Play Torbay and ASRUS group

Working with Play Torbay to establish a continuing programme which can support and develop young leaders and to progress musical skills. For the Play Torbay / ASRUS sessions it essentially run as a ‘Youth club’, with planned activities and facilitation, and with parents accompanying their children. The young people and their families are looking for ways into play for those with ‘autism’ labels facing barriers to access and support. 

We introduced “S” to many instruments, and it took time to get to know her preferences, follow her lead and listen to her stories. On first trying the saxophone, she developed an immediate affinity for the instrument. After one week, she was gaining control of the sound she was able to produce, after two weeks she was playing whole tunes and improvising freely with us. Focus was intensely concentrated and a desire to play and develop her musical skill expressed clearly. 

 “S” demonstrates musical attunement through her whole body from the moment she picks up the sax. You can see her start to think in music, and her body sways before she plays her first note. Her mum has been surprised and pleased with the take up, however she has been a reluctant advocate, placing barriers up towards a continuing engagement and not keen to support having an instrument at home and having to “listen to her practicing”. Our challenge has been to both discuss, demonstrate and gently challenge Mum in order to understand what music is bringing to her daughter and what the transferable effects of a musically enriched life for her might be. Mum has since talked to school about this previously unnoticed musical skill. 

 “S” has not been attending many of her classes at mainstream school. She is on a reduced timetable and qualification opportunities have been limited. We have spoken to the school about further supporting her musical development and looking at developing opportunities. “S” now accesses a free saxophone hire from the Devon Music Education Hub, and we are visiting her weekly at school to support her timetable and provide one-one additional instrumental lessons.

In the Asrus group sessions we have also had significant developments with her twin sister. She too has taken time to get to know us, experience our approach and gently find a way in. “P” has taken up the clarinet. Significantly different enough from her sisters choice, but interestingly also using breath. The developing relationship with ourselves between both the sisters independently, has led to both girls requesting to come each week. Although mum was initially skeptical, the sessions with both girls attending together have been delightful. Words are often not used much. We develop musical conversations together in a light and funny, playful manner. The focus is on the music made. “P” is much more vocal about what she can’t do, and really grows through praise and a lightness of approach. It was interesting recently when she kept insisting that I wasn’t to record her. I didn’t have any recording device out and kept reassuring her that I wouldn’t record her without consent. I suddenly realised that what she was actually asking, was for me to record her – which we did, and she was then able to share with mum!  

This developing sense of wanting to share is an essence we need to hold onto and build from. “S” has remained throughout every music session since the start of the project – she believes she feels happier and calm whilst playing. This young person is absolutely becoming a young leader and advocator for positive musical participation. Overall, this project has identified an enormous need and has exposed a gap in musical access and provision. There are abilities and talents not being met in mainstream school because of the barriers many of these young people face to engaging in the type of musical activity that is offered. We also believe that this project has uncovered a need for young people to be able to share the positive feelings and results of developing musically. A recurring challenge we have noticed we are needing to address throughout this project, comes from expectations around what musical “teaching” and “learning” looks like. Parents are often keen for us to harness the initial musical spark we ignite through music, and formalise it into quick musical progression to play something in a certain way which is musically ‘known’.  

Our advocacy work needs to be about how we follow the child, use the way they learn individually to develop and progress at their own pace. We also have to work on the fact that our music sometimes doesn’t sound “polished” or progress along familiar musical parameters. The process of making sound and creating our own versions of musical composition is always of more value to our approach. We are often looking at music as being an alternative language and use improvisation as a means to liberate self expression. 

Written by Moor To Seas directors and Soundwaves music leaders Rachel Thame & and Deborah Woollaston