The importance of music

Music was of great importance to many participants and, as such, our methods built on technologies and interests relevant to their everyday lives. The young people used music in different ways. Music was sometimes a source of identity; Reggie used it to disassociate himself from his birth family’s tastes; Drab (12, children’s unit) listened to musicians with geographical connections to his birth family, while Leah, Dylan and others, recorded music which evoked memories of their birth parents. Music was also used to create a comfortable, safe place:

  • to cheer themselves up (Stereohearts ‘Gym Class Heroes’; Cher ‘It’s in his Kiss’)
  • as a source of inspiration (Wagner ‘Ride of the Valkyries’; Jessie J ‘Laserlight’)
  • and motivation (Eminem, ‘Lose Yourself’ and Chumbawumba ‘I Get Knocked Down..’)

Sometimes lyrics were used by young people to work through and communicate difficult emotions. Like several others,Thomas carried a song around with him which enabled him to process the death of a close family member. Having had friends die through, or attempt, suicide, Vincent (16, living with his mother) used the Papa Roach song ‘Last Resort’ to express his powerlessness and frustration with agencies around self-harm and suicide, and to advocate for greater publicity and funding for services for young people. One of Drab’s musical choices combined the visual with the audial. He filmed an excerpt of Professor Green’s ‘Read All About It’ (ft Emeli Sande) which he used to reflect on his lack of relationship with his own father and siblings, and related sense of loss and anger. Drab was often encouraged to manage his anger. His discussion of this song and video suggested he wanted some acknowledgement of a right to his anger, but also emphasised that over the years he had become less angry, something he felt was less recognised by others.

Several young people were also very musical and played a number of instruments by themselves, with friends and key workers and in bands and orchestras. Steven was very proud of having built his own guitar. A few participants played instruments during their interviews, to relax and demonstrate their skills. Penfold had written music which provided the soundtrack for a game. Bob (13, foster care) played his guitar and wrote songs each day after school. His foster carer told us that this therapeutic process of song writing and playing was

how you can understand some of his feelings..some of the songs that he does sing are quite sad but then they have happy endings, because he’s making up his life journey, if something’s happened to him, likes if he came in from school and he felt he was getting bullied, he sung a song about bullying.

Bob recorded himself for the project playing a song he had written called The Black Rose Song. The song mirrored his journey through foster care. When he first arrived at his carer’s, the song spoke of his heart being a black rose, symbolically dead. As the song developed, he sang about sitting on the beach (his favourite place) where his carer had taught him how to sit and process his thoughts and feelings. The song ends more optimistically with the words:

now my rose is turning red, my heart is no longer dead, anymore, anymore.