During PMZ’s ‘Extraordinary Times programme’, we’re setting out to listen and learn during this lockdown. As part of that we’ll be inviting a series of guest bloggers, people who who’ve experienced up close what we do. This time we are hearing from one of our ‘Knowledge Exchange’ students from the University of Plymouth – Rob Innes. Rob has taken part in, and supported PMZ’s weekly percussion session for adults ‘Baton Beats’. Here he describes the challenges of connecting with people through Zoom after many years of connecting with people face to face. ‘Baton Beats’ is led by PMZ Intergenerational Coordinator and Music Leader, Rob Tilsley. Find out more about the session here. Over to Rob...

Who Am I?Rob demonstrating use of comical video filters, a tuba and fez hat have been added

My name is Rob, I’m 63, a mature student. I was brought up in a Christian family and attended the Salvation Army for many years where I learnt to play brass instruments, I also learnt to play the piano. My faith is very important to me so I still go to Church today and sing in a local church choir. I spent thirty years with the Metropolitan Police in London as a Police Constable, mainly in traffic, riding rather large motorcycles which was great fun. During that time, I got married, had four children, got divorced, remarried and now am getting divorced again! I continued my musical interests by learning to play the church organ as well as playing in the British Airways Brass Band and latterly The Marlow Orchestra and The University of Plymouth Orchestra as their tubist. I also played rugby, front row, I just loved being out on a rugby pitch playing the game as well as helping to coach boys and girls as well as refereeing the game.

rob pictured playing rugby
We won this game!!

As a mature student, I have no real plans. I’m semi-retired but will need to work part-time possibly teaching when this course is finished, but for the time being will take each day as it comes. I’m doing the course mainly to prove to myself, and some others, that I can do it and to keep the brain active.

I want to think about ‘control’. I’ve sometimes been described as a ‘control freak’, I would suppose that working within the Police Service and being a rugby referee, I could have become conditioned. But is it control or just wanting to help people? I have always looked at those with less than I, and wanted to help them. I hate homelessness, I like to see people being happy, so I do not see that in a situation such as this with PMZ that the word control is ‘control’. It is just direct and lead, or is that another word for control? I must have an open mind, to be ready to respond to the needs of others, I’ve sometimes missed something that I should have seen and felt quite guilty about it afterwards. Everyone is different, we all have our own needs and concerns, so this should alter the way I see control. We’ve often heard the term ‘we have to be cruel to be kind’. I don’t agree! Kindness is an inherent trait of everyone, yes everyone, and by showing kindness we can get others to do as we need without bashing them into submission, however I must also try and see how people look at and relate to me. What do they see, what do they think, what do they want to say? I cannot answer those questions, only you can.

With PMZ, I was rather looking forward to some interaction with other people, being able to engage with them on a one-to-one basis, to help them with their music making. COVID has put a stop to that for the time being, reducing us to ‘Zoom’ Robots. Where would we be without Zoom though? At least we can see each other and get to know people in a limited way. Zoom though, lacks the ability to allow for human contact, no physical face to face interaction has been disappointing. This has been difficult, but I have got to know personalities through vision rather than personal contact. I offer a PMZ Guide to Zoom or rather some Do’s and Don’ts and the particular challenges that Zoom has presented.

My guide to Zoom workshops:

1. Relax.

It can feel as though everyone is watching you all the time but unlike a real meeting you won’t know who is looking at you. For instance, perhaps you’ve been late to something in person, and everyone in the room turns to look at you? That won’t happen on Zoom. Or, if it does, you won’t know, so why worry.

2. If you feel comfortable to, turn your microphone and camera on.

We want to hear and see you if you’re okay with that. It can be very helpful for the leader to see how everyone is doing, they might also be able to sense if something is wrong and help.

3. Make sure your settings are correct.

You need to turn your microphone right up so that it will pick up the sound quickly. It has been found that Zoom is not too music friendly and that the settings, especially for the microphone need to be adjusted. Be patient.

screen capture of zoom settings panel

4. Watch and listen carefully.

Take your eye off what’s going on for one second and you may miss something. See 5.

5. If you do miss what’s happened, don’t worry.

Keep calm and carry on, just think of it as a improvisation. As long as you are trying no one will mind, we all make mistakes. Do not forget – the person who didn’t make a mistake, didn’t do anything.

6. Be prepared to join in.

Your thoughts, opinions and what you do, are just as important as everyone else. Everyone has something to add, your opinions and ideas are never wrong.

7. The more you become involved, the more you get out of the session.

Immerse yourself in the music, let it fill you with satisfaction and to get at the centre of who you are.

8. If you can, get some silly backgrounds or facial add-ons, they are fun.

Wear a silly hat, it all adds to your own participation. Get creative!

9. Speak up if you notice something worth mentioning.

If you see someone is trying to say something and they are being overlooked – bring it to the Music Leaders attention, they will be very grateful. How many times have we ourselves felt that we are being overlooked when in fact we are not, it is just that the leader has either forgotten or hasn’t seen our signal.

10. Above all. Enjoy Yourself!

The more you put into it the more you will get from it.