Work that's important... for young and old

Kathryn Deane writes...

I like Youth Music’s music mentoring programme. It’s not mentoring in music – it’s mentoring through music. Here’s an example from Noise Solution, working with young people involved in the child and adolescent mental health service, CAMHS.

At first sight it might seem reductionist – all that Gradgrindian ‘19% increase in their perception of their sense of self determination’. But I like that because, while we all say glibly that our work is ‘transformational’ – this is what that actually means in practice. In community music I think we’ve come a long way in the last two decades from a delicate sensibility when we all wanted our work to be transformational but thought all that instrumental stuff somehow polluting to our art, through knowing our work did things to participants but not planning for that to happen properly and safely, to the position now where Simon Glenister can say clearly that ‘Noise Solution is an outcomes driven organisation providing bespoke 1 to 1 support through music and technology’.

The counter-argument is that a) this is not what art is ‘for’; b) that if it is, then there’s no difference between making music and rock-climbing. And music is perhaps the most instrumental (pun unavoidable) of the arts: we use it to celebrate births, commemorate deaths and lead us into war. 


And there definitely is a difference between art and rock-climbing. Art is intrinsically about you, about you and your relationship to the world. I headed a team evaluating Youth Music Mentors (a mentoring programme before this Noise Solution project) and we looked especially at this music thing (Move On Up).  Music, we found, was inherently linked to a young person’s development generally. The music could transcend their personal issues; music development and personal development were intrinsically linked; music ‘told the tale’, involved creative cooperation, created a new personal reflection in participants - on their life challenges, understanding of self, and the art they did. 


Three-quarters of my time is spent on music education – almost always meaning children and young people, mostly meaning ‘formal’ music education (what goes on linked to schools) but for me meaning ‘non-formal’ (aka community music) too. The other three-quarters (so it seems) of my time is spent helping to foment a small revolution in adult community music activity. Adults are the new Youth Music, I say, just without their ten mill of lottery funding a year (not that I want to touch a hair on the head of that funding).


Older adults become recipients of community music usually when they’re frail or ill – and the projects around, say, music and dementia or singing for people with Parkinson’s are extremely important. But I like some of the work the Institute of Education has done (disclosure: I was on their steering group) which points up the importance of music work with older people who are well. Funded by the new Dynamics of Ageing project, they’ve even managed to show that music works better than other leisure pursuits. . . . I’ll get me coat.  




This is an edited version of a provocation written for Arts and Society’s series of roundtables on participatory arts, Connected Conversations; Passing It On, which took place at the RSA in late January/early February. The full version is at

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