Re-post from Sound Connections newsletter, 5th Sept 2018
'London Rhymes' is a singing and songwriting project targeting parents and young children under two in community group settings. It's delivered in partnership with Creative Futures, Hackney Playbus, community delivery partners, and led by me – Rosie Adediran, alongside a team of wonderful musicians. At the heart of London Rhymes is a desire to embed musical creativity and singing into the heart of the families, supporting those in the throes of new parenthood through music and song. It also seeks to challenge and question the 'nursery rhyme' genre for the modern-day family. What happens when we throw out the rule book, taking our ideas and inspiration from the direct and everyday experiences and challenges of families?
I'm a singer and music leader, mum to 2 year old Otis, and a passionate believer in the role of singing for parents, babies and young children, and the relationship between them. More on me at www.mamasings.com. I'd love to share some of my experiences leading this project here, along with a couple of issues it's brought into the spotlight for me. I'd love to hear from you if you have any comments or ideas... or anything to bring to the conversation! Please do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our pilot project 'Hoxton Rhymes' (2015/16, www.hoxtonrhymes.co.uk) was funded with an 'Innovate' grant from Sound Connections, and involved a 12 week singing, music-making and songwriting project with a group of mums and under two's in Hoxton. The songs that we wrote together were beautifully animated by illustrator Claire Fauche, and we then launched a free musical app - accessed by families involved in the project and beyond. We subsequently received a grant from Youth Music to roll out in six settings across London, working with groups of parents and young children across 3 boroughs of London. Through the delivery of these projects, we've co-written around 35 new songs, some of which have been recorded professionally by our merry band of fab musicians!
Underpinning our work is the experiential but research-backed knowledge that singing is a highly instinctive and effective form of communication with babies and very young children, with huge benefits for both parent and child. After all, becoming a new parent can be a life changing world shifting, earthquake-causing event – whoever you are, the impact can be monumental. The massive highs and sudden lows, crushing sleep deprivation, all combined with a love like you've never known!
But for many new parents, a range of challenging circumstances can make new parenthood even more challenging. For example, official figures show that mental health issues can affect 10% of new mothers, though it's thought that in reality this number is much much higher, ranging from anxiety to post natal depression, PTSD and psychosis. It's safe to say that most new parents are affected by vulnerability, sleep deprivation and a sense of invisibility at a time which can focus primarily on the health of the child, and therefore often neglect the health of the new parent. Recent news stories have recently highlighted (in some areas) a total lack of infrastructure supporting new parents, and in particular the mental health of new mothers.
A big part of what we do is honouring the incredible process of working with parents and children, especially those facing challenges like those mentioned above, building trust and establishing new musical routines. We aim to give them a rich musical experience that values the parent as much as the child, working with talented musicians, developing confidence with a range of repertoire, as well as gently encouraging ideas and the seeds of new songs to grow from within the group.
But why do we need new songs - the old ones are just fine aren't they!?
Row row row your boat is going nowhere, and nor should it. And of course there are highly creative practitioners out there, using old, new and diverse repertoire highly effectively in different settings. But, as a parent myself, I've observed an over-saturation of musical material online, on platforms like YouTube, Spotify and even Netfilx. You search a song and are immediately bombarded with a sea of results - mostly low quality, over produced, with synthesised sound effects and low-quality visuals and which have little in the way of real voices or live instruments. The mainstream choice for parents is overwhelming, yet of overwhelmingly low quality.
So despite new parenthood being an opportune time for instinctive and creative singing, I believe there's been little in the way of innovation or quality in the genre – and what there is, is quite hard to find. I think there's also been a tendency to underestimate our youngest, exposing them to the kind of music that we think that they'll like – and at a time of life when you're likely the tiredest you'll ever be, it's tough to think beyond doing a simple YouTube search for 'twinkle little star' and dealing with whatever that brings up.
London Rhymes partly arose out of my experiences being part of so many wonderful projects that often resulted in beautiful music being created... but then ultimately the project CD gathered dust in the cupboard. The process of creating the music is rightly valued – but I wonder whether there's a place for community projects to embrace collaboration and the quality that can come out of it, and to harness it for the benefit of a wider audience. My experience so far has been that families from outside the project have loved and embraced the music, as it's different, original, and touches on issues that are universally relevant. We aim to offer something that offers quality, without the cringe factor. That inspires families to use music in the everyday experience. That offers interest and learning in being exposed to a range of styles and instruments. That doesn't make a parent feel like they've lost themselves in a sea of twinkly sounds and synthesised effects.
We believe that children and parents could (and should) have a richer musical experience together, and that the impact of small projects like these could be multiplied through the proper use of digital technology - benefiting families up and down the country by bringing high quality and original music into their homes - that has originated from the real experiences of those parenting small children.
We're learning as we go! The next phase of London Rhymes involves us recording and animating a new batch of the songs in our 'rhymes' bank, to release online as potentially via a new musical app for families. We're also putting new partnerships in place to run more projects from next year onwards. Please do get in touch if you'd be interested in working with us.
Finally please listen to the music (links below), and share away, especially with families that you think could benefit, and keep in touch with our progress via the links below!