I’ve been working with an organisation in Oxfordshire which works with older adults and adults of working age with a specific disability. I had been working with one group, and I was invited to work with another, being told they were a similar group in terms of age and ability. Great, I thought, I can do what I’ve already done with the existing group.
The group, whilst similar in age and physical ability, were far less communicative and confident. They were so self-conscious that the format which worked so well for the other group seemed to freeze this group. All my suggestions were met with negativity, and I left feeling very unhappy about my ability to connect with people, and not ever wanting to return. I mentioned to the workers and volunteers how I felt and they were reassuring and were able to get some more specific feedback from the participants.
I was surprised (and a little anxious) when I was asked to go back. The workers said the group enjoyed the session and they gave me a few pointers about what to change. I spent more time at the beginning talking to people – it’s important to overcome shyness in these situations. I scrapped the vocal warm-up, we sat around the tables, instead of clearing a space to make a circle (something of a holy cow), and we used different percussion instruments which we discussed and experimented with. We sang a variety of songs, and I accompanied with both the guitar and the shruti box to provide plenty of cushion to peoples’ voices. After I had understood the deep lack of self-confidence, I was able to tailor the workshop to accommodate people’s need for a sense of security and nurture. The percussion instruments deflect away from the person; sitting around tables instead of in a circle means there is no empty space to fill, and there is a physical barrier; providing accompaniments to songs which would usually be unaccompanied means there is no sense of a ‘naked’ voice.
This time around, the session went really well. Everyone was able to join in, either through percussion or with their voices, or through movement. We created an intimate, trusting atmosphere, as after songs people felt able to reflect on what the song meant to them and in some cases shed tears of emotion.
I am so grateful now I was given a second opportunity to work with this group. Sometimes it just takes a couple of goes to get it right, and a little time to get to know people.