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Life in lockdown: Keeping hopes high through music

Nouse speaks to student group MEG about their activities during lockdown

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Image Credit: MEG

'Life in Lockdown' is an interview series focusing on people, organisations or student societies who are adapting to isolation in interesting and innovative ways. If you’d like to talk about your experiences in lockdown or share how your student group has adjusted during the pandemic, email editor@nouse.co.uk; we’d love to hear from you.

This week Nouse spoke to a few of the amazing students from York’s Music Education Group (MEG). Lori, MEG’s outgoing chair, Jessie, outgoing secretary and new press and publicity officer, and Em, MEG’s new chair, joined me over Zoom to discuss the work they've been doing this year and how they’ve adapted to lockdown and life away from the University this term.

For those who are less aware of the group's purpose, Lori summarises MEG’s usual activities with the general statement that “what we do is offer free music workshops to a range of different community settings in and around York. Often, we can have up to 15 workshops happening a week in different places such as schools, care homes, hospital wards and health facilities”. Had University been operation as usual this term, Jessie explains that “we’d have been going into schools doing workshops and we run a youthful connections party at the end of summer term usually which is basically a gathering for older people in the community to come along, we would put on some musical performances on for them and they would get to do some sing-alongs and it’s very much a sharing experience for them to share their music to us and for us to share out music with them.”

Em tells us that although lockdown has meant they can’t go to the places they would usually, MEG have instead “tried to get our social media as busy as possible by trying to run a mini workshop series”. The aim of said series is to “engage our volunteers from the University and also for us too - to encourage us to do more fun bits of music making that we can share with the schools and the other places we would’ve been visiting. Hopefully the individuals that would have enjoyed our workshops in person can get a few ideas that can be successful for them to try at home while we can’t be face-to-face.”

I ask about their particular motivations for putting so much energy into continuing MEG’s work during this period and Jessie tells us that “I think particularly at this stressful time there's a lot of anxiety going around, and in especial regard to children, we don't want that to stick in their mind when they come out of this period. So I think personally if you can provide a positive experience for children during this time and even just giving their parents 5 minutes rest from home schooling, then that’s really helpful for them and their parents.”

Music is clearly a source of great passion for the three and is considered an important tool within the current circumstances we all find ourselves in. Em tells us that she thinks “we've seen from all the free online concerts and performances that are being streamed, and everyone's videos that they’re making, that music is so important. Obviously with the three of us being music students, we're really lucky to have had music education throughout our life, so I think doing these videos is really important because they’re reaching people who wouldn't usually have access to music. Through us doing these videos, they can hopefully still feel a part of all of these arts that are so important during this time.” The benefits of this project are clearly felt within the team too, with Lori adding, “I think it's keeping hopes up too as well even just for the students that are involved with us. It’s really great to give back to the people we usually see in our workshops and who come along to our workshops. For the students, our volunteers and committee members who are running workshops, it's a really nice thing to have instead of just doing your uni work, or if you’ve finished it, not doing much else.”

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On a more personal note, I ask the three what the society means for them with MEG clearly having a significant effect on each of them as individuals. Lori tells me that the society has “been such a large part of my University life; I’ve been involved with MEG since I was in my first year. I was a volunteer from the start then I joined the committee as Mental Health Representative and in my final year I became chair which has been amazing. It’s given me so much, given me so much confidence in myself as a performer, even just in front of a room of people and confidence in my musical ability as well. It’s also given me more direction going forward because I've decided to do a PhD now and I know that wouldn’t have been something I would have considered before getting involved with MEG, so it’s been really important to me and a great experience.”

Jessie tells us that “I think personally, because I’m mainly focused on going into schools (mainly primary) it's so rewarding to know that you’re bringing a skill to children who might not have had the chance to learn about music. In many state schools, music is being marginalized and put to the side and so we are providing that service which is becoming unavailable due to funding cuts or practicalities. For me, it’s really important because I came from a state school where music was put to the side and so to be able to give children that chance, the chance I was given through similar schemes, it's just been so rewarding.”

Em acknowledges that what MEG means to her is most likely a combination of both Lori’s and Jessie's answers, with the incoming chair telling us that: “I want to make sure that music isn’t just for those who can afford it. I was very fortunate that I was the beneficiary through the county service, which not everyone is lucky enough to have. Without this, I wouldn’t have had my lessons and I wouldn’t be sitting here. So, I want to give that back and give people the opportunity to experience and hopefully encourage them since we know there's not much funding going on at the moment for the arts. I joined the MEG committee in the first term of first year and it’s given me so much confidence; now standing in front of a class of thirty doesn’t phase me. I often have to essentially wing it a lot of the time and I never thought I'd be someone who was able to just improvise on the spot, so that has been really good for my confidence and for my future work.”

With MEG coming across as an incredibly valuable society to get involved in, I ask how people are best to do this. Lori answers that “we’ve recently had our by-elections giving everyone an opportunity to get on the committee and run workshops next year hopefully when we’re all back, so that's an opportunity for students and maybe some volunteers that have been involved and want to step up and start leading their workshops.” Em also adds that for those not necessarily looking for a committee position yet, “we have a volunteer’s Facebook page” and that “essentially as a volunteer you have no commitment but the schools coordinator will post every week about the workshops that are happening and who to get in contact with if you want to participate. There’s no commitment but it’s really good if somebody wants to go along and see what it’s like to help out and run a workshop and that may encourage people to get on committee. There’ll be a new group set up for next year's volunteers in the coming months.”

MEG have recently seen great recognition, being shortlisted for Best Student Group at this year’s Love York Awards. With this in mind, I ask what the future holds for MEG with Jessie answering, “I think I‘m definitely looking forward to getting back into school no matter how that looks. Obviously we’re going to have to adapt the way we work for the time being to fit in with government guidelines. I also think we will look to increase the number of different workshops we provide; at the moment we offer 27 different types of workshop but it would be really cool to offer some more variety and we’re always aiming to improve our rep for what we take out.” Em adds that they “also have quite a lot of bigger projects that were due to happen this term. We also had a big success with Lori’s inter-generational project in Autumn term. Hopefully therefore, we'll be able to hold some bigger events to get the music out there encouraging people to get involved and that should be really great exercise for the committee and everyone who’ll be involved with that. However, it will of course be a big case of waiting to see how the situation pans out in the next few months and what's possible next year.”

For the moment however you are urged to “keep an eye out on MEG’s social media (which can be found HERE) to see the videos that we have got coming up”. Be aware however that their work with boomwhackers might leave The Lion Sleeps Tonight stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

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