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Music Generation's Communities of Practice

Voc Communities 42

As Music Generation reaches the cusp of nationwide expansion it continues to explore new ways to support its expanding network of musicians who engage with children and young people in Music Generation programmes across Ireland. Communities of Practice sets out to facilitate a regular space for Musician Educators to develop, reflect and connect with like-minded practitioners. The Musician Educators meet with a shared goal, to create and enhance learning experiences for children and young people.

Communities of Practice was established by the Music Generation’s National Development Office with a vision of connecting Musician Educators nationwide to explore effective practice of performance music education. It aims to examine and develop creative practice and explore how children and young people engage with Music Generation programmes . The Musician Educator members can use this space to take a step away from the activities they lead on the ‘front-line’ with young musicians and reflect. With Music Generation programmes set to reach 80,000 participants in 2022, reflecting on and responding to the needs of children and young people is essential.

Nearing the end of its second year of programming, Communities of Practice currently has a membership of fifty-eight Musician Educators and two Music Development Officers with experience from a wide variety of backgrounds, genres and styles. The Communities host monthly sessions in key areas of practice including Early Childhood, Irish Traditional Music, Ukulele, Inclusive Music Making, Vocal and Brass and Wind. The sessions are led in small groupings of fifteen, encouraging the Musician Educators to build trusted professional relationships, share their experiences and contribute openly to the development of creative practice.

"You are sharing the knowledge, expertise, reflecting, celebrating, generating new ideas, initiating new projects. The essence is to share, mentor, cultivate, encourage and support." Marion Gaynor, Vocal Communities of Practice, Music Generation Carlow.

Each group is led by a specialist practitioner who offers support and mentorship to the members. Some of its facilitators include :

  • Kíla’s James Mahon (Irish Traditional Music) a musician/composer who has performed with household names such as Imelda May, Ronnie Drew, Donal Lunny, Iarla Ó lionard and Moya Brennan
  • Songwriter, Musical Director, and Quality, Support & Development at Music Generation Mairead Duffy (Vocal).

Initiated in 2020, the programming faced the challenges of quickly adapting to an online environment throughout a pandemic. This experience affirmed to members how invaluable these professional and creative connections really are. The members have recently been able to engage in person at in-person ‘residentials’ where they can meet for activities and discussions over 2–3-day sessions. Marion Gaynor, a member of Vocal Communities of Practice, has been a Musician Educator with Music Generation Carlow for over ten years and described her biggest take away from taking part of the Communities of Practice:

"The benefits of connection were immeasurable. It’s really really important to socialize with our peers. Working as a practitioner is a very lonely place and you need to connect with your fellow musicians in some capacity either locally or nationally otherwise it is a lonely place. You are never quite sure if your practice is what it is meant to be. How can you learn without this."

Musician Educator at Music Generation Kildare and drummer Leonardo Cassandro describes the sessions as a ‘meeting of minds.’ Leonardo takes part in Inclusive Music Making Communities of Practice. Inclusive Music Making aims to support a community of Musician Educators who work in various settings which may include disability and education sectors, music therapy, clinical settings or community development. The members work together to share resources and experiences and develop a clear definition for inclusivity to embed in their practice.Leonardo describes his experience:

"I found it fascinating . Ten people in a room with a shared objective.Through sharing experiences we found a clear definition of inclusion and what we were trying to do."

It is led by Eamon Nash, Founder of Music Mash Up and Manager of Arts and Creative Therapies at COPE Foundation. Eamon has over twenty years' experience in the fields of music therapy, inclusivity and education and has worked with many disability organizations both nationally and internationally.

Laura Walsh, a music therapist, sociologist, guitarist and Musician Educator in Music Generation South Dublin attended Inclusive Music Making Communities of Practice and shared her recent experiences.

What was your biggest take away from Communities of Practice this year?

First off, how amazing it was to actually work in person with other musicians again. Covid was a difficult time work wise because it felt quite isolating and lonely behind a computer. The in-person gave me an opportunity to meet colleagues I had only ever seen behind a screen, and on top of that, I think that the work you get done when you are actually in a room with other people, bouncing ideas off one another just can't be compared to Zoom. It felt very productive, and I think we all left feeling energised and excited.

How has Communities of Practice informed your practice so far? 

As a music therapist and sociologist, I think that inclusion has always been an important part of my work, but the Communities of Practice really helped to instil a level of best practice behind it. I think we all have gaps in knowledge and practice no matter what work we do, so to help fill those gaps with ideas and information from colleagues in different areas of the country was great.

What did you enjoy the most?

Meeting people, collaborating face to face, working hard and having a laugh at the same time!

What was the most challenging aspect of these sessions?

Conceptualising what inclusivity is. It's such a broad term with different meanings for everyone. I think the most challenging part, before we could even move forward, was to set out a definition and a vision of what inclusion should look like in the context of our work with Music Generation.

Music Generation continues its residential Communities of Practice with Brass and Wind residential sessions led by Issie Barratt taking place from 29th- 30th May.

Find your local Music Generation contact details here.

Image 1 : Vocal Communities of Practice, April 2022. Photo Credit Dave Keegan
Image 2 : Irish Traditional Music,Communities of Practice, April 2022. Photo Credit Dave Keegan
Image 3 : Sally Walmsley, Thomas Johnston, Mairead Duffy and Eamon Nash, October 2021. Photo Credit Barbara Flynn
Image 4 : Left to right : Mary-Jane Sweeney, Dervilla Hynes, Laura Walsh, Leonardo Cassandro, Kevin O' Byrne
Centre: Mark Colbert , Maggie Maguire, Eamon Nash . Inclusive Music Making, October 2021. Photo Credit Barbara Flynn