News & Views
Connection is Key
Date posted: 11 March 2022
Reflecting on our third Training the Community Musician symposium, Amy Hill provides an event recap and shares her key takeaways

How do we prepare community musicians for the challenges of 21st-century practice? Well, 40 community musicians and educators descended on Bristol Beacon in February to find out. Coming from Scotland, Wales and England, the group of primarily Sound Sense members would explore this topic, and as it turns out, much more, as we came together for two days at Training the Community Musician (TTCM).

There were joyful reunions of old friends and colleagues that hadn't met in person for over two years, symbolised by huge smiles and hugs. So many hugs. A palpable sense of delight and relief at being together again. 

Taking our seats in the renowned community music circle (if we aren't in a circle, did it even happen?), Jess Abrams, our Sound Sense chair, welcomed us to the third TTCM symposium, setting the tone for a friendly and supportive couple of days. Next, our critical friend Graham Dowdall got us moving and sound-making with a classic found-sound ice-breaker activity. It was fun and grounding to be able to drop straight into my body. Watching Graham, such a seasoned pro, facilitate and improvise with ease and confidence hit on a particular skill set relevant to community musicians. 

As the two days unfolded, so did attendees' openness to share and ask tough questions. Day one was a series of facilitated topic-based sessions. We heard from our host and Sound Sense member organisation, Bristol Beacon, presented by Siggy Patchitt and Julia Roderick, about its Arts and Health programmes, a massively growing area of practice for the organisation and our sector. After a pause for tea and biscuits, researcher and evaluator Nell Farrally began her session. Nell invited us to reflect in small groups about what evaluation means to us as community musicians and what meaningful evaluation looks like. Meanwhile, ethnomusicologist Dr Ignacio Agrimbau, led a session on SoCo Music's sustainable early years music project. My big takeaway here was that co-creation between music practitioners and early years staff is vital if music-making is to embed in early years settings. After another cuppa break, Jenni from Soundcastle began her session on practitioner wellness. Here we kicked off our shoes, got comfy, tucked into some delicious snacks, and took some time to self-reflect on what we need to stay well as music practitioners. It felt like a welcomed gear shift. Alternatively, attendees could go to Graham Dowdall's open discussion about diversifying the community music workforce. Graham, as always, led with integrity and acknowledged that he 'feels quite uncomfortable leading this discussion as an old white guy'. The session posed some challenging provocations and questions around inclusion and the risk of tokenistic inclusion. Through a lively debate, attendees discussed how vital it is that we reach out to the many diverse music practitioners working in communities who were not in the room with us. Graham surmised that this was "the beginning of a conversation but certainly not the end." 


There was a vast amount of insightful content to mull over from day one. My head was swirling not only with everything I'd heard across the five facilitated sessions but the many fascinating conversations I had during cuppa breaks. One member profoundly declared, "this is where the magic happens." Thankfully day two brought the opportunity to allow many of the ideas to digest and for us to delve deeper or raise new topics. We did this via the vehicle of Open Space Technology. In essence, Open Space sessions feel like lots of mini cuppa breaks, where conversations have the time to unravel and deepen. The approach centres around the idea of attendees self-organising and being free to 'call a session' that they'd like to explore. Examples of sessions that were called included;

  • Let's talk about pay
  • How does community music talk to power?
  • Musicianship in the community musician. What do we need?
  • Music therapy + community music - can they work collaboratively, and what would that look like? 


Through this process, attendees created the programme for the day and were then free to go to the sessions that appealed to them most. For me, (an Open Space newbie), this was an exciting and liberating way to learn and allowed me to meet and connect with many more people. 

We talk about multiple hat-wearing in community music a lot. And I had a few on at TTCM. As a community musician and Sound Sense member, I felt supported in my practice and proud to be a part of this community. As Head of Communications for Sound Sense, I felt motivated and more passionate than ever about spreading the stories, impact and intentions of the brilliant practitioners and participants in our sector.

The range of attendees at TTCM demonstrated the various routes into a career in community music, from higher education, mentoring programmes, and apprenticeships. And they all have value. But what was most evident for me is that meeting in real life with our peers is crucial to our development and growth as practitioners and a sector. Coming together to share our practice, ask questions and connect as a community provides the ongoing professional development, learning and support we all are hungry for.

As Rebecca Denniff, community musician and Sound Sense vice chair said, "this event has reminded me how amazing it is when we all come together. It feels like a hopeful return to normal, so much more of this for the future!"

Amy Hill is a community musician working in healthcare settings and Head of Communications at Sound Sense