A YEAR OF ADAPTATION AND CREATIVITY
As we slowly move towards the end of lockdown restrictions, it’s astonishing to look back at how much we have achieved since March 2020. It certainly wasn’t a situation anyone would have wanted, but despite extreme challenges, especially in prisons, from the start of the pandemic we were determined to find ways to adapt and continue making music with our participants – in some ways it felt more important than ever. We’ve always seen that music can be a lifeline to people who are struggling, offering a space to express their feelings and be heard, and a positive activity to focus on.
Despite delivering our work in very different ways, we’re delighted to have got to the end of this very strange year having reached more people than in the previous one. We could not have anticipated that when we were devising these new projects, and while we can’t wait to be making music in person again, some of what we’ve learnt from online and remote delivery will continue to be useful to us into the future.
We are hugely grateful to our funders – both those who have provided emergency funding and those who have taken such flexible and pragmatic approaches to adapting use of funds – and to our wonderful partners in the community and prisons who have striven to ensure we can still provide these creative opportunities to people who so desperately need them.
MUSIC IN PRISONS
Our specially created ‘Playlists’ music appreciation project has provided engaging in-cell activity, introducing a wide variety of musical genres through playlists and worksheets curated by our professional musicians, and encouraging listeners to respond. The project runs over a 20-week period and has been delivered in 14 prisons to date.
“It brought a much-needed splash of creative interest to a very claustrophobic lockdown,” Playlists participant
“”I learned to listen to music from many different aspects,” Playlists participant
We also developed a new method of song-writing via correspondence. The lyrics for the songs were written by a person in prison, who also provided guidance about how they would like the song to sound. Our team of musicians worked on the melodies and music based on this information. The recordings were sent back into the prison, along with a letter to the lyricist from our team explaining the artistic choices they had made to create the final product. We’re definitely looking forward to getting back to our usual in-person collaboration process, but this very different way of working has resulted in some beautiful songs.
IN CELL LEARNING
While mainstream society reopens, lockdown restrictions are expected to continue in prisons for some time. With many prisons favouring a mixed model, we have worked with our exceptionally talented musicians to create a series of 25 music lessons to be accessed in cells via DVDs and accompanying handbooks.
Covering music theory, song-writing, guitar, keyboard and soloing, the lessons give learners the chance to go at their own pace and benefit from our fantastic team’s decades of experience in teaching at all levels of ability.
Moving our work with young people in the community online has been a great success. Over the last year we’ve run 7 online projects and 2 adapted in-person covid-safe projects, with partners The Prince’s Trust, Newham YOT and SPEAR London.
“You learn about music and you learn something about yourself too,” Making Tracks participant
“I’ve gained so much confidence and feel more open to speaking to people I don’t know too well,” Making Tracks participant
We’ve also worked online with former Making Tracks participants to achieve Silver Arts Awards and on projects for our 25th Anniversary Celebrations and Black Lives Matter collaboration (see below).
In summer 2020 we ran a series of introductory online workshops for our former prisoner musicians, including sessions on spoken word, lyric writing, DJing and podcasting.
“The best thing was the fact that every day a new and different subject was given; it kept the sessions fresh,” Sounding Out participant
“I really enjoyed the fact I learned a lot of things I never knew… mainly the DJ and podcast side of things, both of which I’m now going to look more into now,” Sounding Out participant
Sounding Out musicians played important roles in our 25th birthday celebrations, including speaking on podcasts and webinars, contributing songs for our celebratory album, and performing at our 25th Birthday Show.
More recently we’ve been working with groups online to make new music. Later in 2021 we hope to resume in person delivery of the programme so we can run our Training project with a new group, providing facilitation skills for them to take roles a Support Musicians on future projects with young people.
25th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS
We celebrated turning 25 in November 2020; throughout the month, up to the 25th (our actual birthday), we put out daily digital content to celebrate all our programmes and special projects over the years (collected here: https://irenetaylortrust.com/celebrating-25-years-of-itt/ ).
As we couldn’t put on the big live show we’d been planning, instead we took our 25th Birthday Show online, with interviews and stunning performances from former Making Tracks and Sounding Out musicians.
As part of our celebrations we also created a special album and a podcast series, which was broadcast on Prison Radio.
BLACK LIVES MATTER INTERATIONAL COLLABORATION
Planned commissions from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra were not able to go ahead, so in response to not being able to work together in person we devised an ambitious online project, utilising the skills of 23 people including the ITT project team, young musicians from the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and a number of lyricists and vocalists from Making Tracks and Sounding Out. The driving force behind the project was the desire to respond in a creative way to the events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, and to create a set of new songs focusing on past events, the present day and our hopes for the future. Groups met online to devise musical and lyrical ideas and structures, worked offline to create and record their individual parts and then came back together online to hone the ideas and shape each song into its final form.
In summer 2020 the Lullaby Project was featured in the BBC Proms at Home series, encouraging families to make music together. Lullaby Project participants from Sounding Out and Praxis Community Projects were interviewed.
We adapted delivery to continue the project online, working with a group of mums at risk of homelessness from Trinity YMCA in Ipswich at and later migrant and refuges mums from Open Doors Hull. We will be working with dads in prison later in 2021.
Find out more about all these projects and listen to the music created on our website www.irenetaylortrust.com