Building Community Through Music

Tom Daggett, CTC’s Church-Based Community Organiser at Stepney Salvation Army blogs on how community is being built through music and the arts:

Many people understand that music-making is great for bringing people together. I’ve had first-hand experience of this through my work with the Salvation Army in Stepney (www.hopeasha.org.uk). Each week, three projects keep my musical sensibilities in check – and have helped me to recognise how powerful music-based activities can be in bringing people into stronger community.

‘Babysong’ has been running in Roland Philipps Scout Hall each Thursday morning during term-time since September 2011. Babysong is a singing activity intended to develop psychological bonds between parent/carer and child, and social bonds between people in a diverse community. We spend around 45 minutes singing a cycle of songs (which I accompany on the piano), each with a different focus – songs of welcome; songs with movement; songs with instruments; and songs for relaxation and calm, during which children listen to a live piece of classical music. We’ve seen around 100 local families – of diverse ethic, faith and social backgrounds — come through our doors on a regular basis since 2011 – and the group’s reach continues to grow broader and deeper.

The second group is ‘Smart Crew’, an extension of the work of ‘Smarties’ – an after-school kids club which the church has been running for a number of years. Smart Crew is a musical theatre group for kids aged 8-14. I co-ordinate this group (as Musical Director) in partnership with a professional actor, and we’ve now put on two hugely successful shows – ‘Jonah’ (based on the biblical story) and ‘The Landlord’s Cat’ (a fresh take on the nativity story). I have great fun teaching the kids about singing and general musicianship; there is so much energy to be channelled!

Smart Crew

Added to these, I direct a community gospel choir which meets every Tuesday evening in Departure Arts Café, Limehouse –part of the London City Mission. We’ve been running since October 2012, and are starting to do something quite special. Again, the spectrum of people inolved is considerable – and it’s difficult to think of other activities which would bring such different people together in union with one another. And that’s the real emphasis of community-based music projects such as these – they’re intended to be fun, socially rewarding, and to offer relief to other aspects of life which can seem burdensome. That’s why the Contextual Theology Centre recognises the missional potential of music for inner-city churches and communities – and it’s why we’re in conversations with others about scaling this work up, helping others to recognise this imperative and be inspired to do the same.

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