Rhythms of the Social

The Session Musician’s Approach in Integrational Pedagogy

For the past four years I have applied the Session Musician’s Approach (a didactic and ethnographic methodology that puts improvisation of a band leader/teacher/researcher with his interlocutors at the centre of data acquisition/learning, the result being a collaborative performance that conjoins the implicit and explicit knowledge and faculty of all participants; Schoer 2014) in the context of different learning environments. I have worked with adolescents, prison inmates, long-term unemployed people and refugees, in short, people whose social integration for various reasons called for improvement.
Starting from sound educative applications inspired by clairaudience practices of Schaferian coinage I have conducted ear cleaning exercises, sound walks, radio drama productions, musical compositions and acousmatic installations. We have identified the soundscape and its rhythms in work and life, and we have tried to find our own groove in all of this, in order to root the individual expression and identity of all participants in the collective experience of “jamming” as a group of people who have come together from very different contexts but were bound by a common goal: to find a way (back) to personal dignity and into a society that they had lost or not yet established their accepted place in.
In this paper I will mainly focus on the work I have done at the Wiesbadener Jugendwerkstatt, an educational institution where, over the course of a half-year programme, adolescents and long-term unemployed people get to know a variety of professions in week-long instructive workshops mainly in the skilled crafts and trades, agriculture and gastronomy, guided by a pedagogical coach, who helps them to (re-)gain stability and self-confidence and develop a perspective for their future.
With my first group, about halfway through the programme, I went into the music room and assisted them in creating their own musical production. None of them had a musical background, so we literally started from scratch. However, it never was about perfection in musical composition or performance, it was about self-empowerment and group dynamics. The piece we came up with, the V.I.B.-Blues, deals with the experiences the group and its members had during the weeks with me and in the various workshops, with their development as individuals and as a group, with their hopes and fears. Ultimately, it is a handmade expression and self-representation, looking through a window into the lives of eight men at a breakpoint.
With this and other examples I will illustrate that, though the starting point may always have been sound, and music as its most noble utilisation, it never stopped there: Over the many months I used to work with the groups, all interactions would develop a rhythmical, ritualised character that, over time and repetition evolved into an orchestrated choreography of processual interaction, unfolding the power of found and self-developed rhythms as a social binding agent.

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