When thinking about issues that might affect musicians working in and around health and wellbeing over the next few years, we might immediately think about two things: the never-ending hunt to secure long-term funding and the (connected) need to measure and prove the impact of our work. There are, however, issues that need to be in the spotlight and addressed before we can really begin to work together to identify and shout about impact, and in turn successfully secure significant, strategic funding.
“Teach us to care and not to care” (T. S. Eliot)
In order to be the best at this work, you have to give so much of yourself, and in doing so — if not taking time to give back to yourself – you run the risk of running on empty. To be the best, you need to be mentally, emotionally and musically strong. Without this, you can’t deliver the quality of delivery that those we work with deserve.
There is an ‘army’ of brilliant musicians working all over the country. Some of these are doing so without specific training, many are doing so without any ongoing support – particularly emotional and psychological support – a situation unheard of for health sector professionals. As public awareness grows and the status and impact of our work is recognised more and more, we need to do everything we can to ensure that our most important asset – the musicians themselves – don’t burn out. Anecdotally I am seeing an increase in the mental ill-health of musicians struggling to come to terms with the things they are experiencing, whilst also juggling multiple hats professionally and personally, at the same time as striving to keep a sense of their own individual artistic identity.
Connected to this is pace: the need to keep up with the changing landscape; with developments in health, education and social care; with physical networks, social media and the conference scene. A potential explosion and overload of information.
Keeping our workforce healthy – mentally, emotionally and musically – must be a priority.
We need to work together better. By pooling and sharing expertise and experiences across sectors we can understand better the needs and issues we all face. Different settings have different languages and by working together we can become more fluent and ultimately more productive. We need to see more practice that comes from a place of real collaboration between music, health, education and social care professionals, as well as those with lived experience.
A vital aspect of this is the relationship with the academic sector – we need to be better at accessing the vast pool of research that exists so we can explore how it impacts on practice. We also need to work collaboratively at an earlier stage. Too often, especially in the context of funding turnaround, projects and academic partners work on different timescales and the joined-up thinking that could exist falls to the side. The risk is that we end up working with existing research, working out how to apply it to our practice, rather than growing a programme with research at its heart from the start.
To support successful collaborative work we must first tackle professional isolation – something that musicians talk to me about more and more. Often, the breaks at conferences and events are more useful than the content of the day itself. I’ve had many invaluable ‘water-cooler’ moments, where I am more likely to find a culture of honesty and openness. Let’s give ourselves permission and space for more critical evaluation, not just using a platform to say how amazing we are but to tell each other what’s been hard or impossible and how we might work together to solve that.
A shared, connected, multi-disciplinary, honest voice can help us move towards quality practice as standard.
Finally, a question … as our work gathers more and more momentum and the scale of delivery grows, how do we ensure activity is always delivered at the highest possible quality? As we wait to see where Arts Council England places health and wellbeing in their new 10-year strategy, we need to ensure that we learn from the requirement made decades ago for all ACE funded organisations to deliver ‘education’ activity. In some organisations, truly ground-breaking programmes came to life. Unfortunately, in others we saw the work become a bolt on, and at worst, a tick-box exercise delivered by people who didn’t know what they were doing. The result – second-rate, poor quality activity that took years to unpick.
We must be ambitious, fearless and confident in challenging ourselves and all those involved in music and health work to consistently improve quality.
Phillipa Reive is Director, Creative Campus at Snape Maltings. Over the next decade Snape will convene a diverse community of practitioners, researchers and participants to engage in a wide-ranging practical enquiry into the positive social and health impacts of music, developing and testing innovative practice through local and regional activity, and rolling it out via training, knowledge exchange and public events to achieve national and international impact.