Music at the heart of Huddersfield

Huddersfield is famous for its internationally acclaimed Contemporary Music Festival, but it also boasts a richly diverse music scene that celebrates the different cultures that make the town what it is today, from folk, reggae, jazz, brass, Bhangra, hip hop and rock. Patrick Kelly reports

Music brings together communities in the Pennine town, many that have been around for decades. However, new communities are also being created with the launch of initiatives that support vulnerable groups and minorities, whether it’s people seeking respite for mental health issues to women breaking glass ceilings in music technology. Here are just two examples>

Yorkshire Sound Women’s Network (YSWN)

Flying the flag for girls and women in music, YSWN is based at the University of Huddersfield. Set up by a group of women with musical backgrounds from Leeds, Huddersfield, Sheffield and Dewsbury, its aim is to inspire and enable more women and girls to explore sound and music technology, in response to the gender imbalance in the sector.

First established in 2015, the network brings together like-minded women to share knowledge and skills in music and sound technology, sonic arts, production and audio electronics. Women and girls can develop sound and music practices and share knowledge and opportunities through a mentor-based environment, as well as access technical equipment that they would not usually have access to.

Dr Elizabeth Dobson, a co-founder of YSWN, said, “We host regular meetings and encourage knowledge sharing amongst women, as well as develop workshops conducted by professional artists. Most importantly, we promote safer and more inclusive environments for women.

“We want to build a community to support and encourage women and girls in music technology. Women can participate in events where they’re not the only women. When everyone is female, individuals who usually feel conspicuously different, are more able to relax, take risks and learn.”

Around 40 people attend the meetings across the network, the majority are aged 20 - 45 though its youngest member is less than a year and its oldest members are retired. Many are beginners and everyone who attends an event, workshop or skills sharing session experiences something new, whether it’s soldering noise instruments, composing soundtracks, live coding beats, Ableton based music production, sound synthesis or producing Algoraves.

“The women who come are often visual artists interested in sound practices. Many are interested in live improvisation, noise, coding beats, soldering cables and touch contact microphones. Some are songwriters but quite a few are experimenting with technologies and hungry to explore sonic arts.” Dr Elizabeth Dobson adds.

The YSWN recently secured a £15k Arts Council England Grant to enable it to explore strategic options for structural development, to maintain its local grassroots activities and find a path to becoming a more sustainable network. Plans include, employing a project manager, revamping its website to better facilitate networking and support amongst women in a digital safer space, and employing artists to deliver more events for girls. YSWN is now supported by the University of Huddersfield and its Centre for Research of New Music and the Centre for the study of Music, Culture and Identity.

Hoot Creative Arts (pictured)

A community initiative on the outskirts of Huddersfield’s town centre supports adults with mental health issues and uses the arts as means to promote health and wellbeing.

Founded in the late 90’s, Hoot Creative Arts was set up to provide support for over 18’s to normalise mental health, support personal growth and promote social change. As part of its programme of activities, it also supports people living with dementia and their carers.

Since 2013, Breathing Space has provided a safe, creative space for people living with dementia. Offering song, music, dance and visual art, the sessions are designed to improve physical health and wellbeing, as well as support self-esteem and confidence. They also aim to positively enhance relationships, not just for family members, but those within the group.

Moira Wade from Hoot Creative Arts said, “The group is for those who have memory concerns or problems, are in the process of obtaining or have already been diagnosed with dementia (early stage), plus a family member, partner, carer or support worker.

“Our workshops help people to stay connected. For a couple of hours a week, they get to discard their label of person with dementia, carer, cared for etc and create things together, have fun and try things they may never have done before. The person with dementia may not necessarily remember exactly what they’ve been doing but they can remember the feelings of being involved and having fun and carers tell us that the positive impact can continue long after they leave the session.”

The workshops aren’t necessarily for people with musical or arts backgrounds, people with little or no creative experience can get involved. They’re about discovering something new, spending time together, moving, dancing and having fun. From making and playing kazoos to jamming on African drums, the group sessions change week by week – people are encouraged to just have a go.

A carer who attends Breathing Space with her husband who has Alzheimer’s said, “Hoot have done more for him than we ever could. They are very patient and accept him for who he is. It has enhanced his life and created memories for us. And it’s not just for sufferers, it’s for their carers and families too and gives people a place to escape to.”

Music is at the heart of Huddersfield, bringing together communities that empower and uplift many that live within the town enabling them to live more fulfilled lives.

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