Last month, we had the wonderful opportunity to speak about Brass for Africa with their founder, Jim Trott. You can read how Brass for Africa started in our last post here. Today’s blog covers the 4 pillars of the organisation, the structure of their education programmes, and who their sessions are run by.
I understand you also have four key pillars in the organisation?
Yes, we looked at how we could really maximize the impact of music further using those life skills, and the partnerships we have with local organisations. We have defined four key strategic goals or strategic pillars to maximise the impact of our work.
Now moving together, we can address four key issues that we see are real problems. These are issues we see for young people, particularly from poor backgrounds, who are living on the margins of society. Issues such as being excluded, being seen as some kind of outcast, or being treated differently as a disabled person. There are also communities dealing with HIV and AIDS where our programs are doing amazing work, increasing the comprehensive knowledge of the disease amongst young people, and reducing the stigma associated with HIV. We can do this through music.
The power of music is incredible…
Music is the most incredible tool. It’s the hook that gets people in and it’s non-confrontational. You can go and work in some really thorny areas, for example, with young offenders, areas where they’ve got drug, prostitution, and child trafficking issues. They don’t see a band as a confrontation issue. They accept it and they like it. People get involved and then you can make some significant social changes, almost under the radar.
The key thing to remember is what happens when we give someone an instrument. When you give that trumpet to someone, they’ve got to learn to invest in themselves, and that’s when the music and the magic starts to happen. Trying to get people to appreciate the value of the arts is sometimes really difficult. We have to boldly look people in the face and say; “Look at this young girl. She had no chance of education. She was written off by her family. Her brother went to school. But now she’s in a band and her parents realise that she can do something and she’s now going to school”. That’s music!
I was reading online that you worked with The Mango Tree to coordinate with the education curriculum?
Mango Tree is an external commercial organisation, but it’s an African based education curriculum specialist. We worked with them to develop the life skills curriculum. It was a massive learning curve for them as well, because we wanted to teach life-skills through music. It was a co-creation excerise. With regards to the methodology, let’s look at problem solving. Having a rhythm and then improvising over the top could be problem solving. Listening and communication could be having a round Robin singing game, where students sing their names and something they like, then the teacher asks questions afterwards. When the students remember correctly, it shows that they’ve listened and understood. It’s then that the teacher can emphasise to the children to listen to their teacher when they’re in school.
You mentioned that there are two weekly sessions. Could you just tell me a little bit more about what a typical session might look like? (although I imagine they do vary!)
We work with local partner organizations, and we’ll usually go to their facility twice a week. The sessions we offer depend on what they’re doing, and the level of their bands. Sessions can start with a warmup, with a buzzing session, with an emphasis on leadership. We’ll get one of the young musicians to come out with their mouthpiece and do a buzzing exercise. Then the others will be called in response, in different rhythms, different pitches, and then they’ll work around the group. People get used to coming up in front of the crowd.
They love to learn to read music, so we will learn to read pieces. We use a stepped method to get them started with 5 notes, then increase their range from there. There will be theory sessions as well where we use a whiteboard to look at different clapping rhythms, for example.
Each session always ends with local tunes that our teachers have learned since they were young. And then we pass on those to the next generation, they will be local tunes that they’ve learned either from marching or from singing. These pieces are great fun, and because they’re in harmony parts, it develops their ear fantastically. Our young musicians have got great ears…they’ll hear something and play it! That’s something we don’t often see here in Western music teaching. They will listen, and they’ll put in another part, they won’t be scared to do that either. You can find sometimes a little bit of awkwardness with adolescents or teenagers in the UK. Not there, they will go for it a hundred percent. If it doesn’t work well, you know, they’ll try again, so they’ll embrace that.
How do you monitor the progress on the students in your programmes?
Each teacher, or pair of teachers, is responsible for that band, and there may be three bands in one organisation. When a band gets to a certain level, they will come to our Director of Music Education, Lizzie Burrowes, and say; “My band is ready for a Bronze Assessment”. Lizzie will then pick a date and go out to assess the band, and every member. Every member of the band would need to play from C to G, and be able to play a simple rhythm. Then, everyone needs to play together and then they would have some other exercises. Lizzie will then tick all of these things off. It’s something they work towards, and get a certificate for in the end, and then start working toward the Silver Assessment!
They really do love the certificates, it’s something that they treasure. It’s something they’ve worked for and achieved, so we like to recognise that.
Are all of the sessions done in large groups?
There’s a bit of one-to-one and sectional work, but most of the learning is done in full band. Band sizes can range from as small as 8 to as big as 30. Then we have different age groups, genders, and levels of physical ability as well.
You also mentioned that you have ex-students running providing education?
All of our teachers are alumni of the programs. They’ve all come from those backgrounds, been street children, lived in orphanages. We have staff from juvenile rehabilitation centres. They all understand where their pupils are coming from and can relate to them and their challenges.
You mentioned that the organisation is 94% African led. Could you explain the importance of this?
We’ve got 44 employees, 94% African led. We provide employment opportunities for up to 60 African nationals across three countries. My role is purely is on a voluntary basis, so I draw no income from the organisation in any shape or form. Counting myself out, we only have three non-African member of staff. Everybody else is African, and our Country Director is in Uganda, although he’s actually Kenyan. Most of our Heads of Department of women as well. Not because they’re women, just because they’re really good. It’s great to put up female role models.
…this blog will be continued on 30th April – keep an eye on the BBICO News Page!