Back to Belfast: Part 2

a Go & See revisit…

If you didn’t see Part 1, this is a second post about a recent visit to Belfast – and reunion of sorts.

This was my second trip to Belfast in the last few years, so I took the opportunity to revisit an exciting inclusive arts organisation, Open Arts, who I first met in 2013.

Diljeet OA
At the Open Arts office back in 2013!

Flashback to 2013 – where it all started

To give you a bit of background on the first trip, around the time I was freelancing with Paragon and getting ready for the first Play On session, we applied for a Go & See grant (administered by engage Scotland and supported by Creative Scotland).  In November that year, I spent a week in Belfast, Dublin and Cork looking at inclusive arts practice.  This was my first freelance research experience, and the work I saw during my trip has really shaped what’s happened since.  I had the chance to meet lots of stakeholders in inclusive arts, from freelance practitioners and arts organisations, to agencies who work to promote accessibility and inclusion. You can see the full report here

Did I really write that?

It’s been an interesting experience to re-read work from a very different point in my research life – in hindsight, there are lots of things I would do differently, and it wasn’t easy to read myself or share with the internet, but it’s interesting to use this to reflect on how I’ve changed, how my practice has been influenced in the last few years.

Continuing the conversation

Excitingly, Open Arts are coming to visit Play On this weekend!  I’m looking forward to catching up again and sharing practice.  These exchanges between arts organisations are really important – it’s hard to find time to talk to other organisations sometimes, and it’s difficult when everyone is so busy trying to get things done.  Paragon’s relationship with Open Arts goes back to way before I was involved, so it’s really cool to see this long-term dialogue continue as both organisations continue to grow.


Back to Belfast: Part 1

Exploring social justice with BERA

Back in September, I took a day-trip to Belfast to attend BERA’s Social Justice SIG seminar on doing educational research in a socially just way.  I went on this trip with Chris Fox – a friend, colleague and fellow-PhD researcher.  We work together at Paragon on the Play On programme, as well as both doing PhDs with social justice as part of our scope.

Arriving at Queen's University Belfast
Outside Queen’s University Belfast

We signed up for this seminar quite last minute, so we hadn’t really given thought to what to expect.  We won’t summarise the whole thing, but here are some highlights of the bits we found most useful.

How can we do education research in a socially just way?

One of our first tasks was to write down why we are doing the research we are doing.  What are our motivations?  What do we want out of this for ourselves?  For others?  How have our experiences led us here?

A common theme emerging from this task was the personally-rooted motivations behind our research, and the desire to contribute to change that pushes us to keep going.  The takeaway message from the seminar was about being reflexive, continuing to ask ourselves if our research is being socially just in its intentions, methods and output.

Researchers are people

One of the most useful parts of this seminar for me, personally, was Dr Vicky Duckworth‘s presentation on positioning ourselves within our research.  This is particularly relevant to what I’m going through at this stage of my PhD, trying to articulate exactly what my position is, what personal and political baggage I carry.  Vicky made a really important point that I think we should carry beyond our research and into our lives:

“Value your history…” the individual stories and circumstances that made us who we are and got us to where we are – “we are all equal as human beings” and should not be made to feel inferior because of where/what we come from.

These words particularly struck me as I’ve recently been exploring my positioning as a young woman of colour in the arts, grappling with how I left behind my Indian-ness to climb the Western cultural ladder, and have only just begun to accept my roots for the way they enrich my life, instead of neglecting them.

In doing the research I’m doing, these experiences are exactly why I am interested in the issues I’m looking at, and what give me an understanding of the less visible and tangible barriers in society.  Since the seminar, I’ve had a chance to read Vicky’s book (Learning Trajectories, Violence and Empowerment amongst Adult Basic Skills Learners) and reflect on her work and the parallels it holds with my own research.  Being so tied – personally, emotionally – to my research is difficult, but I can’t ignore these ties, so it’s really helpful to see good work emerging that is so explicitly personal.

I could go on for hours about how inspired I am by researchers like Vicky – strong women who not only do great work, but are just so supportive of others.  My PhD has had its ups and downs in the last couple of months, but reading work that is honest and open about the personal relationship between researcher and research has helped me keep going.  Having good role models is such a powerful thing.

To round this up and end on a happy note, I thought I’d highlight the food (which was featured in my REF). In true school style (it was an education conference after all) lunch consisted of a packed lunch, complete with sandwich, fruit, chocolate bar and crisps!


This week the BBC SSO tweeted out a poll about concert hall etiquette – should audiences be allowed to tweet during concerts?  There are already a whole host of rules about how to behave during classical music performances – some more obvious than others, and it appears there are “etiquette police” in some audiences, who take it upon themselves to scold other audience members for trivial things like moving too much.  Where does social media fit into the rules?

70% of respondents said “no”, tweeting should not be allowed during concerts – so I want to look at why this might be, and invite you all to share your thoughts in a discussion on this.

I recall this article by Kate Molleson, addressing the unspoken rules of the concert hall.  She notes a key decider in these practices – it’s the level of distraction that determines acceptable behaviour.  Looking for other discussions of concert hall etiquette, I simply got angry reading some of the comments in response to this article.  I am not okay with being told how to enjoy music or how to respond to it.  If there is a performance of such a piece of music where clapping in between movements would disrupt what should be a smooth transition, then feel free to make an announcement requesting that the audience wait until the end of the work, but don’t expect your audience to know these things in advance – classical musical performances are not secret members-only events.

At a time when concert halls and orchestras are working to widen access, expand their audiences and not be exclusive, I wonder whether social media has a role in engagement with performances, during performances.  Looking at some of the reasons given for voting “no” in the BBC SSO poll, it seems a lot has to do with the idea of how you should engage with classical music:

  1. Classical music should be listened to with full attention – tweeting/using your phone in general means you are not giving the music your full attention.  It could be perceived as rude towards the performers and the music.
  2. Dark concert hall + phone glare = not good.  Tweeting involves using a phone, ergo “no”.   In any theatre/concert hall, the glare of a phone can be distracting to both the performers and the rest of the audience – again runs the risk of being rude.  However, it doesn’t take much to be discreet – dim the screen brightness, keep your phone under a jacket/programme, etc.

While I appreciate where these arguments come from, I do think we need to look at this control over how we are expected to engage with music.  Why does classical music demand this level of concentration?  What happens then when someone doesn’t want to concentrate?  Should they be excluded?  Must you already be schooled in how to engage before you are allowed to attend a concert?  What about falling asleep during concerts?

Comparing the concert hall to other music performance contexts, I’m not convinced that discreet use of phones (or other devices such as tablets) is such a bad thing.  Is it possible to view social media engagement as separate from standard use of phones in the concert hall?  Can an exception be made if it encourages engagement and dialogue?  Is it disrespectful to do anything except listen to the performance?  It’s one thing to tweet because you are bored, but should it be treated the same as tweeting an impulsive reaction to a specific moment in a performance while you are still experience?

Humour me now, here are some reasons why tweeting during concerts could be a good thing:

  1. Lots of orchestral players are on twitter – there’s a real opportunity for audience members to engage during and after performances. e.g. “hey @principalflute that wee solo there was #amazing #fluteenvy #flutegoals” – and if they have 200 bars out they might even tweet back before their next entry! (ok, ok, maybe this is encouraging bad behaviour on-stage but does it matter if done discreetly? Or at least they might get back to you at the interval!)
  2. It gets audience members talking beyond the group of people they went with/are sitting near, sharing experiences in real time – “Did you hear that chord?! #beautiful” – what’s worse? Saying it out loud?  Tweeting it?  Keeping it to yourself and never experiencing it in an explicitly shared way?  Tweeting can allow a silent discussion of the performance while it is actually happening.  No more waiting until the interval then having to explain in 10x more words what you wanted to say half an hour earlier.
  3. Could tweeting during a concert provide a wider number of people with a glimpse of the classical concert experience?  Could this potentially contribute to widening audiences?

I get that some rules have been established over a very long period of time, but have we become so caught up in it that we can’t conceive the idea of change?  That these rules and traditions are beyond evolving?

How would you have responded in that poll?  What are your reasons?  Let’s have a discussion about concert hall etiquette – what’s acceptable and what’s not, and why do we think that? Tweeting aside, what should/shouldn’t we be doing in concert halls?