University of South Wales ‘Recollecting popular music memories in Merthyr Tydfil’
By Professor Paul Carr, professor in popular music analysis at the University of South Wales
Paul Carr from the University of South Wales tells us all about his great event ‘Recollecting Popular Music Memories in Merthyr Tydfil’. Paul explains how he set up community partnerships with First Campus, Theatre Soar, Merthyr Tydfil Public Libraries, Peter Morgan Barnes, Gwaunfarren Primary School, Pantyscallog Primary School and DigiChemestry. Find out how he also got the local community involved in this exciting public engagement project. This project was funded by a Being Human Small Award.
Tell us a bit about your event. What subject areas did you cover and what did you want to achieve?
The project began with a 1 day memory capturing workshop in Dowlais Library, where community members had the opportunity to consider their musical past by engaging with memory boxes (memorabilia associated with the music scene in Merthyr Tydfil between 1955-1975). This was followed by visits into two local schools, where children had the opportunity to learn about their heritage, then reenact it. The project was completed by a public event at Theatre Soar, where children performed the memories of the older community members, followed by a brief talk by myself.
I hoped the project would explore some of the following questions:
1. What are the relationships between local music making and more mainstream histories?
2. How can local music be made sustainable?
3. What are the most appropriate methodologies of capturing local music histories?
4. How can lost local popular music histories be made relevant to the younger generation?
5. And finally, how can lost local musical histories reflect our individual and shared identities?
How did you make your event appeal to your target audience? How did you go about spreading the word of the event?
Targeting the audience was done over a period of time, initially setting up a Facebook page to engage community members in discussion. Other community members were contacted via the project partners – namely Dowlais Library and First Campus (who built a relationship with the schools). We also marketed the event by placing posters throughout the town.
Once community members realised that they were exploring their own history, it was relatively straight forward to facilitate engagement. You can see some of them taking part and responding to the event in these short videos.
What worked particularly well in the planning, design and delivery of your event? Did you face any challenges?
I have to say everything worked better than expected. Although there were pressures, the project team worked so hard to turn everything around in 8 days. This included capturing and recording memories, devising scripts and teaching them to the schoolchildren, then organising a final multimedia performance and discussion.
The biggest challenge was doing so many events in a week (5 in total). As each stage of the project (memory capture, school adaptations, and final performance) relied on its predecessor, there was significant pressure to ensure that each stage had clear outputs. This involved factors such as ensuring all recorded material was ready for the final event and most importantly, that the children remembered their lines!
What was your motivation for getting involved in Being Human? How useful did you find it to be part of the festival?
I got involved in the Being Human festival because I have had a long standing interest in making my research of relevance to the local community. Communities such as Merthyr tend to have hidden histories, outside of the mainstream narratives, so the project presented a perfect opportunity for me to explore this. The project provided the perfect opportunity to focus this work over an 8 day period.
What impact/outcomes has your Being Human event had?
The outcomes of the project is discussed in this video. It shows that the project has had significant impact on the local community. The project also received significant media attention, especially from Wales Online and Welsh Connections which has helped spread the research amongst wider audiences.
The event has led into a month long exhibition on memories of popular music in the town hall and it is hoped the exhibition will have a legacy into the future. In addition, I am already in discussions with the schools I worked with to consider how a similar initiative can become part of the school curriculum.
Do you have any top tips for future Being Human event organisers?
1. Start planning as soon as you have confirmation of your involvement.
2. Engage with community partners you can trust.
3. Be prepared to be flexible.