Photo of Katie
Katie Telfer

During PMZ’s ‘Extraordinary Times programme’, we’re setting out to listen and learn during this lockdown. As part of that we are inviting a series of posts from 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 – Katie Telfer. Katie has taken part in, and supported PMZ’s weekly percussion session for adults ‘Baton Beats’. Here she describes her experiences of finding the value of musical experiences, even over Zoom. ‘Baton Beats’ is led by PMZ Intergenerational Coordinator and Music Leader, Rob Tilsley – find out more about the session here. Over to Katie…

Something that has really stuck with from my time with Plymouth Music Zone was when I was asked what music meant to me as a person. It’s an aspect of myself that I don’t think has ever been more relevant to me than it is now.

During my time in school, I was always quite shy when it came to taking part in activities because I didn’t like the idea that I wasn’t good at doing something. I absolutely dreaded maths lessons because it seemed so difficult to me. I hated how I couldn’t bring myself to shake off that feeling of being bad at something. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t get the homework, resulting in me becoming upset with myself. To this day I’m still not the best at it but I have learnt to accept that and just rely on the calculator.

I found my escape from my struggles with maths problems in a subject that I was really drawn to which was music. I would regard myself as a more creative person, often taking part in the school shows and doodling in the margin of my work. However, at first music in year 7 brought pain to my ears with 30 children playing the Harry Potter theme tune on glockenspiels (picture below). I can only describe the sound as glasses being smashed together and echoed through a tunnel. It was also made harder when keys were often missing, and I learnt that the note ‘G’ could now be replaced by hitting the rubber beater on the corner of the table.


Moving through the years to GCSE and A level music, they gave me the freedom to play what I wanted and not to just rely on sheet music. It became the only thing that I enjoyed because I had found something I was good at. I felt that I was able to express my musical freedom which I had longed to do. For me, I felt that music made up my identity, it was who I am and expressing thoughts that I can’t put into words. I think looking back on this, I have learnt that it means much more than that now. So, when I was given the opportunity to take part in PMZ sessions, it was the best decision I had taken.

Katie performing with other musicians on stage
Katie performing

During this time of uncertainty with the pandemic, I had doubts whether you could actually make music over Zoom. Throughout my musical journey, I have been very familiar with performing in an orchestra on stages such as The Royal Albert Hall and Symphony Hall, and creating music face to face.

I was only just getting used to using Zoom for myself at university for talking, let alone music. Music over Zoom was an aspect that I had not yet prepared myself to ‘perfect’. Even before I joined the Baton Beats Zoom each week, I had to tell myself not to worry and that it was going to be fine.

So, when the opportunity came came to leading part of a Baton Beats Zoom workshop, I felt nervous to do it, in addition to the fear of doing it over Zoom. I didn’t want to slip into the shy person I have always been.

The workshop activity was a copying game which involved the leader creating actions, like raising your arms, or wiggling your fingers, and then everyone else copies the actions. To get over this initial fear of being nervous, I created lots of plans on what I would say to ensure that I was prepared. When leading the workshop, I started by following my plan by wiggling my fingers closer and further away from the camera but as I got into it, I realised that I was fine without it. It brought a feeling of comfortableness as if I had led the workshops multiple times. I felt relieved and it gave me the boost of confidence I needed seeing everyone respond and seeing their reactions. After I had done the workshop, I felt relief and amazed that I did it, not believing that I could’ve done it in the first place seems funny to me now.

As the weekly Zoom meetings continued, I became more aware and comfortable with the samba rhythms we were learning. Another experience which has helped with my confidence is taking part in the samba video. I chose the Agogo bell part from the many options given and began practising. I took so many attempts to get it to my high standards, with many failed attempts and I was even interrupted by the fire alarm test in my flat at one point. However, that didn’t stop me from recording my part until I got a notification saying, ‘storage is full’. Seeing that pop up on my phone made me think to myself surely one of those attempts was good and that I shouldn’t be getting to this point. This realisation gave me the confidence to know that it doesn’t have to be perfect every time because music is being enjoyed through a shared experience. This made me really value the musical experiences I have shared during my time at Baton Beats.