Playing On with Paragon

As I plan on sharing some more specific stories, insights and reflections with you later on, I thought I’d better give an overview of one of the more significant things I do outwith PhD hours.  I can’t say it’s outside the PhD bubble, as this part of my life is how I ended up doing the research I’m doing, so it’s more of a PhD tangent, something I do that’s technically not my PhD, but not really separate from it either.

For the last couple of years I have been running the admin side of Paragon’s Play On programme.  The experiences I’ve had in this and other Paragon programmes have really influenced the direction my research is going in, and have made me embrace creativity in a new way.

I first started working with Paragon in 2012 through a research incubator event at Strathclyde University, while I was doing my MSc there.  I then worked as a musician on Make Music Move (M3), an inclusive music and dance programme, bringing my flute and voice along to create new work with musicians and dancers.  While all of this was happening, Lio Moscardini, a researcher and lecturer at Strathclyde, and Alastair Wilson, my MSc course tutor, were doing research on instrumental instruction provision in Scottish schools, that highlighted a discrepancy in representation of pupils with additional support needs receiving instrumental tuition.  You can read their research paper here.  Play On came about in response to the findings of this research, and tied in to the ideas for music education projects that arose during the incubator event.  I’ve written a bit more about my Paragon journey in a guest blog for Paragon.

Paragon used to be a chamber music ensemble – commissioning new, avant-garde musical works. Paragon today are a very different company in many ways, but the idea of the “new” and pushing creative boundaries has remained central in their vision towards inclusion.  Play On provides a fun musical learning opportunity to young people with additional support needs, through instrumental one-to-one and group music sessions facilitated by experienced musicians.  Young musicians who come along learn primarily through creating their own music, which is what makes this learning opportunity quite different from in-school music, which more often focusses on learning other people’s music than creating music.

The programme has grown a lot from our first week with a handful of participants, to a current register of 25 including the Juniors branch of Play On.  Over the last couple of years we’ve had our young musicians perform at the CCA as part of Paragon’s showcase See Hear You events, as well as an exciting trip to Holyrood to perform at Scottish Parliament.  As the programme has grown, so has the administrative workload – we’ve gone through various phases of timetabling, and are frequently trying new things to get more efficient.  Joining me in the admin team is Chris Fox, a PhD researcher at Strathclyde, who also takes all of the photos at Play On (except for a single photo I managed to get of him while looking after the camera for a minute).

We also have some really wonderful volunteers to help keep things running smoothly, and, of course, there are the tutors – experienced professional musicians, educators and practitioners.  Our tutors bring various instrument and genre specialisms, offering a vast collective knowledge of musics, but at the heart of everything, the young musicians are the decision-makers, and the shapers of their own learning.

I’m excited to see where this programme goes, as some of our musicians who’ve been with us since our first session in 2013, are now growing up and finding their way onto new musical programmes and pursuing other musical opportunities.

More about Play On another time, time to get back to the PhD – first year review is just around the corner…


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