Here is a a copy of the Blog/Vlog I wrote for Youth Music in July 2018 as part of the Youth Handy Voices music accessibility project I partnered with the Ark T Centre from April- December 2018.
Vlog: What is Youth Handy Voices? available here
Thank you for watching my vlog. In addition to how this work has inspired me and helped me grown as a practitioner, I also wanted to share with you the learning that we have made in making the space that we have created as safe and as inclusive as we can.
I know that depending on where you are based “difference” can mean a lot of things. I emigrated to the UK and I have a different accent. At 5Ft 10”, I am very tall “for a woman”. These differences to those around me can create a perception about me. The important word in that sentence is perception. What we work to do in Youth Handy Voices (YHV) is to remove this perception. We are all different, but that does not mean that we are not equal. At YHV we encourage individual voice and preferred ways of communicating.
We do this in several ways:
Come As You Are:
It is very important that we arrive into the space and be open to what other’s experience is AT THAT MOMENT. One YP commented that “We all come into the space as we are, whether we are feeling good, not so good, whatever, it is ok”. We value each person that comes in and we have a semi- anonymous check in on how we are feeling, and each person can share further if they want.
In addition to the check in we have a space in each session asking if anyone has anything that they want to share about the day/week/ what is happening with them. This is not a therapy session, but we use this time to support each other’s concerns and celebrate achievements.
We have a group contract on how we will communicate and learn with each other. This includes how we address each other. If we have new people in the room, we introduce ourselves stating our name and preferred pronoun (he, she, they, etc).
Focus on the “Can”:
Many of our members have a disability. This does not mean that we change the learning goal, but it does mean that you may need to be flexible on the timing of it, and the method of how you get there. Everyone works to what they can do, often challenging themselves to go beyond their own expectations. No one is ever excluded.
Create leadership opportunities in the session:
I have designed the sessions so that in almost every session a YP leads on part of the session. This means that everyone has a chance to share their talent and their way of learning. This is very important to help build with team confidence as well as personal resilience. This opportunity may be the only time that this YP has the chance to shine. It can be invaluable in outreach with this YP and their peers.
All of this takes time, so I make sure that each session has it planned in. What you find out is that connection time and promotion of voice is the most precious of the session and is often the most valued because the learning is set up on this basis of trust and knowledge that each person is valued and important to the team.
Get It Wrong:
Doing all the above and being aware doesn’t mean we always get it right. We are human and sometimes get it wrong. But it is also part of life and learning to be wrong. Recognising that and making it right actually builds more trust in the long term. In the session there are goals to be achieved, however patience and learning patience from each other is also one of them. When we do get it wrong we fix it by talking about what happened and work on the best ways to make sure that trust and communication is bridged again.
The above are what have worked for my group as perhaps they may seem too simple to work. The main learning that I have taken is that it does not take much effort to make your sessions more inclusive, but the difference it makes to the YP is that you have created a safe space to learn, grow and have fun. And remember, your perceptions might be the only thing that is standing in your way.
Youth Handy Voices Signing Choir was a part of the My Normal Music Project at the Ark-T Centre from April- December 2018.
This was a blog that I wrote a couple of years ago when I was a Workplace coach. I offer this blog to all the young people who have finished their exams, got their results, and are trying to figuring out, “What now!” And to my friends/family looking to see what their next step might be, I offer a bit of advice about not discounting journey they have already taken.
Flaffing, yes, that was the term used. You don’t know it? Well, I must admit neither did I but it came up in one of my last coaching sessions with one of my coachees. It is apparently the noise and flapping sound that an ostrich makes when it is running around at top speed seemingly going no where… fast. I am not sure if she made it up or not, but it does create a visual.
My coachee was determined that “this time” she would plan her next career step and that each and every role that she was going to apply for would be that stepping stone to the job that she “really” wants to do. But I was wondering, is that what is really needed?
Is there a way seeing the value in the “Flaffing”?
Clearly she is a driven person, bright, articulate and trusted in her field. Throughout her career ( so far, she is still under 30 years old) she has gained many transferable skills and could set herself up in a number of prestigious careers, all worthy and have value. She would not have gained many these skills if she had not taken the path she went on. I also having worked with her and also have been the pleasure of her coach would have ever thought of her as a massive bird running out of control with no direction. So where does this assumption come from? And if it is true, what has she learnt from the journey?
So my question to her was, “So what?, so you have been “Flaffing”. Explain what’s wrong with that and do you really want to change that?”
Her answer came as a bit of a shock to me, she felt that any career decision she made at this moment would affect her for the next 10 years (including who she will marry, if she marries, if she has kids, and when) and ultimately her entire life. Now that is a lot of pressure for anyone!
As she is an activities person we came up with 3 criteria for her to think about her skills and the types of jobs she would want to apply for to help with this (unproven) assumption:
- What skills did she have that was she confident about and felt she could do easily
- What skills did she have that she wanted to build and could be improved
- What did she not want to do anymore and would not consider doing.
I hoped by thinking these through she might see the benefits of some of her journey and be more confident in the learning that has taken place for her so far.
The ostrich is also famously known for “sticking its head in the sand” oblivious to what is actually happening around them. In a world where woman are often meant to be a little bit of everything, and with the rampant “fear of missing out”, perhaps self doubt has meant our youth need their journey planned and that “Flaffing” is not allowed? But this way of thinking does not allow us to take stock of the positives of what we have achieved, learned and what we can learn in the future.
Over the summer, as we are on break, I have asked members of our team to if they wanted to write a guest blog. This article is written by our member, Eva Chapman. Enjoy!
5 Things that Make Handy Voices Special
Everyone is accepted for who they are
At Handy Voices, everyone is welcome. disability, sexual orientation and even signing ability don’t matter because our wonderful leader, Christine, makes sure that everyone feels welcome and supported to join in.
I started Handy Voices with almost no sign language knowledge but through learning songs and doing bits of grammar and vocabulary in our weekly sessions, I now feel much more confident when I stand up and sign in front of an audience – so confident that I recently performed my first solo!
‘Perfect’ doesn’t matter
We work hard at what we do, but at no point does anyone expect you to get it all right. We mess up a lot, including in performances, and that’s okay because Handy Voices creates an environment where it’s not about how well you do, but whether you tried your best.
Music can be for everyone
Other choirs allow their members to get involved in the music they make depending on how good their singing voice is, how well they can read music and if they can hear. At Handy Voices, I have learnt that music really can be for everyone and you don’t need the ability to hear or sing to enjoy it. I love music in all its forms and, for me, re-creating songs visually in BSL has opened up a whole new way of experiencing music.
We care about the whole person
We always start our sessions by checking in with each other, so that we are up to date with what’s going on in each others’ lives. This makes Handy Voices one of the most special groups I have been involved in, because it is a place where I can go to share how I’m feeling and what’s been going on with me, whether it’s good or bad. We support each other through difficult times and celebrate with each other when things go well, which is so important to me.
We are a family
Once you join, you’re in for life. I joined Handy Voices when I had finished university and started working in Oxford. Lots of my university friends had moved away, I was working at a new company and living with people I didn’t know. I am so grateful to my Handy Voices friends for welcoming me with open arms, laughing with me every Monday and becoming my Oxford family!
Handy Voices Signing Choir meets on Monday nights from 7:15pm-9:00pm at the Oxford Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre in Oxford. All are welcome. More information can be found here.
Great news! HV members have been asked to be part of the performance by Oxfordshire County Music Services. Handy Voices and Youth Handy Voices were part of the incredible performance at the Music for Youth Proms performed at the Royal Albert Hall in November 2018. OCMS has been asked to repeat this performance in style at Blenheim Palace on Wednesday 10 July and we will have invited to have a special role in this show.
This show promises to be a spectacular performance featuring the Buddy Ensemble from the Royal Albert Hall and featuring other top Oxfordshire Ensembles including Flute Ensemble, Brass Ensemble, Clarinet Choir, Bassoon Ensemble, String Quartets and Oxfordshire Youth Choir.
Tickets £10 from www.blenheimpalace.com/ocms
A message from Angela Turton, Head of Oxfordshire County Music Service:
I am delighted to invite you to a very special concert at Blenheim Palace on Wednesday 10 July at 7.30pm.
Last November, 570 of our Oxfordshire children and young people performed magnificently at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Music for Youth Proms. Oxfordshire’s Lord Lieutenant, Tim Stevenson, has asked me to produce a local version of this spectacular concert. The participants: singers, orchestral players and dancers, were buddied together – those with special educational needs and disabilities alongside their able-bodied buddies.
The children not only performed to an extremely high standard, they also brought the house down with an extended standing ovation and many audience members reduced to tears!
Whilst we cannot reproduce the 12-minute performance exactly as it was, the indoor space at Blenheim Palace will accommodate 50 performers who are excited to re-live this special performance, the memory of which will remain with them for many years. Additional items in the concert will be provided by Oxfordshire County Music Service’s advanced chamber ensembles, making for a varied and high-quality concert programme which I am sure you will enjoy.
Very happy to announce that after a short hiatus that Handy Voices Signing Choir is back! We have a few performances already lined up, Oxford Pride: 6 June, Cowley Road Carnival: 7 July and the Supernormal Festival: 2 August. Session still run on Monday evenings from 7:15pm to 9:00pm from 3 June to 22 July. Sessions are £5/session including free tea/coffee/biscuits. All are welcome and no BSL experience needed. Hope to see you there!
It is with great regret that I have decided to close Handy Voices Signing Choir for the time being. As most of you know my family has had two family bereavements that have taken emotional and physical toll. My focus must be right now on taking any extra energy that I have to heal. This will take effect immediately– so this means there will not be a session tomorrow (Monday).
All subs that have been paid for future sessions by members who sent a bank transfer will be reimbursed asap. I am very sorry about this, but hope that we can reinstate Handy Voices again when I and my family am strong enough. I thank you for your help, support and kindness.
‘Life changing’ choir to perform at St Edward’s
Monday 3rd December, 7pm, open to the public, free admission
A unique carol concert performed by sign language choir, Youth Handy Voices, including pupils from St Edward’s School will take place at 7pm on Monday 3rd December. The programme will feature festive favourites such as Silent Night and hit songs including This is me from The Greatest Showman.
Some of the performers will sing the carols whilst the choir sign them in British Sign Language, offering a visual expression of the lyrics which can be very emotive. The community project brings together young people with different abilities from different backgrounds to learn from each other, make music and have fun. The young members of Youth Handy Voices will be joined for the performance by the adult choir – Handy Voices. The experience has been rewarding and even life changing for those involved.
Of their recent participation in a major concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London for the Youth Proms (7th November), Teddies pupils Bunny Lytle and Val Purik said, ‘Maybe we did not change the world that night but certainly a lot changed for most of us in the choir. I have met a completely new group of people that I would never have met if I hadn’t signed up to take part. Being one team with such beautiful people helps me to understand the world a little better – it has been a very emotional experience.’
Choir member Shakeel, from South Oxford, feels his experience with the choir has been ‘life changing’, helping him with interactions and even a clear career path that he wants to follow.
The sign language choir is just one of a range of community partnerships undertaken by pupils at St Edward’s – elsewhere, pupils give one-to-one support at the Endeavour Academy, enjoy crafts sessions with pupils at Northern House, offer sports coaching with Wolvercote Primary, perform concerts at the Lady Nuffield Residential Home, and work with adults with autism and learning disabilities at Farmability, a co-farmers programme.
‘One of the huge advantages of being a city school is that we can be part of our local community and really get involved ….’, said Paula Diaz Rogado, Head of Community Service.
For more details, contact Tracy van der Heiden, details above and below.
St Edward’s School
Oxford OX2 7NN
Tel: 01865 319398
We are very excited that it has finally arrived. Youth Handy Voices and Handy Voices Signing Choirs are going to be performing at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Music for Youth Proms 2018 on Wednesday 7 November 2018. We have been rehearsing for a couple of months and it is finally here. . We will be performing as part of Oxfordshire County Music’s offer to this Proms and there will be about 500 performers from across the county. It will be an amazing site and event to be part of and I could not be prouder of my team. Wish us luck or even better, come and watch. Ticket are available on the Music for Youth site or the Royal Albert Hall website.
We will be uploading photos on our Instagram @handyvoices and our twitter account #handyvoices.
Both Handy Voices and Youth Handy Voices Signing choirs have been invited to perform at the Cowley Road Carnival on 1 July. The Cowley Road Carnival is a loud, colourful day long festival that celebrates the diversity in Oxford once a year. One of the main arteries into the city centre, the Cowley Road is closed for the day for all the fun and festivities to take place. See more here for details: http://www.cowleyroadcarnival.co.uk/
We will be performing at:
11:15am on the main Carnival Music Stage on Manzil Way
12:30: In the Main Procession
1:30pm: ROAR Stage on Temple Street
Hope to see you there!