Organised by Drum and Brass in partnership with the outreach officer of the Penrith and Eden Refugee Network (PERN), held at Blue Jam Arts and funded by the Frieda Scott Charitable Trust 

Date:Saturday 17th February.

Time: 15:00 – 16:00

Attendees – 20+


The Frieda Scott Project has focused on bringing brass tasters to different communities in Eden, Cumbria.

Several events have taken place in Kirkby Stephen. We have taken large and small brass ensembles and our lovely colourful instruments to inspire a love of playing brass. We have visited elderly residents in care homes including Christian Head and Mill Gardens, some of our very youngest Eden residents at Storytime at the Sports and Social Club and young teenagers at the newly refurbished Youth Club.

Farther afield the brass team has taken part in sessions for Mental Health Awareness Day and with young people with additional needs at 4Eden and adults with additional needs at Blue Jam Arts in Penrith. 

All these sessions varied in the degree of participation and how people participated. The best of them were when the participants – such as the young children at 4Eden – took the lead; choosing instruments, telling stories and creating sound effects with our brass instruments. 

Bring Your Own Music was different from the start however. The Outreach Officer of the Penrith and Eden Refugee Network (PERN) approached me to ask whether I could deliver a music session with her group. 

This diverse group includes people who have faced severe trauma in their lives. The outreach officer, a black woman, has worked with the group to create safe spaces in which their voices can be heard. In Penrith, racial diversity accounts for just 3.3% of the population. It is fair to say that many white residents are unaware of even this small number of people and are unaware of the effects that their white privilege might have on black and brown residents in Penrith.

Given that the brass band tradition is still firmly embedded in the UK consciousness as a white pastime, we knew that a brass taster session would do little to further the PERN ethos. In fact it would just be a case of a white middle class woman using her white privilege and exploiting PERN’s hard work to gain credits for her organisation. We recognised that from the start but white privilege has a way of asserting itself anyway. As we will see.

My colleague from PERN suggested we turn the taster concept on its head and invite the group members to bring music that meant something to them. We set the venue – the Blue Jam Art Space at Mostyn Hall. We set the date and made the posters and plans. As the session lead I wanted to create a welcoming and safe space for the people coming in. My colleague from PERN would promote the event and provide refreshments.

The day arrived and despite all sorts of hitches we were ready in time. My colleague from PERN had promoted the event by word of mouth – the hardest way but the most effective way. She had set up chairs and a table of food – selected with people’s dietary requirements in mind –  and I managed the technical side, setting up a projector, a YouTube playlist and a digital survey. We wanted to produce a playlist of music that represented Penrith in all its diversity and I had spent time and care producing materials that would set the tone for using music to connect us as people, and to allow people to join in on their phones if they felt shy to speak.

The event was a success. Both of us agree. Now.

More than 20 people came; some at 3, some later. Some brought instruments and everyone seemed to know someone, which was great. Then the TV cameras arrived. This caused immediate upset and confusion. I knew there was a possibility but had had no confirmation and so assumed they were not coming. Also we had asked a member of the group to come and produce a film for the event. For a moment I assumed that the camera-wielding woman was that person. My PERN colleague expressed deep concern for her group who were unprepared for the presence of TV cameras.

I started the session therefore by reassuring people that no-one need be filmed and to indicate to the camera person if this was the case. I was flustered (I had been caught out displaying a lack of care for the group) and rushed the introduction and stage setting that I had planned.  As an ice-breaker I asked people to think about the first song they remember singing. This went OK, a bit clunky, but with such a big group of people, all of whom appeared to know each other I decided to sit back and let the session happen. Which it did. 

People had prepared songs which they performed, heartbreakingly, beautifully and passionately. Music from Ukraine, Sardinia, Bangladesh, Romania, Argentina and Brazil. And once the hour was up, people ate and carried on playing and singing together.

The ITV reporter moved around the room and interviewed people about the event. I went off and did a piece with her in a quieter space and made sure she would speak with the PERN outreach officer after me.

I had to leave for a meeting before the space was empty but before I left I knew my project partner from PERN was not happy.

I texted a couple of times to ask her how she felt and on Monday we met up to review the event. Which was an eye-opener. My colleague from PERN expressed how the event had made her feel. She told me that I had not introduced PERN at the start of the session. I had not explained her presence in the space. I had not warned her that TV cameras might come and if she had known she would have told her group. She told me about the vulnerability of the people in the group and that they need better protection in the space and that it felt that I had simply used my white privilege to access a diverse group of people just to make my project look good, but I had not considered their needs and in fact I had not considered her needs as a black woman in a mostly white room. She had done the hard work and was now relegated to the role of white person’s assistant.

This was all absolutely true. Worse, I had thought that her upset was with the reporter, not with me. I thought I had done things right  but had been found very wanting. She was so very brave to tell me these things and my body rejected what she was saying in all the ways we have read about: I felt attacked and my white fragility kicked in, I wanted to say she had got it wrong, that I knew all this stuff. I wanted to be the white exception – the good white person; the one who has got to grips with everyday racism and was aware of it. But I could see it from her point of view and saw how my defensiveness must look. I agreed with what she said and admitted that I had got it wrong. Which helped both of us in fact. 

But I cannot do anything about the fact that she has this fight every day of her life. We talked for a long time about this. The tiny slights, the looks and the decisions made about her by white people in ways that are slippery and intangible. Not racism that you can report to the police. No. It goes much, much deeper. There are things that white people just do, because we have created a world through violence, through trickery and through exploitation and have closed our eyes to that darkness by creating narratives that put our actions in a positive light. And that even though logically we see the harm that we have caused, still the whiteness-bolstering narratives permeate through because to admit the harm is very painful. It is physically painful. I feel it in my stomach and tense shoulders. It is emotionally painful, making me want to run away, drop the effort, become another person who tries to blame the pain on the very people we have harmed. 

So I’m lucky we were able to have that conversation. Not every white person gets that opportunity. It was hard for me but a sight harder for her. She is a very brave person who is putting a brave face on every day just to leave her house. Along with millions of other black and brown people in the UK.

And how do I feel? Deflated, sorry for myself? Yes, but also wanting to use my white privilege for good, even while failing time and time again because Maya Angelou said: 

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

So we will do another Bring Your Own Music – and I will do better.