Q&A: Changing Tracks

Harriet Clifford
Thursday, April 1, 2021

Run by Hertfordshire Music Service (HMS) and funded by Youth Music, Changing Tracks works with music services to promote diversification and inclusion. Harriet Clifford meets HMS head of rock, family and community music Michael Davidson and workshop leader and project manager Ije Amaechi.

 Amaechi and Davidson speaking at the Music Mark conference 2018
Amaechi and Davidson speaking at the Music Mark conference 2018

HC: What is Changing Tracks and what are its aims?

MD: Changing Tracks works with music services nationally to diversify practices, pedagogy and progression routes to help services engage a wider range of young people. When music services start thinking about musical inclusion, they often begin by working to increase representation of marginalised groups in an existing offer. This is a great starting position, but we've found there's benefit in a wider approach that focuses on personal and social, as well as musical outcomes.

HC: What other progression routes have you developed?

MD: One example is Songwriter, a creative music progression pathway developed by HMS that has engaged pupils who are interested to learn and progress in different ways towards grades and formal ensembles. Ije started as a participant in this.

IA: I was having guitar lessons at school as part of GCSE Music, but this involved learning Grade 2 pieces that didn't really excite me or make me feel like it was helping my song-writing, which is what I really wanted to do. I guess the tutor was limited by the exam syllabus.

HC: How did the programme help you progress musically and educationally?

IA: I had already written a few songs, but since I had only just started learning the ukulele and guitar (after taking a break on the piano due to feeling disengaged from learning grades), the Songwriter workshops helped me with chord sequences and song structure.

Very soon I was invited to join a songwriter ambassadors’ group of young people around the county. We met regularly and had workshops with professional songwriters such as Boo Hewerdine. The Songwriter team picked up one of my songs, which is mainly about emotional learning and vulnerability. I was chosen to perform it solo at the music service's biennial gala at the Royal Albert Hall.

I didn't take A Level Music – it just wasn't the kind of music I was interested in. I used my song-writing and experience on Songwriter to get me into SOAS. I wanted to explore my interest in West African music, in particular, and at the end of the course went on a sabbatical to study Kora (a West African harp) in the Gambia.

HC: And what are you doing now?

IA: I am part of the HMS music tutor team. We attract a wide range of pupils – probably wider than you'd expect – and they've written some great songs. Some of them are now also interested in becoming workshop leaders, so I guess it all comes around.

HC: Do you feel that song-writing can help young people see themselves represented?

IA: Yes. A lot of Black music and song-writing can be a form of repository for a hidden social history of Black communities. This comes through the lyrics, more diverse genres and musical practices that perhaps get missed in other genres that just focus on the music.

I also studied a course on Global Hip Hop at SOAS which completely opened my eyes to the way music can be used for social change, expression and capturing the socio-political climate.

It feels like studying music and people from other cultures and learning how music has different functions in different countries is missing in the UK music curriculum. This limits the kind of connection people can make, thus reinforcing the idea that music or musical instruments are only for those who are really good at them, do grades or have parents who are musicians, when of course that is not the case.

HC: Why do you think music teachers should teach song-writing?

MD: Encouraging pupils to create their own music leads to social and personal outcomes, and more ownership of their music generally, so they always perform at a higher level.

To make the most of it, it really requires opportunities to showcase and perform their songs to other people, and for pupils to join a wider community of young songwriters. Young people are often really interested in wider social issues and teaching lyric-writing can link them into this.

HC: How do you think this could be incorporated into curriculum music?

IA: With a bit of blue-sky thinking, perhaps we could have an ethnomusicology GCSE or A Level, where people learn about the social history of music from around the world. It shouldn't have to be something that's so niche that it's only available at a few universities.

HC: Finally, what do you think needs to happen going forward?

MD: Music services sometimes get a bit stuck with diversifying recruitment, as they can't do positive discrimination or affirmative action in recruitment, but you really don't need to.

It all starts with finding out what a diverse group of young people wants, and taking the first step of running diverse projects, through which you diversify participation and progression opportunities. Through that you're starting to develop a more diverse future workforce. And when they return, they bring skills that other tutors can learn from.

More information can be found at www.changingtracks.org.uk