The Community Programme Ambassadors are a group of freelance musicians, workshop leaders, presenters and composers who support the strategy and artistic leadership of all our work with families, young people, in criminal justice settings and with those living with long-term health conditions. Working closely with our Community team, they bring their expertise in delivering projects to guide new activities in those settings, and support new and local artists to lead sessions and projects.

Emily Barden, one of our Community Ambassadors and composer of this year’s Celebration finale, talks us through the process of co-creating a piece of work designed to give young people in Suffolk chance to speak about what they want people to hear.

During the October half term I had the privilege of spending two days with members of Group A and other interested young people from Ipswich and Lowestoft, generating themes and ideas for 2022’s Celebration finale piece.

We started with some ice-breaker games and vocal play to try and get everyone in the room comfortable with their own voice – both metaphorically and actually – as the workshops demanded that people felt confident and brave enough to put forward their own thoughts and ideas. Creating this safe and welcoming space for everyone was at the forefront of the workshops, and was something that fellow workshop leader Andi and workshop assistants from the BPA Community Team were really brilliant at supporting.

Having previously written 2020’s Celebration finale, I was well aware of the massive challenge the brief presents. Here is a little snap shot to give you an idea...

The piece must be:

1. Between 8-10 mins long.
2. Teachable and memorable within a 45 min workshop on the day.
3. Differentiated so that 5 year olds and 18 year olds alike can find connection and something musically satisfying within it.
4. Multi layered to allow those who want to be working on it for a longer period the chance to get stuck in and not be bored on the day!
5. It must be a really, flexible, uplifting, spectacular finale that involves upwards of 200 per performance for 6 days in a row.

So, I was thrilled to be asked to write 2022’s piece, but also fully aware of the work ahead!

My main ambition for this year’s creation was that it should be truly representative of the young people who will be singing the piece. I wanted them to sing their own words and thoughts, not just my guess as to what they may be.

With this in mind, Group A were a really great place to start. They consist of young people from across the region aged 8-18 and the philosophy behind Group A is all about inclusivity, a safe place to be, trust, community and friendships – all facilitated through music and singing.

When I asked Group A what they wanted to write about given a big stage and performance platform, unsurprisingly the pandemic did appear as a theme. What surprised me, however, was the nature in which they wanted to address it. They wanted it to be acknowledged as a life changing event, a major cause of disruption and in some cases distress. They wanted to move forward to something better, something else, but were absolutely clear that they didn’t want to forget it or ‘sweep it under the carpet’. The chance to share how the past 2 years has impacted and continues to impact their lives was seen as very important, and through some pretty frank conversations, it became clear that people were not alone in feeling alone. Being able to channel this into making music together and singing was a really great experience and I hope created some sense of release and sense of feeling more connected as a result.

Another major theme was identity. Being seen and recognised whoever you are.

I want to be who I want to be, say what I want to say, wear what I wanna wear, just be me.

This was a verse composed in the Lowestoft group and was sung heartily by everyone in the room, with total recognition of the sentiment.

Another emergent theme, and one which gladdened my heart, was music, and how very important it is in almost all areas of life. These young people are using music to make sense of things, to express the seemingly unexpressable, to help understand you’re not alone, to celebrate, to despair, to bring together.

This theme is something I will be absolutely using in the finale composition.

One of the sentences written in the session was “Together, together, telling stories together” and this seems like such a strong idea to me, and perhaps a way that we can all move forward from the last couple of years into a future that acknowledges and shares the impact of what we’ve been through, but understands that together is the way to recover.”

Emily Barden
November 2021