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Remi Fox-Novák: Reflections on Inclusive Practice In Action 2022

On 7 April 2022, Sound Connections held our annual ‘Inclusive Practice In Action’ (IPIA) event at Amnesty International. We are delighted to share these reflections from Sound Connections’ Associate Remi Fox-Novák, a music producer and sound artist with Nager Syndrome whom attended this year’s event, ‘Dancing with the Process of Life: Exploring Mental Health and Wellbeing’.


Last year, I was in attendance via Zoom at the Sound Connections’ Inclusion & Diversity in Music conference and I wrote my reflections for Drake Music. This year I was invited in person as a guest to a follow up event at the Amnesty International building in Shoreditch. It is fantastic to be able to be in person at these kinds of events again. Perhaps I found it overwhelming to be in such a gathering of people again after so much social distancing since the beginning of the pandemic, it is clear that the past two years have had an impact on everyone’s psyche. With this in mind, it is appropriate that this year’s Inclusive Practice In Action conference, entitled ‘Dancing with the Process of Life: Exploring Mental Health & Wellbeing’, takes stock on the burdens an exclusionary society brings, I may be feeling shy but this is a time to be quiet and absorb. For this conference I am in listening mode.

Firstly, I need to pay tribute to the organisers of this conference, there were British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters and mental health first aiders at the ready as well as enthusiastic stagehands getting the microphone where it needed to be swiftly and I cannot remember any technical glitches throughout the day.

Like last year, this conference is hosted by the composer & educator Brenda Rattray, standing taller than our Zoom calls lead me to imagine, she opens proceedings by asking us to imagine that we are trees. How our roots support our growth, the direction of our many branches and affects the stability of our trunk. Can we shelter others under our branches? Do our roots require healing?

Shahanna Knight, a childhood trauma specialist, helped the delegates prepare for the day ahead. She offered insight into how the content of the day’s proceedings could impact our own responses. She gave a brief explanation of fight or flight reactions and talked about ways that we could take care of our mental health throughout the day.

The perspective talk from Roger Wilson shone a light on racial disparity in the music industry. Founder of Black Lives in Music and a classical music practitioner, Wilson talked about his challenging upbringing in Woolwich, the dynamics of where he grew up, the fact that he benefited so much from a free music education and being able to learn the clarinet.

I found Roger’s talk the most illuminating in the context of mental wellbeing and inclusive action around the music sector. He spoke candidly about his experience of working in places as a minority and feeling that his viewpoints were ignored because of this and the shock, anger and negative impact on his wellbeing when his ideas had been represented as someone else’s and was now considered palatable.

Early years music practitioner Anjana Rinne talked about how the mental health of children may have been affected by the pandemic and lockdowns and how (especially amongst the very young), the impacts of which may not yet be fully clear. Her work with children was demonstrated with a couple of joyful videos including talking through musical play, in the example clip, conversing through tapping on a drum. This resonated for me through my own work as a support worker with people with cerebral palsy and Profound Learning Disabilities (PLD).

Before lockdowns, once a week in the day service we would have a music therapist to stage a similar kind of musical play and it was always remarkable to see how music can cut through emotionally and therapeutically where everyday communication styles do not. In thinking about inclusivity in music institutions beyond composition as products and performances for spectators, it is worth pondering the intimate language of music and sound play and how it impacts upon mental wellbeing and emotional development. It’s also worth thinking about who gets access to music in this way. In the services I’ve worked at this magic isn’t always understood or sustainably provided. Anjana’s work is pioneering (the first person in London to receive the new certificate in early years music education) and demonstrates that music’s value goes way beyond content creation.

Before lunch was a richly rewarding talk by Lisa Cherry, someone with expertise in supporting schools, services & systems in trauma informed practice. She is an author and has a podcast on the topic and provided the conference with some invaluable bite-sized nuggets to chew over. Essentially she talks about those who suffer as a result of adverse childhood experiences and its impact on their present stability and behaviour. She stresses the importance of understanding trauma-informed practices to create environments that promote healing and recovery rather than practice that could re-traumatise people unintentionally. Lisa used as an example -’ isolated learning in schools as a punishment’, which has been shown to exacerbate problems and has been compared to torture.

After lunch I joined the workshop by Pie Factory Music youth group from Thanet, Steph Dickinson gave an explanation of what they do and how it has evolved. Pie Factory Music, based in seaside town Ramsgate, provides a super platform for young people to express themselves and work on their musical aspirations in a part of the country that is plagued with high rates of poverty and low social mobility. Dickinson talked about how Thanet had a higher-than-average white, working class population, and highlighted how it doesn’t take a degree to work out why Nigel Farage ran for MP for Thanet South in 2015. She stressed that because of this, the organisation listened to concerns from those identifying as white working class, ‘I think whilst it is important to listen, it is an absolutely crucial responsibility to challenge myths about negative immigration impact on an area that is already poor and so white in the first place, and not just pander to them.’

This might be easier said than done, especially in today’s discourse of polarising culture war media distortions. But it’s important for working class interests to be recognised as a whole, not divided superficially by skin colour.

Later in the feedback session near the end, one young person from the Pie Factory group spoke eloquently to the room, growing in confidence as they felt safer in the space that Sound Connections had provided. They said something that panged at me. How they enjoyed volunteering and helping others, but all those around them were asking about how serious that is in the long run, how they should think about making money for themselves, but also in service to a private owner class over altruism. Through the passage of my adult life, that duty of self-interest as the true duty as citizens of this country has hardened, even in the face of evidence of how damaging it is for our wellbeing as individuals, the society and the environment.

Miss Jacqui spoke about being exceptional in the face of low expectations for those with a disability. She laments how hard it is to be exceptional all the time when other people’s average is more readily accepted. That could be women having to do more in competition with men, people of colour in predominantly white spaces, as well as disabled people in settings that are inaccessible.

ML Community Enterprise gave us a fantastic performance, with each of the 4 young vocalists, three men and one woman in a hijab spitting poetic responses to a schoolteacher’s interrogation into why they are underperforming, schooling us on the hardships and disparities of privilege that impact on their education and wellbeing.

In her closing remarks, Brenda brings up the distressing story of child Q as a stark reminder of what we are up against for a truly inclusive society. Our mental wellbeing is not under stress by accident and the solutions are difficult to implement. There are powerful and unaccountable forces that benefit from an unequal and unjust society that see little reason to change anything.

Where this conference succeeds is by homing in on the specific impact our world has on us, and helping us to find empathy and support through our vulnerability. We were presented with a number of ways to connect and heal ourselves and others.

There is so much to be done but I believe I found allies here to give me more strength to offer my branches as shelter.

 

Written by Remi Fox-Novák, 2022

 

Photo Credit: Hattie Darling


IPIA 2023 Announcement:

We are very excited to announce that IPIA 2023 will take place on Thursday 23 March 2023.

To find out the latest information about this event and to be notified once ticket sales go live, please register your interest here >


Remi Fox-Novák (he/him)

Remi Fox-Novák is a music producer and sound artist with Nager Syndrome. He has been working as a support worker for people with severe and complex disabilities, residentially and in day centres.

Remi’s Linktree

Remi Fox-Novak – Inclusive Practice in Action – Sound Connections Reflections for Think22

 

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