Liz Coomb, Programme Manager at Sound Connections, explores how the inclusion of youth voice in the music education sector has developed over the last 10 years, and highlights some of the current work taking place to incorporate and promote youth voice within the sector as part of our #MusicMark10 blog series.
Back in 2013, when we asked practitioners and organisations in the music education sector about how they were including youth voice and participation within their work, a lot of the time we were either met with: ‘huh?’, descriptions of young people’s singing programmes and choirs, or ‘we let them choose the pieces they play for their grades’.
Fast forward to 2023, and that same question is now met with a much broader and more positive response, and a whole host of different initiatives and ways of working with young people. From youth advisory groups to young people sitting on boards, to young people co-designing programmes and the development of different pathways to support young people from being a participant to a practitioner – we’ve come a long way in the past decade.
There is some brilliant work happening in our sector:
- Brighter Sound, Grounded Sounds and Music for Youth have programmes supporting young people into music careers both on and offstage.
- Lewisham Music have been working with young producers to explore music and mental health, and Rotherham Music have been working with a group of young creatives to evaluate their activity.
- Orchestras for All have a youth leadership model, and recently announced that their board will be co-chaired by a young person.
- Spoken London explore youth culture, excellence, equality, and music education.
- The Music Works, Gloucestershire and Awards for Young Musicians have young people involved in running their programmes.
- Anthem, the youth music fund for Wales, have a youth advisory group and young people take part in their funding decisions, and Youth Music have their NextGen community supporting young people through funding and opportunities.
10 years ago, these programmes and ways of working were few and far between. A major shift here, I think, is that we – as a music education sector, part of the wider cultural sector, and society – are working towards being more inclusive. We are moving from a top-down, didactic approach, to a side-by-side collaborative way of working. Inclusion is not just who you have involved but how they are involved – as the Youth Music team say, ‘inclusion is not a project’.
For us at Sound Connections, youth voice and participation are key to our inclusive practice. And it takes time – we have developed our youth voice and participation practice since our organisation’s inception in 2002, and more deeply since 2008 through Wired4Music (W4M), our flagship programme offering 16–25-year-old creatives hands-on support, mentoring, funding, and training through events and professional development activities. At W4M everything is led by our members – what we do is informed by, with, and for young people.
This in turn feeds into our wider organisational culture and collaborative approach, with our values of inclusivity, equity, accessibility, and participation at the centre of all that we do. Young people’s views are reflected across all levels of the organisation: we have young people on our board and our staff team, young people are part of programming and co-designing Wired4Music activity, they take part in recruitment panels, shortlisting panels and focus groups and advise and work on our workforce programme. They are part of our consultancy teams, co-leading training, and facilitation, and undertaking research and consultations.
It’s important to reiterate – this takes time, and dedication. Youth voice and participation is not the responsibility of one person in the team but is a collective responsibility.
Thinking ahead for the next 10 years, our hope is that youth voice and participation is embedded and integrated in all organisations working with children and young people, and that instead of it being seen as ‘best practice’ it is ‘universal practice’.
- Join Sound Connections for a training session or a youth voice & participation network meeting
- The Youth Voice & Participation Handbook
- #ShareTheMic Resource Hub
- Amplify Youth Voice
- The Listening Fund resources
- The Music Lab – Toolkit for Exploring Youth Voice within Classical Music-Making
- Youth Voice On Demand YouTube Channel
By Liz Coomb, Sound Connections