Musician’s Corner: A

Posted on May 22nd, by Rebeka in Musician's Corner. No Comments

A is the lead facilitator on Yorkshire Youth and Music’s brand new project to make music with mothers and their babies in secure accommodation: ‘Little Song Stars‘.

Because of the nature of the project, we have to protect the identity of our practitioners, but what we can tell you is that A is an experienced social worker, who also happens to have excellent musical and workshop facilitation skills. A came to us with the proposal to work with mothers at two secure units in the Yorkshire region. After the initial sessions, A has already seen some great responses.

Here is a little bit of background on A and the journey towards developing this kind of project. A also has some pretty powerful feedback from the women and sessions themselves:

After an early retirement, I find myself … using music to repair problematic attachments and improve parenting between mothers and babies, and helping to make music become an integral and valued part of their lives to assist with resilience and recovery through parting, separation and loss.

When I left my social work career in 2016, I grasped the opportunity to devote more time to music and started a part time MA in Community Music at York University. Although I already led a community choir … and had been teaching the piano for several years, I wanted to know what other possibilities there were to take music out into communities and groups that had little or no access to live music making.

I felt sad about the lack of familiarity today’s young parents have with valuable parenting resources (such as singing and nursery rhymes) and when I was managing a Sure Start Children’s Centre in Bridlington, I felt concern about the amount of speech and developmental delay we were encountering. Fortunately we had generous funding to set up a range of singing and musical activity sessions run by speech therapists to help our babies catch up before starting preschool.

As part of my MA, I decided to set up sessions at two women’s prisons with mother and baby units and wrote my MA dissertation on the impact of the sessions from the perspectives of the mothers, the staff and the music students that I took along with me. As part of the research project the mothers were encouraged to observe the babies’ participation, skills acquisition and progress every week. The staff fed back positively on the effect of the sessions on building mums’ confidence and helping relationships within the group. They confirmed that the mums were now singing more with their babies outside the sessions.

These sessions were initially assisted by a grant for equipment and mileage from the charity Babies in Prison. Yorkshire Youth and Music has enabled the project to run again for a 6 month period with the hour-long sessions running once a fortnight in each setting.

One or more staff now come along to all the sessions and their confidence in singing has grown apace. I have noticed both mothers and staff more likely to sing a tired baby to sleep after a session than put a CD on. Both units have purchased new carpets for us to play on, one setting placing the music circle at the centre of the nursery and buying a ukulele for the babies to play. Not only do the mothers tell us how much they enjoy the music (“It’s the best day of the week when the music ladies come”) but they take enormous pleasure from seeing their children’s delight: when they ‘dance’ and rock to the music, become entranced with a new instrument’s sound or one of the puppets, and how they respond to the group in the singing and dancing games.

One recent session was completely different: … the manager asked if I would mind including a mum from the main wing who had her 5 children (aged 3 to 17) on a day visit. I decided to run a normal session and it worked brilliantly, the siblings interacting really well and enjoying it so much: even the teenage boy participated fully, and when the eldest girl had a tearful moment during one of the songs her mum was able to cuddle her. Another emotional moment was when one of our MBU mums joined us and asked the lad how old he was, and said “I thought so, my son’s your age and he would have joined in just like you are.” The music makes these moments possible and also bearable, somehow, too.

We will, of course, post updates on the project as it develops over the year. You can read a short introduction to the Little Song Stars project here.

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