The Collaborative Creative Process
Ros Hawley, Mark Fisher, Keisha Thompson, Jack D'Arcy
Music really does have a special ability to do many powerful things. It can transform a mood; it can affect deep emotional centres within the brain. It can unite people, it can evoke and boost memories, it can increase heart rate, breathing, even blood pressure; it’s a very powerful medium.
We all absolutely love what we do. This is especially true, when you see such positive results and benefits with the patients that we have worked with.
For us, music is very much a collaborative process; we feel so very lucky to be a part of such an amazing creative team during this wonderful project that is 1000 Days.
Humans are natural creators. We thrive when in creative environments, especially when we get to work with others, who might have a different approach, perspective, or talent that can be used to create the most incredible outcomes.
As much as we are community practitioners, we are also artists and a lot of our work, we’re always thinking about our instruments and musicianship can be playful and make sounds, and how they can be used as an expression and very effective form of communication.
Ros and Mark have been working together for around 20 years., both having worked and performed in different settings, with very different skills and approaches; Ros was classically trained originally, but Mark is self-taught.
I'm a clarinet player, and I was classically trained and went on to study Clemson music and researched that for quite a while.
I've always been interested in looking at music and how it sits in very different environments, so maybe where music isn't always expected to go, I'm quite curious about where it ends up. For quite a lot of my career, I've performed, but I've also worked in community settings, so I've worked in residential schools, hospices, I've worked for organizations working with children with complex and special needs as well, and I've always been interested in thinking about how music can give people a voice when words are not needed, so it’s quite interesting working with Keisha in looking at it spoken word too.
I'm not a therapist, but I would see myself as a musician who works in these settings and questions the role of music in those settings.
“I'm a guitarist principally, self-taught and have been performing in bands, and the doing various song writing and composing bits and pieces for the last 40 + years.
I kind of fell into this work when I met Ros in the 90s and we started working together. We’ve worked in hospices, we've worked in hospitals, we've worked in special schools too. I tend to use my music to respond to what I see, and feel, and hear in those settings. I've written lots of material that's been inspired by situations and people on wards.”
In one of the things that Mark does in his practice when we work together, is he uses his guitar playing to kind of 'read the room', and respond by creating a tone, or a colour, or a mood. Mark tends to use his music to respond to what he sees, and feels, and hears in those different settings.
“This project has been really interesting; I'm not particularly good at coming up with words, I really struggle with lyric writing and things like that, but meeting somebody that is so adept as Keisha, has being a real eye-opener and responding to her poems, is being really quite inspiring.”
Keisha is a Manchester based writer, performance artist and producer and a Senior Manager of Children, Young People and Learning at Arts Council England, chair of radical arts funding body, Future’s Venture Foundation, a MOBO x London Theatre Consortium Fellow and a member of Greater Manchester Cultural and Heritage Group, and recipient of The Arts Foundation Theatre Makers Award 2021.
“In this context, I was very much there as a poet, and as an evaluative poet, which is a strand of work that I do. This is about me going into places and observing and absorbing a lot of information. So as much as I was going into the hospital, and looking at what was happening, I was also then given loads of reports as well, so it's about me taking in information and then trying to turn it into something that is reflective of the experience.
So it's not really about my voice, per say, it's an interesting strand of work that I really enjoy doing, and I'd like to encourage more artists to it as and to be a conduit for this kind of work where we see something that's going on, that might seem quite academic and then we're able to then transfer it into something that's a bit more accessible, or palpable for the general public or a bit more emotional. So that was my thinking as I was going into the process, asking myself how I can make this human, and how can I interpret this into something that is accessible.
We used to do a lot of this at Contact, it was very much about letting audience members, say how they were feeling, or to tell their stories, and we just really had to listen, and then use whatever skills we had to re-interpret what they'd just given. It was such a great skill, because you flourish, you always want to add on, as a performer you want to exaggerate - and bring your things, (e.g. I went to Blackpool, and you say oh yeah I went there), so there's this discipline of listening to what the person said, and just give that back. The thing that always brings me back to it is, just honour what the person has said, and you don't put yourself in the story. I very much just see myself as a sounding board. That's the thing I really enjoy, when I do this kind of work, because I feel like I'm not really doing anything, and then someone will say 'OMG where did you get that from?', or 'that line is so beautiful'... I'll say, well you said it. I just wrote it down.
It's about just being really neutral. When we are doing playback theatre, we had to practice just being neutral. So just standing there, not moving our arms, not slouching, and it's literally just this discipline of just standing there, and just taking in what someone else has given you and then relaying it back.”
The way in which all of our different backgrounds, has fused together during this project has been amazing to be a part of. Keisha’s spoken word from her observations and time at the hospital, combined with Mark’s guitar playing, Ros’ clarinet and other instruments has enhanced this learning process and experience for us all so much.
The music that we use from our own repertoire set has been built over time, particularly linked to Mark's composition. Children’s songs and folk songs are also used that have been played along the way. There’s a general set that is typically used.
The magic happens when you kind of play around with that set and you start to then use it to be informed by a child's response. Some of the children on this ward may only be able to move their eyes, or they might lift their hand. A lot of the children wouldn't be able to speak, or say very many words, or they might move their mouths or blow kisses, or make sounds and then that's when we would use our repertoire to then become something else. It becomes a space where the children could take control. We observed a lot from watching the children, and watching how the staff worked with the children, but actually saw really how powerfully the children could communicate, without saying a word which is quite magical to witness.
With Keisha, who has been able to come in, look at the space, the work we were doing, look at the day-to-day situations and look at them with this other pair of eyes. This then gave us a chance to respond again in in music and think about how the music we use may be fitted with Keisha's observations and her poems; do we create new music, or do we use existing music? How does that then get adapted to make it all fit? It was looking at these types of questions, that allowed us to truly explore all of our work in a creative space, to then hopefully, be able to share our stories of experiences and our skills, with a wider group.