When talking to Jodie, Rural Fest’s Music Leader, an immediate enthusiasm for the role is visible with every word. ‘They’ll come out of the workshops with a soundscape piece’ she tells me excitedly while discussing the running of one of many workshops she’s delivered recently. It’s an infectiously positive demeanour, one that would make even the most creatively reluctant individual take note.
While Music Leader is her official role, the title does little to expand fully on what Jodie does. Her workshops are extensive yet fluid, as challenging to plan as they are rewarding to deliver. ‘A lot of what I’m asking people to do is out of their comfort zone’ she says with a laugh. ‘It’s understanding that they might not know what they’re doing.’ With this an outsider begins to appreciate the complexity of workshops, particularly when working with younger students. Asking a student to partake in a new activity is potentially daunting but the more Jodie says, the more appealing the process sounds.
Much of the content revolves around the introducing of sound recording and music technology to primary school students for the first time. Students take field recordings in and around the school, after which they use these recordings to create a piece of music. In keeping with Rural Fest’s green themes, a student’s external environment appears central to Jodie’s workshops. ‘[students] make a story about [their] environment’ she tells me, and this story often appears personal to the students themselves. Jodie asks the students questions. ‘[I’ll ask] what was your walk to school like? What sounds did you hear? For them it’s very much about storytelling and using sounds to make that image.’
Having collected these sounds, students are introduced to the technology required to transform these sounds into a composition. As such Jodie speaks of how students ‘see a process but also a product.’ For older students, this extends to something more wide reaching; the central idea of musicality being exhibited.
However, while the final composition matters greatly, it is the sound recording itself that Jodie enjoys the most. ‘My favourite part is going out and doing the sound recordings. [Asking students] where are we going? What are we going to find? They come up with great ideas, things I wouldn’t have thought to use. They really engage with it.’ Upon the workshop’s conclusion, it’s evident Jodie has achieved a significant amount. ‘[For students, the main aims relate to] exploring their environments, new musical experiences and composition. [By the end of the workshop] they’ve had this experience that they may not have had before.’
Jodie’s background is unsurprisingly a musical one. She was first introduced to elements of community music during her undergraduate degree. When I asked about community music and how it differs from similar areas like music education and music therapy, Jodie explains the degree of crossover between these sectors. ‘There’s loads of overlap with music education and music therapy. Community music is focussed on what you’re doing in the activity with people and there are so many benefits [to each activity]. It could be educational; it could be personal. It could be therapeutic.’
Jodie’s passion for the subject never fades throughout our conversation. As she details the differences between community music, music education and music therapy, it’s clear that the positioning of herself within the world of community music was essentially inevitable. While discussing the reasons for her taking on the role as Music Leader, she talks of how she enjoys creating music with others. ‘I like the interactions you get. I like the possibilities you can have to connect with people and the benefits it provides to them.’ Jodie wants others to be involved too. ‘Music can provide so many benefits and be very powerful.’ The more people on the ground doing that work the more possibilities and benefits there can be.’
However, workshops require meticulous planning and for someone who enjoys community music for the interactions, this part is perhaps what is most challenging. ‘This is something I’ve had to learn’ Jodie acknowledges. However, planning is not an individual’s endeavour. “It’s not so much just sitting and writing things out by myself. It’s saying [to others involved in the workshop planning], ‘does this work? Does this not work.’” It is with this statement that one realises how interactive the entire process is. Community music seems to begin and end with collaboration, perhaps exemplifying its appeal.
As for getting involved, Jodie recommends several different ideas. ‘You’ll always find choirs in your local area. I’d recommend volunteering in different groups. Being in that environment helps you know how things run.’ However, these groups are not the only way to involve yourself with music in the community. Jodie tells me how schools may have after school clubs and summer camps wanting volunteers. In general, if you reach out to a musical group, they’ll likely respond enthusiastically. ‘A lot of these organisations would love people to come along. They really want volunteers; they want people to interact and to help-out.’
It didn’t take long for Jodie’s love of music in the community to come across. If you’d like to get involved with any of the topics discussed so far, take Jodie’s advice and reach out!
Written by Rural Fest Music Journalist: Ben Forsdick