Rocking Up for the First Time
David McFarlane is a Boltonian musician, composer, and guitarist living in Manchester. His interests lie in community music-making, improving access to music, and creative music technology. He has recently completed his first week of work at TiPP, sharing his skills as a musician with young people in a local Children’s Secure Care Home as a part of the Youth Music funded Rock Up project. In this post he speaks candidly about his experience of working with TiPP.
The training day was a really useful introduction to TiPP’s work, and what to expect during the Rock Up project. There were many things I didn’t know about the criminal justice system, and this filled in a lot of those blanks. It was also good to meet some other members of the TiPP team and share ideas and knowledge.
On the whole I found the young people themselves easy to work with and for the most part cooperative. One young person in particular didn’t want to engage on the first day, but by the Friday he came out of his shell quite a bit with some encouragement from the staff, although still had some reluctance and nerves around the performance. Relating this to my own practice, I wasn’t sure how much to encourage him to get involved, or whether that would happen naturally as he saw what was going on in the sessions, or how much trying to push him might put him off more. I think on reflection a lot of these worries were related to me still feeling like I was getting used to the work and the space, and in future I’ll find it much easier to gauge when and how much to encourage and support a young person.
I was pleasantly surprised that the group went down a grunge rocky sort of route, and two talented young people in particular steered the group in this direction. According to the rest of the team, the level of competency shown by the group was rare within these kinds of sessions. One challenge however was the sheer amount of noise and chaos going on at any given moment (I imagine this isn’t rare at all in sessions). But then, I think a great deal of this noise just goes to show how engaged and enthusiastic the young people were–there was a fair bit of unnecessary noodling and bravado shredding, but there was also a lot of engaged practice and creative playing. I was also interested to see how the young people supported each other–one of the experienced drummers in the group took it upon himself unprompted to support and teach one of the less experienced drummers, and that was a really nice moment.
I was really appreciative of how supportive the TiPP team members were throughout the week, and how helpful their advice and general attitude was. One team member in particular noticed I’d looked a little frazzled on the Thursday, and contacted me after the session to check if I was alright, and ended up making me feel much better. I also learnt a lot from watching other people lead and deliver–the different ways each member had of leading the group was very interesting to watch, as well as the different ways each staff member had of finding ways to relate to the young people. In future, I would like to take more of a proactive role within the staff group, but again the feeling of not being used to how everything worked held me back. However, that is naturally fading away as more sessions pass. After I told a more experienced TiPP member I’d like to have more of an active role, they encouraged me to lead the question of the day, which I think was a small but very positive step in my own personal development.
One thing I did find a little surprising was that I forgot several times we were in a secure unit. I wouldn’t say reminders of this were upsetting as such, but they were quite sobering. For example, on the Thursday morning, rehearsing for the performance, one of the young people I was supporting on the keyboard part was becoming more and more disengaged, and didn’t want to play his part. After a few attempts of me trying to encourage him with little success, he told me he couldn’t concentrate because he had his pre-release meeting later that day. Small reminders of the setting the work was taking place in such as this one were strange to reconcile with the direct experience of working with the young people, which felt very removed from anything so heavy and serious.
I think the main challenge for me during the week was acclimatising to the environment and the work. I have every confidence I’m well suited to this job, but having never worked with TiPP before and never entered a secure setting before, there was a lot of new information to take in and lots to process! This definitely improved as the week went on and I got used to the general structure of sessions run by TiPP, the protocols of setting, and the people around me. This is something I’ve observed in myself when I’ve entered new environments and new ways of working before, so it doesn’t worry me particularly as it’s just something I’ll have to wait out, while trying my best to counter it proactively where I can.
Overall, I found the week completely exhausting–I had little energy for the rest of the day after leaving–but very rewarding and enjoyable! One thing I was surprised about enjoying so much was the experience of making music in a group setting with physical instruments and other people, after having spent a long time in a more electronicy or composery world in which the music exists to a greater extent in computers or on paper. I also found the writing workshops really interesting and actually quite inspirational for me to go and get my own thoughts out, or do some writing on my own. I think the performance went well and it was clear the young people benefitted from the experience.