Joy of Sound: Collective Power Award

| Anna Eaton

We are delighted to be involved again this year with the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance’s (CHWA) annual awards which focuses on collective power (partnership and co-production), practitioner support and climate. The awards ceremony took place online on Friday 23rd April celebrating an amazing collection of organisations and people supporting others to cope, create and grow.

We partnered with CHWA on their Collective Power Award. This award aims to recognise an inspiring project, consortium, collective or movement of people in which meaningful partnership and co-production has improved the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities through culture and creativity. CHWA were positively overwhelmed by the quality of applications for this award. We loved the different interpretations of “collective power” and we were blown away by how people and organisations worked together to respond and adapt during the pandemic. 

Joy of Sound

In order to celebrate this work, we are running a blog series on each of the projects shortlisted for the Collective Power Award and we’re delighted to feature the Joy of Sound this week.

Joy of Sound (JOS) is a small, inclusive community organisation delivering creative wellbeing respite that has been running for twenty years. They run weekly participatory music sessions using inclusively designed and made instruments and regular combined arts projects. They work with people of all abilities as co-creators of therapeutic arts and music activities of personal, social and aesthetic significance. They’ve actually increased their service delivery during the pandemic through a rapid uptake of new technology.

Their first Zoom session took place at the start of April 2020 and developed into a five-days a week programme of seven different inclusive participatory arts and music for wellbeing sessions. During 2020 they delivered 408 Zoom sessions with over 4,000 attendances.

Sessions included getting active with singing, dance and exercise — vigorous activity at ‘Inclusive Movement & Dance’; more gentle exercise at ‘Seated Yoga, Breath and Movement’; and a chance to sing songs, share and learn new ‘Makaton’ signing skills at ‘Sing and Sign’.

A unique JOS activity – Seriously Silly Sensory Sessions were also developed by JOS specific ‘Sensory Looping’ approaches. Often hilarious these popular sessions use improvisational approaches to explore and articulate embodied expression to stimulate interpersonal communications and shared creativity. 

Similarly JOS’ ‘Adventures into Here, There and Everywhere’ are virtual multi-modal explorations around the world and beyond. They are led by disabled participants and supported by the British Library who provided resources and granted access to their archived collections to the JOS’ team. The team use these resources to conjure up images, sights, sounds, memories and atmospheres of different countries, multi-cultures and environments around the globe to the delight of participants of all ages and abilities. Helping participants travel around the globe despite the lockdown.

JOS’ participants also shared their experiences of Covid-19 and lockdown during the weekly session. They shared their lived experience and imaginings by writing poems and stories together during ‘Ever New Story Sharing’ and ‘Creative Writing Prose & Poetry’ Zoom sessions. The suggestions and contributions of participants were illustrated spontaneously during or after sessions. These beautifully illustrated narratives have been assembled and compiled into online books or videos with narration and accompanying soundtracks. These can be viewed at https://joyofsound.org/jos-creative-writing-projects.

JOS explain that the key to their success is that all sessions are authentically inclusive — everyone can join in. Anyone can contribute toward the creative flow, and everyone’s contribution is acknowledged, shared and valued.

What particularly struck us about JOS’ work over the last year is their incredible long list of partners and collaborators from across London and the UK. A huge variety of national organisations, community groups, centres, volunteers, care homes, university and formal local groups.

We spoke to JOS’ Founder and Creative Director William Longden about his favourite moments over the last year, what he’s learnt and what’s surprised him. He shared his thoughts and some perspectives from others involved:

What has been your favourite thing about the project?

William: Wow, it’s impossible to pick out one favourite session! It has been delightful, uplifting, wondrous and healthily challenging to play, co-create and learn within such a unique and distinctive online community. 

Observing experienced practitioners guide improvisation and creative story-building with an inclusive group of participants has been amazing — but I think my most favourite things have been the numerous new smiles and expressions I’ve been privy to sharing. I vividly and fondly recall each and every one of them.

Disabled woman participant: I really enjoy the relaxed approaches to the sessions, and that the practitioner facilitators join in as equal co-creative participants.

What have you learnt along the way? Have you made any ‘best’ mistakes?

William, Founder: I would say my best and biggest mistake has been to underestimate ability in anyone, including myself. I’ve learnt that creative contributions can be co-created and facilitated by any and every participant in any inclusive session, regardless of any presuppositions regarding perceived lack of ability.

Joy of Sound session facilitator: Volunteering with Joy of Sound and working as a co-creator with so many people of such extreme variety and difference has taught me ‘never to assume’ unless I assume the very best of all people and all things. 

Communicating with people of exceedingly diverse natures, cultures and abilities, sometimes non-verbally though physical gesturing and signage, sometimes by vibration, sometimes by ineffable means, surrealistic modes or by the abstraction of good faith alone has taught me many things about myself and about humanity in general.

Most of all I have learnt to be patient, respectful, open and honest to myself and others — to recognise and acknowledge the immense untapped potential of humanity when we come together to co-create and share fresh, new and vital understanding as equal human beings.      

JOS has created new opportunities for me and for all participants to make new friends and to have continuous connection by building a consistent regular program of exciting and uplifting Zoom sessions to look forward to every day during Covid-19.  Bringing relief, easing anxiety, raising spirits through laughter and creative play, especially for those that who have found it difficult to adjust and comprehend the unprecedented changes and challenges that have been experienced nationally by everyone during to the pandemic. 

My greatest personal challenge as a JOS facilitator has been to keep connection, flow and interplay with every individual during sessions with up to 40+ co-creative participants.  

The need to be continually flexible and aware within groups of people with highly diverse needs, and for each and every individual to be included actively as a co-creator whilst ensuring that participants lead by their choice of content and manner of creative flow has often left me delightfully exhausted, frequently amazed and uplifted.    

Has anything surprised you during the project?

William, Founder: Witnessing familial and professional care and support-givers enthusiastically and joyfully engage as co-creative participants at sessions that they would in ‘normal’ circumstances rarely attend, has been a wonderful and refreshing experience and delight.

Joy of Sound session facilitator: My favourite surprise was a co-participant’s response to a game we played during a Seriously Silly Sensory Session. On being asked what he wanted to receive from my “magic fountain arm” he said “blue”. To my tangibles-oriented mind, it was a total curveball of delight!

Parent of participant member of UNIQUE (Rare Chromosome Disorder Support Group): It was surprising how sessions were helpful in connecting my daughter Lulu with other people — even when she wasn’t in a mood to socialise or to do anything at all”.

Joy of Sound session facilitator: I have been constantly surprised to learn how well participants are able to adapt to new circumstances and challenges through their interactions during sessions. And how appreciative family members and support workers have been for the project providing online sessions during lockdown.  Some families have commented that JOS Zoom sessions not only created activities for their children and clients to participate in and enjoy, but also provided themselves with an important source of relief and enjoyment during very stressful times. 

To find out more about Joy of Sound (JOS), visit their website, follow them on Twitter @ joyofsoundJOS and check out their Facebook page.

Photo provided by Joy of Sound (JOS).

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