I arrived at Brighton Youth Centre on Wednesday night and announced to staff that I was here for the sex / song-writing / research / music / youth project. After a few moments of blank faces we figured it out and I was shown to a small cosy room upstairs. The confusion of what to call the project and how to identify what it had been labelled in the youth centre diary is telling of the diverse aims of this project:
- To support the young people to understand current sex research
- To develop song writing and performance skills and an understanding of sex in popular music
- To produce and perform in local venues and at a showcase event in London
In planning the session our main concern was that the young women would turn up – for me a very familiar anxiety shared amoung researchers and practitioners. The worry that no matter how much planning and encouraging you do and how warm and supportive you are, you will be sitting in an empty room staring at your instruments and resources.
A key strength of our project however is that it involves not only musicians and researchers but youth practitioner Jo Bates who has worked in Brighton for years, building relationships with young women and practitioners in the local area. This means we are not starting from scratch.
6 young women came along this week – 5 returnees and 1 new participant. We started in a circle of ten women, stretching our bodies, relaxing our muscles, learning a four line melody and singing together. The atmosphere was relaxed and silly – laughing at how much taller I am then everyone else in the room and at what the staff in the office downstairs might think when they hear the almighty collective sigh from the ‘sex’ project upstairs.
We had agreed that the focus of today would be on singing and music – nothing on research and not much on sex. There was a brief chat together, going over the aims of the project and announcing (with a drum roll) that the group has a chance to perform at the Camden roundhouse on 17th February and to record a track that might be included in the Wellcome’s Institute of Sexology exhibition by 29th January. This was the ‘big news’ that youth practitioner Jo Bates had told the girls she was going to announce – the hook we hoped we keep the girls engaged and the end goal for our project.
We were in a small room with what felt like chaos all around us. The youth club was open for business and some of the young men using the building kept flinging open the door, calling out to the young women in the group, kicking over a bin and making loud noises as the ran off up and downstairs. As the drama downstairs unfolded, one of the group was drawn in to a performance that was perhaps more enticing than our own.
Upstairs we sang Lily Allen’s Smile and learnt Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Aloud. We tried I’m yours by Jason Mraz and listened to Ben Howard’s Keep your head up only to find that they were too hard and not known by most of the group. Most of the group love to sing and want to do nothing else. A few want to learn instruments – in particular the guitar, ukelele and keyboards. When research or song-writing are mentioned there are a few wrinkled noses or blank faces as the phones come out and snap chat becomes more interesting again.
As we searched on our laptops laptops for lyrics and guitar tabs, learnt new ukulele, guitar and piano chords and chatted in pairs the symmetry of the group circle started to unravel. We lost our group focus and it became harder to sing together, to listen and to learn anything new. We noted down songs to learn for next week and learnt about the need for shorter, more focused activities.
Musician Marina brought us back together in a circle as we each made sounds on a different instrument. First gently and calmly and then as loud as we could. We ended enthused and engaged – no closer to writing original material or producing a song about research/sex/social change but a step closer to creating a space in which it might be possible to take the risks with our voices, instruments and ideas – the risks that will get our tracks written and recorded and that will get us to the Roundhouse in February 2015.