Guest blog by Charlotte Murray
The Easter spree of youth music events is just about over, and frankly we’re all exhausted! But what of the participants? When you’re organising any kind of event, one of the main things on your mind is ‘who’s all going to come?’ There are quite a lot of youth music organisations in Scotland now, all doing brilliant things and hoping we can stay afloat in the troublesome economic times. But who’s coming?
Guest blog by Charlotte Murray
Catching and keeping regular participants is the challenge we all have to embrace. Waves of strong participants come in cycles: ‘golden years’ where it seems like everyone in a certain age group is a mustard-keen musician. We get used to them being there, but when they grow up and move on we’re left with a gap and realise we’re back to the recruitment drive again.
Having been involved with a couple of different youth music events taking place in different parts of the country (Edinburgh Youth Gaitherin, Tinto Summer School and Fèis Rois), though, it seems to me that there’s quite a lot of overlap when it comes to participants. Not all the time, obviously; but if a big youth music event was happening and we took a look at who was going, we could probably all list the likely suspects. This presents a problem because pretty soon they’re going to be moving on.
So, new participants – how do we look for them? How do we get more? Do difficulties arise because we’re trying to persuade people to do something they don’t want to do/can’t afford, or are we just not advertising in the right places? We can bring new small people in, but how do we keep that key age-group 16-18 interested?
The thing about 16-18-year-olds is that they’ve got important things like Highers to worry about. Easter can be a bit of a tricky time when they’re mired in exam preparation. They also start thinking of themselves as being too old for non-residential events. And they’re too busy for year-round activity. EYG has tried to get around this by inviting them back as volunteers, but is this just perpetuating the image that once you turn 16 you are not a participant any more, but a helper?
Residential events, so long as they’re at the right time of year (summer holidays, October break when academic pressures haven’t quite taken their grip), don’t seem to face the same age-issue. Participants are desperate to go back year after year. Tinto Summer School sold out in about a second last year and a good number of those participants were in their last years of school. I spoke to some of our 16-18s, who told me that there are just too many different youth music events vying for their attention each year, especially during the summer. They’re worrying about whether or not their friends are going, if they can afford it; and with all that choice, where will they find the time?
So what is the role of youth music providers? Are we creating opportunities for young people who might not otherwise have them, or fighting over the same few participants who are spoilt for choice? Are our core youth over-catered-for and do we need to have a look at how we target things? One question we’re always asking at EYG is how we can help those benefitting from valuable and successful outreach work to make the transition to those largely self-funded main events, and whether that sort of transition is appropriate. Is it just a matter of subsidised places or are there bigger issues at stake? Who are we benefitting and how does this match up with who we’d like to benefit?
There are a lot of questions here and I definitely don’t have the answers to all of them. It may be that in the fickle old dilemma of where to find participants, we need to accept that the pool of regular youth music event-goers is finite, and that there are many of us competing with each other for their attention. The challenge now is to find a way of bringing in new people year on year in a way that’s sustainable and affordable for them. Tricky one! Answers on a postcard please.
Charlotte Murray works for TMF members, Edinburgh Youth Gaitherin (www.eyg.org.uk). The views expressed are her own.