We have just returned from our second Music Connects residential, a weekend at Jamie's Farm in the hills of Herefordshire.
Music Connects is a project that brings young people from all backgrounds together to create an original piece of music. Half our participants have lived mostly or entirely in the UK and have English as a native language; half have been displaced from their homes and are starting new lives here.
We can't say it enough - this is not a project where one group is asked along to "help" the other. Indeed, we work very hard to take the division away as soon as possible. The challenge here is for everyone to find a way to use the different languages, life experiences and cultural backgrounds to come together and create a song with music, lyrics and instruments to reflect every person present. And bearing in mind that we had people from 8 very different countries this time, and with all the languages between them, that was no small feat.
Music needs connection - nothing can be done without first building a sense of trust and friendship, and Jamie’s Farm is the perfect place to do this. Life in this beautiful farmhouse anchors itself around the kitchen, with the constant buzz of Jamie’s team cooking meals, the baking bread, and the singing, singing, singing of the team and the birds outside. H said "It was like walking into a Disney movie."
There is a huge kitchen table with laden fruit bowls and benches that chase away any sense of separation by requiring people to budge up. And when we arrived, the fabulous Surrey Arts team had already set up the adjacent barn to look like a professional music studio, and there we had it - a home, a studio and wildlife in between. There couldn't be a much better setting for a new song.
Of course, we started the weekend with a group who didn't know each other, and this quite naturally brings with it nerves, self-consciousness and underlying apprehension. However, first thing in the morning, Chris took us out on the farm rounds. Suddenly, everyone was dressed in the same blue overalls and green wellies and leaning over the pens bottle feeding the lambs. And the reaction to that is the same wherever you are from - one long, hushed "Awww." Similarly, the amusement at having your boots nibbled by the piglets, the excitement at finding eggs, the hilarity at R's dramatic consternation over a salad leaf in the kitchen garden, which he insisted set his mouth on fire - all of this was something to be shared, and by the time we got back for breakfast, it did seem like one happily bonding group.
And so it continued. At no point did we ever feel any division, from the different activities set by Surrey Arts to being stretched out on picnic blankets later in the afternoon piecing together thoughts that were to become our lyrics. There was ongoing enthusiasm to learn words in other languages, fascination over different songs and music styles and how well these can jam together, and a demonstration of mutual respect, interest and compassion which did not dissipate. We jammed around the fire in the evening, with Georgian folk singing, blues from the American South, traditional songs from Kurdistan, and utter joy.
And yes, we have a song. Yes, it reflects the thoughts and ideas of everyone present. Everyone can sing it, and everyone is proud of it. Our next step is to bring back participants from previous Music Connects projects and teach it to them before taking it to Union Chapel in June. Of course, there are nerves about this (it IS Union Chapel, after all), but even so, this project is not about producing a final, perfect piece. It's about the journey we take to get there and our connection within it.
We could not have done this weekend without the enduring brilliance, compassion and energy of the Surrey Arts team, and particularly Jim, our cornerstone of Music Connects. And likewise, Laura, Sam, Chris and Ella at Jamie’s Farm, with their magically musical kitchen and all the birds and animals surrounding it. But nothing would have happened without this group of fabulous young people from all different countries. This world could learn so much from them and the song they have created together, and it was nothing short of a privilege to have them on board.
That music can act as a temporary "home" is well known, and this weekend, the home was in our song, in the physical location of this beautiful farm and in the friendships we found while we were there. And that is what this project is all about. Thank you, all of you.
We were so proud of the last two songs, Remember Who You Are and Colour and Life, and cannot wait to share our latest piece. You can read more about earlier projects here.