‘I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.’ – Billy Joel
It is strange to think that it has now been nine months since we last delivered our weekly session with Polmont Youth Theatre in the performing arts space at HMP YOI Polmont. In reflecting on this time, I am reminded of the uncertainty we were faced with at the beginning of the pandemic; the quick decisions we had to make and how impossible it was back then to predict where we are now. It feels appropriate to look back to the beginning in order to understand where we are now.
We have continued engagement throughout the pandemic, finding new ways of engaging young people and building meaningful connections through letter writing and sharing of songs, memories and stories. We started with A Way of Passing Time, a letter writing project which allowed us to creatively engage with those we had previously worked with in the performing arts space. Throughout that project we were also introduced to new young men, whom we have never seen but have gotten to know through written conversations and sharing of ideas. The group of participants continued to grow each week as we introduced a new strand of the project; In Tune, a weekly interactive radio show. We continued the letter writing alongside the radio show, asking for their song requests and theme suggestions for the episodes as well as responding to their creative writing, memories and reflections.
Over the summer we produced 10 episodes of In Tune which explored themes such as identity, belonging and journeys. We conducted interviews, we did weekly quizzes and creative tasks, we engaged in conversations around the power of music and what place it holds in our lives. They drew maps of their journeys; they wrote letters to people they look up to, they dedicated songs to their loved ones and they continuously told us what to play, who to speak to and what to talk about. In Tune was a celebration of the young men’s voices, where their contributions directly influenced and shaped the content of each episode.
We are now a few months into a new series of the radio show, under our brand-new name The JukeBox, the winning title in our competition for a new name for the show. This idea of a jukebox is so fitting to what we aim to achieve with the radio show – continuous interaction where the listener chooses and creates the content shared with others. With this second series, we are finding new possibilities of doing exactly this through presenting new interactive segments as well as recording the young men’s original creative content and introducing them as co-hosts of future episodes. Having their voices on the show will be an incredibly important achievement and a real highlight of our reimagined delivery.
The engagement with The JukeBox continues to grow every week as we discover new ways of connecting and creating when we cannot be in a space together. They share the music that reminds them of their hometowns, they write poems and short stories and songs, they speak of the moments that have changed them, they tell their favourite joke, they reflect on the importance of sharing the music they like with others and what it is like to hear their name, their stories and their ideas on the radio. As I write this I am reminded of the power of music, how far we have come and how much we have all learned together. In the words of Billy Joel, ‘it’s something we are all touched by’.
Gudrun Soley Sigurdardottir