Liam Ross @ HMP Inverness

Fèis Rois have been working in partnership with HMP Inverness to deliver music making activities and to develop core skills. Liam Ross is a Trainee Musician on the project and here tells more of what the experience has meant to him so far.

I found out about the role Trainee Musician role with Fèis Rois as I was reaching the end of my University course. I had spent four years studying with the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) on the BA (Hons) Applied Music course. Very often, emails are sent round the student body drawing their attention to various opportunities happening within the music industry in Scotland. Close to the end of the course an email highlighted this position, as part of a partnership project with HMP Inverness called Interplay.

Having read the information on what was needed for the position I thought it would be the perfect chance to show what I had learned over the past four years. It would also provide the perfect bridge between the end of the course and the start of my life as a working musician…but perhaps more importantly I saw it as a chance to take the passion and drive that I have for the guitar and do some real good with it. I was attracted to the chance to improve and to learn new things and develop skills I had already learned to better myself as not only a musician but as a person.  I hoped in turn this would enable me to be more inclusive in teaching music.

Before the start of the project I did feel a bit apprehensive about how effectively I could use the knowledge I gained during the course. My feelings towards it was that it was one thing to study teaching methods but another to apply them successfully in a teaching context. But this feeling was overshadowed by the excitement I felt in finally getting the chance to show what I could do and getting to show it in a challenging environment.

The content I delivered changed over time to fit with the flexibility of the project. To begin with I would assess the number of people I had in my group that wanted to play guitar. This was key, because even in the smallest group, there are people who already play or pick up things quickly. On the other hand, you have others who might be complete beginners, so it can be challenging to find content that is engaging for everyone. At the same time, the content and structure of the lesson needs to aid you in establishing a good teacher – student relationship. This was my main aim, so I tackled it by having a simple discussion about their musical tastes and interests before learning.  We would begin by picking a simple song they all liked and would start by learning the chords. This worked well because using music they all liked it made them more motivated to learn the material. It also ensured the vital relationship between tutor and student was made. This then acted as a springboard to venture further into guitar playing. This was then enhanced further as we worked with other groups on traditional tunes.

The key learning I have gained to date comes from watching other tutors in how they adapt their teaching to compliment particular participants. One example of this was someone playing the ukulele who wanted to try some guitar but was not confident in doing so. Simply placing a capo on the 5th fret of the guitar and explaining they could use the same chords by ignoring the top two strings had a massive impact on me.

The most enjoyable time was seeing the smile or seeing how happy participants were when they realised they could had the ability to play and this was achieved through hearing back recordings they played on or playing a difficult section right for the first time. This was great because moments like that are exactly why I play music and play guitar. The most difficult was perhaps when an inmate did not engage at all no matter what was done.

My perceptions have changed a bit on being a musician within a project such as this. It’s highlighted just how much of a positive impact it can have on people. At the start we had offenders who were shy and unsure, to the sessions being the thing they looked forward to each week. My feelings about working with challenging groups has also changed because it has given me the confidence that I can do it well, more so now than at the beginning because I have gained a deeper insight from the other, more experienced tutors.

My views of prison have also changed a bit. I now have insight into what a prison can be like for both offenders and the Scottish Prison Service staff, rather than what it is portrayed to be in the media. They often do not report on projects like this and the benefits and impact they have. I now know it to be a place that is not entirely negative because of the positive engagement I’ve experienced through this project.

Other opportunities have opened for me having been part of Interplay. One of which is another Fèis Rois music and recording based project taking place in Invergordon Academy working with young people with a wide range of disabilities who do not attend main stream school.  As well as this, I have been offered more teaching places and because of the work done on Interplay I feel more equipped than ever to work well in these roles.  For the future I would love to continue work like this and do it all the time because of how rewarding it is. I love nothing more than making people smile and happy through music whether performing or teaching it.

Advice I would give to young musicians wanting to work with communities is to get the content you are delivering right.  At the heart of your content it is vital to make what you do inclusive to as many as you can. In addition to this you need to be constantly learning from others who work in the sector. Always have the frame of mind that you are always a student and there are always approaches to improve what you do.  I feel now more than ever that music and projects like this are nothing but positive for the participants and without a doubt make real change.