Slow, slow, quick-quick-slow

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Rachel Thomson

I’ve been reflecting on the funny temporalities involved in changes and continuities. The way we go backwards in order to go forward, and how nothing happens – then it all comes at once. Knowledge captured in truisms about buses and dance steps.

Learning, development, change, love, understanding: all those important things happen in in this jumpy, staggered kind of way. Not the smooth lines that graphs suggest. I’ve been thinking about this because we are at the ‘end’ of the Sexology & Songs project – or at least the project funding is at an end, and like good researchers and youth workers, we need to evaluate the impact of the work, for ourselves and for our funders the Wellcome Trust. During the first session 13 weeks ago, at the start of the winter, participants and workers were asked to rate themselves between 1-10 on the following items:

1)            If I asked you to stand up on a stage now and sing in front of a room full of people,                   how confident would you feel? Answers ranged from 9-1 (average 7)

2)            If I asked you to talk about sex in the room right now, how confident would you                          feel? Answers ranged from 10-2 (average 6.5)

3)            If I asked you to carry out your own research project, how confident would you                          feel? Answers ranged from 8-1 (average 5)

4)            Write one thing that you would like to get out of doing this project:

The workers said:

‘Have helped participants to write and perform their own song’; ‘Write a song and perform’; ‘Confidently talk about sex and have knowledge about sexology’

The young people said:

‘Learn guitar’; ‘Play at least one instrument’; ‘Perform’; ‘Play an instrument’; ‘Learn how to create songs in different genres’

Over the course of the project a pretty consistent group of young women managed to turn up every Wednesday evening, through a long winter, interrupted by the Christmas break. A core group of professionals also got there almost every week: musicians, youth worker and a researcher – and some of us dropped in and out over the project. This is the core of relationship based work, the reliable turning up and being there whatever.

I kept in touch with the work of the group through Ester’s blog and occasional visits. I was there for some wonderful moments along the way as well as seeing the group do their thing on the big night at the Round House. The group process was not straight forward. It took musicians, researchers and youth workers a while to work out how each other worked. It took a while for the girls to get to know each other and to start working together. Not everyone got on stage at the Roundhouse, but everyone turned up on a Wednesday night in March to evaluate the experience.

Originally we didn’t have any time scheduled for evaluation, and the build up to the performance was so intense and exciting there wasn’t really space for thinking about endings earlier on. I had planned to do some work with the girls on the train back from London, but realised how silly that was. We were all full of adrenaline and full of stories about the night and about the past. Lots got said in taxis to London Bridge and on the train back to Brighton that had not been said in the 13 weeks before. It felt like a really important time, just before the end, when things could still happen. And anyway, I had to change at East Croydon. Fortunately an extra session was squeezed out of one budget and hooked onto another and the group came together for some reflection and to think about whether they wanted to get involved in a new music project that would be happening at the youth centre involving one of the same musicians.

I was really happy that everyone turned up. I was there in the place of Ester, who had been a stalwart for the whole 13 weeks but just couldn’t make it. The group felt a bit subdued though and I was thinking about how sad this gathering might be for some of the participants. It was important that we had a good ending. We started with some memory work, I asked the young women to write down something about the day and night of the performance that they would like to remember and something about the process of the project that stuck in their minds.

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The 13 weeks: 

My confidence improved during the project; having somewhere to go and sing and eat and talk and stuff; all the new people I met; performing; learning bass and playing Uke; seeing ideas and confidence develop; getting to know everyone, having a lot of fun and making some great original music; everyone and everything have been amazing and I wouldn’t regret it for the world; hearing solos; the development of the group from a starting point of not knowing each others, learning about sexology, research, songwriting, playing and singing and achieving the songs and memories; the food and the games: apple, banana, cucumber, DimeBar, egg, frankfurter, grapefruit, hamburger, icecream, jam, kitkat, lemon, melon, Nutella, orange, pineapple, quavers, rhubarb & custard, strawberries, toasted waffles, upsidedown cake, vanilla essence, water, xtra large, yam, zebra bars.

London and the Roundhouse: I met to many nice and wonderful people who have inspired me; Dan Gillespie from the Feeling’s speech and performance; the girls singing and meeting other people; train and taxi journey home; me and Rita turning the studio into a mini club; being blown away how everyone on stage pulled it out of the bag for the gig; everyone pulling together and performing on stage alongside all the other groups to an audience and live broadcast cameras.

We stuck our memories on the wall, but the girls were reluctant to make their memories visible and didn’t go up and look at them. I said I would record them and let them have them back.

We then all completed a post-it to record what we had learned over the project, about ourselves, about music, about sex and about research. Again they went on the wall and are recorded here.

What I learned about myself? How hard it is to get somewhere every week; always busy; I learned I enjoy working with a mixture of researchers and musician and young people to create a project; I found confidence in music; Me? Nothing; That every time I sing my confidence grows but I’ll always be nervous.

What I learned about music? I learned piano; You can be anything you want even berrie strongbow; Voices sound great together,; It’s hard to write a good song – it takes time and beautiful voices; Song writing is a good way to say what you are afraid to say; I learned music and chords on the uke.

What I learned about sex? That sex education is mostly focused on the negative and misses important stuff about enjoyment and choice; Don’t have sex because you will get pregnant and die; Different views on sex; I learned everyone should be talking about sex a lot more. Once its talked about its not a big deal, makes me realise that it is important to be open; It all comes out in the end; That sex is anything you want it to be.

What I learned about research? Flying penises; That research can be a way of making a stand about something; Research can be important for yourself; That research can be in many different forms and can be really interesting and inspiring and can capture a snapshot in time; Universal confusion and constant questions; Umm, ways to research other than interviews; It’s all research; I’ve learned so much from the research on the project.

And then we had a good old sing. Started with one of the musicians’s own songs that had been used as a warm-up over the weeks. Once together then we tried in in rounds, culminating in four groups singing a phrase apart. Exhilarating! Then we sang the songs the group had made together. Starting with our cover ‘I’m Adored’ which told the story of the group’s journey, the beautiful lyrics moving everyone in the room and then ‘Agree to Disagree’ which left us on a high, full of energy and excitement – able to see what we had created together. Cate Ferris, the musician who was there to begin a new strand of work was blown away by what the girls, their beautiful voices, the emotion in their lyrics, the inventiveness of their songs. What a great moment!

Cate then performed herself, sharing her loopy, poppy music and inviting the girls to join in. People were shy, unsure, at the start of something new.

You can listen to our songs and watch a film of our 13 week process here and read more blogs on the sex and songs project  here

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