those who don’t usually have a voice or who feel particularly excluded or weak within the Community to take part using a straight forward approach that people understand.

• Many communities particularly broken or disadvantaged communities look for support to help increase their capacity. This support helps them organise and build on their existing strengths.

• The aim is to provide support so that communities are better able to achieve change. This support is called Community Capacity Building.

• In order to tackle issues, the Communities in need use resources such as advice, information, buildings, equipment or funds.

• Another reason for support could include the need to become more socially inclusive in working together to represent the Community to resolve the outcome of making better decisions.

• A key process within Community Capacity Building is learning from and building on the specific Communities capacity.

• Community Capacity Building is reliant on having a strong community

• To achieve a sense of having a strong Community, support can come from various bodies who aim to support community groups, particularly those that are disadvantaged or excluded to develop their skills, confidence, resources and influence that build their capacity

“Community music’s equivalent to storytelling is constructed and re constructed sound, both made individually and with others. Safe spaces are created through the intervention of the facilitator. Musical pathways are developed as participants become more aware of themselves and those in community with them. When this practice enables one to hear with the whole being (and often we hear in ways that we are not verbally possible to express), it might be considered an empathetic practice, an act of hospitality. It is in the invitation to hear in nuanced ways that opens up the potential opportunities of feeling the ‘otherness’ with authentic and grounded perspectives. Empathetic practice is key to the building of communities and developing the capacity to show empathy towards the challenges that are being faced daily by those around us enables us to value the realities, the good and the bad.” (Lee Higgins, 2017)

3.1.3 Community Empowerment

• The Programme is funded by Peace III, a type of funding which is aimed at bringing divided Communities together after the horrific past in Northern Ireland.

• Continued for four years

• Community Partnerships formed between FOCUS, Fermanagh & Omagh District Council, WELB and Omagh Forum for Rural Associations.

• The project was based around tackling issues of Sectarianism and Racism using Themed weekly sessions, where Guest speakers and leaders would deliver training on a wide range of relevant Community topics, for example, Cultural Awareness, Equality, Personal Development and


• Speaking on behalf of FOCUS, Conor Keys explained that the whole Programme was about tackling the serious issues occurring in the current Community such as discrimination, racism, homophobia and sectarianism.

“We wanted to show the young adults that one of the most important things in the world is how you deal with difference. If you can respect Difference, you become a “different” person. You become someone who understands that “your” way may not always be the way.” (Focus Community, 2008)

To summarise, Community Empowerment should include the following insights:

1. Community empowerment should involve an entire community, not just a select few members of the Community.

2. Community empowerment is a considered process to focus on how the people work in empowering ways; and as an outcome; a lasting change which is intended to advance the quality of life for communities and surroundings.
All in all, Community Empowerment improves the quality of life for the individual and primarily for the Community.

3.1.4 Social Inclusion

Social Inclusion is the basis of my project as it derives the idea that anyone can be a part; all ages and all abilities should be made welcome in the Community. The term comes from a lack of community inclusion and derives from the term; Social Exclusion. Social Exclusion is defined by Ireland’s National Action Plan as;

“People are living in poverty if their income and resources (material, cultural and social) are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living which is regarded as acceptable by Irish society generally. As a result of inadequate income and resources, people may be excluded and marginalised from participating in activities which are considered the norm for other people in society” (Cork City Council, 2009)

By reviewing the definition of Social Exclusion, the National Economic and Social Forum defines Social Inclusion is;

“.. the process by which certain groups are brought from the margins of society to participate more fully in that society through the removal of the barriers to them so doing by virtue of poverty, low education, inadequate life­skills and/or low recognition and status in terms of cultural identity and contribution.” (Cork City Council, 2009)

3.1.5 Creativity

“Creativity and inclusion come from a vision of a community that is more cohesive, connected and collaborative. The result is the emergence of a better society, and the leader must create a pattern of work that responds to that evolving and ongoing change.” (Lee Higgins, 2017)
A major part of being in any community music project is the freedom of opportunity and expressing opinions and in particular; creativity. It is necessary to have a secure sense of freedom of experience in terms of creating sounds and developing an active musical experience.

“Music Groupwork can also involve imaginative creation, purposeful collaboration and fun. It can awaken our sense of shared ritual. Stimulate us to work creatively with others and help us to rediscover ways of expressing ourselves which we sorely need in our arid, inhibited society.” (Achenbach, 1997)

3.1.6 Accessibility

Music, amongst all the great arts, is the language which penetrates most deeply into the human spirit, reaching people through every barrier, disability, language and circumstance. This is why it has been my dream to bring music back into the lives of those people whose lives are especially prone to stress and suffering… so that it might comfort, heal and bring delight. (Live Music Now, 2018)

3.1.7 Community Cohesion

“The concept of community cohesion is an important one in Northern Ireland given the background of sectarian divide. Responsibility for issues bearing on social inclusion is shared between several government departments, but it is the Department for Communities which has primary responsibility for social inclusion, including community cohesion and addressing disadvantage and inequalities.” (European Commission, 2017)

3.2 Existing Music Hubs and Organisations

Supporting communities to develop their skills and abilities to undertake research and evidence issues of concern is a positive way of building the capacity of communities to achieve change. It has been shown that the use of music, and more specifically, community music, is one of the most effective ways to embark on that process of identifying communities issues and tackling them using shared creativity through musical participation.

“Ireland has a long history of ‘communal’ music-making – from traditional music sessions to evenings around the piano, from brass bands to garage bands, community choirs and orchestras. The ‘community music’ that we often hear talked about today, however, has less to do with Ireland’s general musical life and more to do with processes that try to enrich the cultural life of different communities.” (Community Music Ireland, 2018)

Community Music is unique in several ways. It’s purpose is to be;

• Accessible
• Creative
• Participation is inclusive
• Focuses on a weak part of Community for example; disadvantaged groups
• Opportunistic

Relevant examples of Music Hubs and organisations in the UK and Ireland are;

3.2.1 Existing Music Hubs

Soco Music Project

• The project started in 2008.
• The focus of the hub is to deliver engagement and inspirational; music making is the key activity for the project.
• The Goal of the project is to develop learning through engagement by being inclusive for all and promoting equal opportunity.
• Available for all levels of music-making which makes the hub accessible for musicians and non-musicians.
• The programme is separated by two areas; Engage and Elevate

1.Engage is aimed at supported music making for children, young people and vulnerable adults who namely, have never played or interacted with music before.

2.Elevate is about supporting music careers, through recording, promoting, training and development. This area of the Community Music hub is relevant for Musicians who perhaps have lacked motivation to continue their learning of music or want to continue their music interests and personal musical journey.

Sheffield Music Hub

“We believe that every child, regardless of race; gender; where they live; their levels of musical talent; parental income; whether they have special educational needs or disabilities; and whether they are looked-after children; deserve the very best music education” (Sheffield Music Hub, 2018)

This project is promoting accessible music making and social inclusion. Being part of the group enhances the prosperity of all music genres from a range of Rock and Pop groups, Orchestras, Wind bands, Jazz groups, Samba bands, groups for single instruments (flutes, clarinets, guitars).

Music Generation South Dublin

Music Generation South Dublin is a music education service for children and young people that provides a range of opportunities throughout the county for 0 – 18-year olds to learn music.

It is part of Music Generation – Ireland’s National Music Education Programme, initiated by Music Network, co-funded by U2, The Ireland Funds, the Department of Education and Skills and Local Music Education Partnerships’ is supported and funded at a local level by South Dublin County Council and Dublin/Dun Laoghaire ETB.

The aim of the Music Generation model is to provide long-term access to high-quality, subsidised and sustainable performance music education for children and young people in Ireland, regardless of their socio-economic background or culture.

3.2.2 Community Music Organisations

Making Music

The Making Music Workshop Limited delivers several music learning activities that are project-led and target-driven. Central to its core, is the opportunity to improve lives by making issues that are real to the participants central to the song-writing process.

The Making Music Workshop Limited has a socially-conscious impact dimension which has demonstrated successful outputs and outcomes through projects carried out in Peace ii and iii, by improving the understanding of different communities’ political and value systems, and establishing empathy and respect, while reducing instances of fear, ignorance and distrust.

It has designed projects for Neighbourhood Renewal, which deal with social exclusion, anti-authority perceptions and the issues affecting specific areas suffering social and financial hardship. For the Northern Ireland-based ‘Extended Schools’ project, it facilitated a vehicle of expression for young primary and secondary pupils on the school premises, to provide a safe and inclusive opportunity for self-expression and learning. The Making Music Workshop team are experienced in working with young people from challenged backgrounds and community environments.

Music for Life

Music for Life is a not for profit organisation set up to support schools and parents in offering opportunities for young people to learn a musical instrument successfully and to inspire them to engage with music making throughout their school life and beyond. The scheme operates right across the whole of Cheshire and has recently been invited by schools on the Wirral and in North Staffordshire to work as a key music partner to organise instrumental tuition.

Music for Life works in partnership with around 130 schools and 90 specialist instrumental tutors to teach more than 3,500 young people in school every week. Music for Life has done this without ever receiving public funding. The result is that all these years on, Music for Life can rightfully claim an impressive track record of success, something strongly endorsed by two independent evidence-based reports produced in partnership with the Federation of Music Services and the Department for Education which both judged Music for Life’s overall effectiveness and value for money to be “outstanding”.

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