Participatory Arts Project

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December 12, 2012 by folkchris

In November and December 2012 one of the modules undertaken as part of the UWS MA: Songwriting and Performance programme was a short participatory arts project.

Having studied participatory (or Community Arts) to Honours Degree Level, I speak from experience in noting how greatly these projects can vary from each other.  They may range from working with very young children in schools, to working with the elderly in hospitals and care homes. 

The project we were assigned however, required us to work with an up and coming band, collectively known as ‘The Streams’ hailing from Stirling. 

Although musically, very talented and technically, very advanced, (as a group) they are relatively new to the process of writing, recording, performing and promoting their own music. 

Over the 3 week period, our role was to help the band create at least one song which could be recorded in the 3rd and final week. In the end, 2 songs were recorded from the project. One of these had been previously worked on by the group and it was merely our duty to help bring the song together. This ‘bringing together’ was focussed particularly on the dynamics of the music and to an extent, managing the sound which was being made.

‘Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important than what you do.’

The second piece, was an idea (and title) the band had for a song, which we helped develop into a song. 

The fact that we were there to help does not by any means imply that the group were incapable of creating the music without us being there, we were on hand to simply provide an outsider’s viewpoint, an ‘objective’ ear and if necessary, to suggest alternative approaches which the group may wish to employ in their on going, creative development. This, maybe seen as the ‘de-mystification’ process of artistic creativity. 

Simply put, this is the process of letting one see what they can create and how they can create it. Then, how they can improve their creation once it has been created. This learning process is not limited to class rooms nor is it restricted to those of a certain age or creative persuasion. It is limitless, on going and can be applied at any level of creative participation.

‘By giving people a chance to participate in the creation of the arts, doors are opened up in areas that previously remained out of reach.’ (Swanwick,1988, p48)


Through engagement in the musical process, individuals have the opportunity to ‘sort out’ their lives and say ‘how they feel’, with regards to issues which they may feel they have no control over in daily life.

The process of writing a song which may never be used ‘as a song’  (in a musical sense) is still valuable to the individual in terms of personal growth. In this way, the seemingly meaningless, can be extremely meaningful.

‘Its not how good a song is that matters, its how much good that song does’ (Hajdu, 2001, p65)

In terms of this project specifically, there is evidence of meaningful and well written lyric with along with well played (and appropriate) musical accompaniment. Although a relatively new band, the group acknowledged that they had written songs which they no longer play as part of a ‘Streams’ set at a gig. 

This, is perhaps an unfair reflection on the quality of these songs themselves. Not playing certain songs is not always a sign of ‘weak material’ but is a reflection of the maturing artist; exploring what is and is no longer relevant on the musical journey.  As noted, if the song had relevance at the time it was written, it has served its purpose. 

As a musician myself, I note this as a particularly necessary and inevitable learning curve in the process of making music. 

The second song the band created was the result of a ‘jam’ with a melody and hook line and title, but no significant lyrics. To create lyrics, the lead singer played with the band, while singing random words, which i wrote down.


Given that the song was played 5 or 6 times, the lyrics were constantly evolving and changing (with the exception of a couple of themes which the singer kept returning to.) This collection of different ‘potential’ lyrics would be brought together in order to form the eventual song, recorded on week 3. 

This approach is a combination of concrete poetry and kalideoscopic writing which may offer any songwriter alternatives to creating a piece of music, especially when faced with the infamous ‘writer’s block’.


[Retrieved Wednesday 12 December 2012]

Swanwick K (1988) Music, Mind and Education. Routledge. Oxon 

Hajdu D (2001) Positively 4th Street. Picador: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. New York




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