Catch you Through it All by the PL5 ~ Together for Childhood
Plymouth Music Zone began working on this NSPCC-funded project just under a year ago in early spring of 2020, before Covid-19 lockdown started. Three different music leaders were to work alongside year 10 students from MAP (Marine Academy Plymouth).
You can also listen to the track with explanation from the NSPCC here.
What was the project for?
The project brief was to create a song with the young people that discussed consent and sexual health, but from a teenager’s perspective.
Music Leader Reflections on meeting the project brief.
We met the brief of the project as it all came from the perspectives of the young people. However, the final outputs didn’t completely showcase this as originally intended because Covid-19 meant we had to work quite differently to normal.
We were online for most of the project. Therefore, as music leaders we had to ‘direct’ and steer the project more. Every sentence / contribution still came from the young people, but had to be more guided. For example, making suggestions such as ‘it needs a rhyme there’ or making suggestions like adjusting syllables to make better sense in the line. If I’d have been in the room, I’d have got them to try this out for themselves rather than me suggesting and shaping things in this way.
We produced a song by the end of it. The only difference was that we didn’t record all the young people themselves in the final track. These voices were then music leader, Paul Lacey, myself and the NSPCC staff and one young person did record themselves, but only wanted to be audible on the choruses because he felt self-conscious. That was partly because they were non-musicians and also they weren’t that confident about recording themselves on their phones etc. The staff supporting the young people really stepped up. We did the best we could in the circumstances but it was meant to be their actual voices (as well as their words) talking about consent. This felt a bit strange and I felt that some of the impact was lost because we ended up having to use some of the adults’ voices to pull the work together.
The original plan was that the song was going to be played back to the year group and used to educate other young people about sexual health and consent. I think young people are more likely to listen to their peers than adults, so the fact that it wasn’t possible to hear all their own voices in the end might not have worked so well. Then again, it’s possible to think of that the other way round. The actual messages were still the same.
I think the song itself is good – it works well, considering all the challenges and the fact we weren’t together in the same room!
How was it put together?
There was a session at the school with all the music leaders involved in the project. Then there were three writing sessions and three recording technique / performance set up.
We had two sessions at PMZ hall as a music session doing a Stomrzy song (‘Crown’). In this session there were about 8 or 9 young people. One or two of them started engaging with the mic and then that drew in a whole group of them. There were enough of them that meant I could back off the mic and just let them get on with it.
Sadly, following this face-to-face session we went into the first national lockdown in March 2020. The young people were all isolated at home minus their peers, and only their own voices available to them to contribute. I really felt for them in that sense because it really changed things. They had good reasons as to why they didn’t feel confident to engage with it on their own. For example, they were not confident about hearing their own voices played back, or using the tech they had at home to capture it.
We had full attendance during the writing sessions. However there was a significant reduction in attendance during the online recording sessions for a number of very legitimate reasons. Throughout all of this we were in full national lockdown aside from the week before it when we were actually together.
I recorded my guitar and vocals at home. This was sent to my colleague, Steve Becket for production.
For non-musicians the recording aspects were the biggest challenge as it was all very exposed. With a very ‘lean’ track placed in the background for them before production, it was hard for them to understand how it would all come together. I can imagine this was really difficult not knowing that it wouldn’t necessarily sound as cool as they’d expect it to early on, without us there to take them through that stage.
Steve pulled all the recordings together from the staff who submitted their materials to us. We set it up so they could listen to the track on one device and record themselves on another device and Steve lined it all up. This was quite a task that was a lot harder than recording in one room.
Challenges (group work and impact on creativity
The most awesome things that happen at Plymouth Music Zone are when non-musicians are brought together and suddenly there’s that sense of things coming together, created by the group. That wasn’t at all possible in the same way on this project.
We couldn’t do musical warm-ups with the group and things like that which build up musical skills. Songwriting was fine, because it was more discussion-based stuff. We didn’t ‘jam’ or explore the different musical elements in the same way – it didn’t feel very experiential in that sense.
We did mind-mapping around a topic, which was great, but I found it really hard to make it musical in the same way I ordinarily would. The magic that happens and the potential of that happening is taken away from you when working online in this experience. It doesn’t feel as natural.
The first (pre-lockdown) sessions were discussion-based. They had something to talk about and be in control of, and the writing demonstrated how they were beginning to be empowered by that. When we moved into the more individual experiences online this all changed. These were children already going through a tough time and then a global pandemic happened – so many additional challenges were hidden away.
We weren’t made aware of the home lives of the young people we were working with, but I can only imagine that the participants that didn’t get involved at all were facing many additional challenges.
Tools and technology challenges
The young people didn’t have instruments at home, so without these things obviously there could be hardly any musical interaction at all apart from using voices. From my experience (especially with teenagers) using the voice is where people feel most vulnerable and exposed. You can hide behind instruments a bit more and can be more part of a group in this way.
A lot of the young people wanted to turn their cameras off, which was completely understandable. I didn’t want to pressurise anyone to put a camera on. However, because of this, we didn’t know how involved they were at the time because we couldn’t see them. Another aspect of what we take for granted in sessions was removed.
How much we could ask of people was limited in terms of what they would share within their own spaces at home. Some people were going to be more reluctant to show what their homes looked like in the background. (A bit like the school uniform issue like trends or what you have and don’t have, you could apply this to homes as well). I didn’t feel comfortable to ask people to show their face, but as a music leader it was a strange experience to talk to a blank screen.
Learning to take forward…
Through my personal, private tuition and other work with PMZ, I’ve learnt a lot about how much I actually do in a lesson. On reflection, I have learned that I almost support too much with people’s playing. I have had to hand over more to the participants, so this is a really helpful bit of reflection. This is still possible online as people get more confident.
I’ve been more descriptive in my notes and chord sheets when I prepare them so that. I’d be interested in learning more about how you make an online music session more musical for non-musicians, which has been the striking thing with this project.
I personally feel like throughout all this I have been much more aware of my own appearance online. So, what I look like etc. I am therefore aware and appreciate what that pressure can feel like I guess. It’s made me reflect on this more empathetically.
Contrary to my expectations, I’ve had a greater number of older musicians signing up for online private music lessons than younger people. They’ve had to learn to use the platforms like Skype and Zoom. The young people already knew how to use these things but were reticent to do so, which an interesting comparison. They were a bit more questioning whether they wanted this part of their worlds to be almost intruded upon for learning purposes. I felt like they were exploring how to allow these things to collide.
I was also originally hesitant to setting up online lessons as well. That was when I thought it would all be back to normal in a few weeks. I felt the routine and structure I had was successful I couldn’t see it working any other way. I’ve gone on a journey to create calm in the chaos.
I think every music leader / tutor or facilitator in the arts sector should definitely be willing to give online delivery a go if they haven’t done so already. It can be really successful in new ways. Because on paper you could have looked at these young people and presumed that they wouldn’t want to participate and yet they did. We adjusted things along the way, but what’s amazing is that they demonstrated their value of what the project offered them. They got involved in the HEIGHT of lockdown, including the first proper creative session. They still turned up and should be commended. It’s just proof that the project was worth something and had a purpose.
Rachel, the main organiser from NCPCC who brought people together congratulated them hugely on this. The output wasn’t the important thing, but it turned out sounding great. Moreover that despite all the barriers and difficulties they still attended and were part of the project.
All in all lots of learning and it was COOL! It became very much a team effort. Possibly, this was more so than if we had not had these additional challenges.
Through the collaboration of Plymouth Music Zone staff, the young people themselves, MAP, NSPCC staff and everyone all pulled together to make it work. Fantastic!
Participant Quotes from the final session (anonymised)
‘Happy with the track- happy with how it sounds’
‘Would have been more comfortable in the studio for recording- didn’t want to record their own voice at home’
‘Enjoyed being part of the zoom because it was with participants who wanted to be part of the project’
‘Working in the studio with Steve (highlight)
‘How it brought people that don’t usually talk, together’
‘It’s been brilliant, due to my disability, this has been the only interaction with other people during lockdown’
Feedback from overall project…Participant Voices
• The virtual sessions meant the participants were only those who wanted to be involved in the project
• Found it interesting to see how long the songwriting process takes and how it all worked together
• Due his disability F felt more comfortable recording at home as he fears places won’t be accessible along with being much more confident and comfortable working at home independently
• (F was the only participant that featured on the track) Felt it was great to be part of the recording but wishes there were more young people’s voices with him
• Felt we offered enough help, support and advice with writing and recording at home
• Felt he could hear the difference the lack of recording equipment (i.e. use of phones over microphones) made a difference to the overall sound but was very happy with the track (he even has it saved as his ringtone!)
• Would have preferred to work face-to-face but was also happy to only be surrounded by participants who really wanted to be part of the project/ songwriting process
• (K wrote a verse independently, and several lines featured in the final version) Wasn’t sure how to articulate what it felt like to hear her own words on the track but became very aware of the power of words; how different lyrics could affect people differently and how her own words reflected what others felt too.
• K has a smashed phone so tried to record herself but it was too quiet/ of poor quality that she felt it wasn’t worth sharing.
• (Of all the participants, S was the only one who was able to attend the sessions at the PMZ building and on Zoom) Felt she was much more comfortable in the sessions in-person as it felt more like a group that supported one another.
• Recorded herself on her phone but felt too awkward listening to herself sing that she lost the confidence to share the recording
• Was happy with the track and was what she expected/hoped from the project
Feedback from participating NSPCC Staff
• Really proud to have been part of this project and feedback from partners and other youth groups (outside of those that have worked on the project) have been brilliant (young people have been able to listen and identify themes and have enjoyed the track)
• Really grateful that Steve made the staff sound good on the track
• The CEO of NSPCC shared the project & track to the National team in his Christmas message and newsletter!
• Great experience to have been part of
• Was really proud to see the young people continue to engage with the project when it changed to virtual sessions, showcasing their effort and focus as they wrote most of the lyrics during those Zoom sessions.
CATCH YOU THROUGH IT ALL
(ALL)(Time to tell you why we’ve arrived)
We come from the PL5, we’re bouncing back to life
We come from the PL5, thank us, we’ve arrived
I wish you could respect my determination and care about how I feel
Before it’s too late, too late to heal
Just to know how to hurt is as human as to breathe
All that comes out is my insecurities
Trust is easy to break, yet hard to gain
This is not a game, bringing out my pain
I feel so much better seeing you in person, switch it offline
Knowing you got my back; trust is built up this time
Even when we’re apart, I can still give you a call
Depending on how we’re feeling, we still reach out through it all
Sometimes we’ll make mistakes, but we can do better, together
Own up, be honest, we can take a step further
No matter how isolating life can be
When I’m on my own, I can still feel free
The opposite of loneliness, is togetherness
That’s where you and I will find our happiness (We’ll find our happiness on
I know you’re stressed, I hope you’re ok
Try and wash it off, it doesn’t go away
You rely on me, can I rely on you?
If I can’t, becomes a trust issue
Together through it all, through the rise and fall
We will build you up, so we can stand tall
You don’t have to worry, if you ever fall
I’m stood right here to catch you through it all
Catch you through it all
Side by side or miles apart,
I’ll be with you at the end like I was with you at the start
When life gets hard, we’ll help you find your way
You’re in a safe space, a safe place to have your say
Don’t be afraid, our problems may connect
We could fix the same problems with a shared intellect
Try and make things better when things don’t make sense
If you never give up, no one can ever bring you down
Your friends can be an influence, help bring you back around
Ready to face the world, ready to stand your ground
Now you can be open, free to express how you feel
PL5 is a crew, who knows the struggle’s real
Together side by side, we conquer it all
Together side by side, we can learn to stand tall
Together side by side, we conquer it all
Together side by side, we can learn to stand tall
That’s where you and I will find happiness