Sound It Out

This is not a blog from Sound It Out (SIO) – this is my view and my initiative. They found out this morning that they will no longer get regular Arts Council (ACE) funding from April 2012.

I must first declare my relationship with Sound It Out over the years. But to get to the point – I’ve put that at the bottom of the blog in case you want to know…

The team who run Sound It Out now, led very ably by Matthew Daniels are some of the most skilled I have had the joy to work with. I won’t use the ‘hardworking’ label – as loads of people are hardworking but a bit rubbish. This lot are dedicated *and* brilliant at what they do.

The projects they design and create are thoughtful and of the highest quality. They work with musicians who are highly skilled at working with music and place them with groups of people who wouldn’t normally get to participate in music making. Very often these projects are simply life changing for people involved and at the very least they are high quality musical experiences for them that they will probably never forget.

My theory – though I could be wrong – is that SIO have been cut by ACE as they are extremely good at fundraising (so I know it won’t be the quality of the bid that went in) and so ACE think that Sound It Out will be able to get the money from elsewhere.

Not true. The ACE money is one of the only pots of funding that pays for core staff. Without those staff there is no-one to raise all the other funding. It’s quite simple really. Most of the other funding SIO can apply for – won’t pay for people just projects…. But someone has to run the joint and what SIO does well is the quality control.

Unlike larger arts institutions that run large scale events, Sound It Out can not get sponsorship or corporate support for it’s work and can’t charge lots for tickets at it’s event because it is all about access. My experience of the company tells me that they have explored every avenue of alternative funding and are looking at more income generating schemes possibly more than some of the companies that have been successful with the ACE money.

Anyway – whatever the reason – this is a bad decision in my view and will lead to a lot of people missing out on some very transformational music projects. Can we do anything about it?

I would like to gather on this page – comments from people who know SIO. Anyone can comment of course – but I’d prefer it if this didn’t just become a debate about the pros and cons of funding in general. I want to gather feedback from those who have been involved or been touched by the work of SIO. Even if it doesn’t help their cause it might be useful to gather a bit of feedback for the company in these circumstances.

My past relationship to SIO should you want to know:

In 1994 when I was serving chips in the mac cafe as a student it was the then Director of Sound It Out who gave me my first work experience. Then when I graduated I worked for the CBSO Education Team 3 days per week a job that I was chuffed to get. However, after that I worked as a project co-ordinator for Sound It Out– which is when I realised just how good proper music workshops could be. Don’t get me wrong the CBSO education dept in 1995 was good – but Sound It Out‘s musicians blew me away. OK so they didn’t get to play with Simon Rattle – but their skills when put in a room with a bunch on participants was awe inspiring. Since then I have had all sorts of relationships with Sound It Out and then between 2005 and 2010 I was Chair of their board of trustees. So I’ve seen the organisation grow and evolve. I left to give myself some more work life balance and as a past trustee can’t work for the organisation or gain anything from it – so I have nothing personal to gain from this campaign.

37 thoughts on “Sound It Out

  1. Kate Southall says:

    Hi Clare,

    Firstly let me express sadness that SIO have been completely cut out of receiving funding from ACE. It is a travesty to see an organisation who have it *so right* with the project in terms of concept, delivery and its culture having one of its core support mechanisms quashed. A bad decision on the part of ACE in my opinion.

    We host one of the groups of kids who benefit from SIO down at Musoplex & Framework Studios on Tuesday evenings. This project has been a blessing to so many local young people, in that it takes a non-muso young person (who has an interest in music and often doesn’t have access to such opportunities in their own day-to-day lives) and it takes them through a life cycle of creative growth and musical maturity. It develops belief, passion, confidence, motivation and self-acceptance because the kids are presented with the tangible truth that music is for everyone and can be expressed in so many ways.

    We have so enjoyed working with these young people down at Musoplex; observing how they have changed, grown and matured because of this opportunity… SIO fuses and fires a touchpaper of talent in every young heart that burns fervently into a creative inferno (a wonderful end-of-year live performance in front of an audience), underpinned by guidance from highly experienced, down-to-earth tutors (talented musicians in their own right) in literacy, numeracy and interpersonal communication, creative/critical thinking, teamwork, peer feedback skills and honest self-awareness – all key skills any young person needs for an every-changing diverse working world. It isn’t all about giving a working-class kid a room to play some music in… It is so much more than that and I hope people see it.

    Working with SIO thus far has been a pleasure; an ever-positive approach from the team and their love of what they do for the benefit of the young people they support is very rare amongst organisations these days and I can only hope that it will continue well into the future with alternative sustainable funding sources that allow this brilliant organisation to carry on helping young people exploring their creativity and life-skills through music.

    Much love and luck to all.
    Kate. x

  2. Christina Timms says:

    What a great testimonial to Sound It Out’s work from Kate. I know there are many more who could tell similar stories of their great work, and the impact of the music they bring to so many. Quality, experience and dedication to their projects and the people they serve, are the hallmarks of Sound It Out’s work. They deserve core support to keep that great team working together.

  3. Dubber says:

    I’m not going to go on about what brilliant work these guys do – just state it as a fact. This is one organisation this city cannot afford to lose. Sad and angry.

  4. Lorraine Payne says:

    I agree with everything said by Clare. And wanted to add that they also produce transformational events for potential service-givers. I would never have had the courage to pass on my particular skills to anyone without the inspirational help from the Sound It Out New Horizons course. I’m only a small fish, but I am amazed at the quality of the musicians and leaders they attract, and the leaders who inspire them to get involved in community music.

  5. Kate Buttolph says:

    Dear Clare

    Sound It Out does extraordinary work with people across our region. One of the defining features of the work is that the company is in it for the long haul. As a Brum-based freelancer I have worked for Sound It Out on many projects since its inception in the early ’90s including cross cultural projects, work with refugees and with people dealing with emotional trauma/mental health issues…

    Unlike many organisations, I’d say SIO is committed to nurturing the development of both participants and arts practitioners beyond the initial run of project sessions, and will seek out ways to sustain and develop work over years to come. Many careers and personal professional approaches have been built and significantly enhanced with their support (my own included and those of a number of superb musicians living in exile). Groups at the heart of projects have been assisted to grow and function independently (for example Vox Populi Community Singing Group). Participants in so many projects have been empowered to change their lives and to take new opportunities to develop their skills.

    As an organisation SIO has never settled for staying in the comfort zone, but has always striven to understand and explore more of the ways in which their work can help to transform people’s creative and cultural experience. For instance, they are one of the few organisations I know which genuinely values honest reflection and evaluation.

    The team are generous with their time, passionate about their work and so willing to share what they learn from projects. Recently they led a a seminar on working with looked after children, attended by delegates from across the country. How many other organisations do you know which, rather than just using this as an opportunity to *big themselves up* would use this as a platform for genuine enquiry and include a session on, “here’s what we learned from our recent project and will therefore do differently next time”?

    I hope and truly believe Sound It Out WILL survive this cut, because of a) the excellence of the work and b) the robustness of the organisation, but even the strongest of foundations can be undermined by a poor decision such as that announced by ACE this morning.

  6. Maighread Hegarty says:

    Hi Clare
    This is a very obvious example of how little the current government values organisations which make the arts accessible to local communities and working people. I am commenting in a personal capacity, however, South Birmingham College’s Music department (where I am Deputy-Director) has benefitted directly from the outstanding work Sound It Out has been involved in over many years. As recently as last Friday SIO put on a great show at SBC in Digbeth bringing together a range of local community organisations.
    Please let me know of any campaigning activities which I can promote inside and outside the college

  7. simon gray says:

    I’m proud to have worked with Sound It Out right at its very inception, when it was set up as a project team based in the Gas Hall during the 1992 Birmingham Year of Music event, and I was joint co-ordinator of the Conservatoire’s Music in the Community programme.

    One of the particularly good things which was established right from the beginning was the breadth of the scope of what Sound It Out was to cover – not just limiting itself to traditional notions of what community music is, but the whole community – thus in addition to the workshops in hospitals and special schools, there was also the particularly memorable project of Andrew Peggie’s specially commissioned piece for orchestra, performed in the Town Hall as part of the final concert showcasing the work which had gone on during the year, and giving people of mixed abilities to play an orchestral piece together, playing a part they could manage (some parts indeed quite challenging) without compromising the quality of the whole.

    Sound It Out is an essential part of our cultural landscape, not only for those who have been involved in the past, but also those who have yet to be involved.

  8. Heather Wastie says:

    I wholeheartedly endorse comments made above and cannot understand why ACE has chosen to withdraw funding from such a forward thinking and vibrant organisation which has a huge impact on so many sectors of the community.

  9. David Ashworth says:

    Hi Clare

    I attended a SIO event on music improvisation about 10 years ago. I really had to fight to get permission from my line manager in York at the time to attend this course.
    In the event, it was one of the best investments they ever made. The wonderful things I took away from these workshops became an integral part of my work for them…….great stuff and fond memories. I hope their light continues to shine.

    • clareedwards says:

      That’s high praise David – coming from someone like yourself with such a national profile in the music world. I’m sure SIO will be pleased to hear this.

  10. Abigail Seabrook says:

    I cannot believe that this has happened. The contribution that Sound it out makes to the community has been well articulated above, so I thought I’d give a musician’s perspective.
    As a freelancer, Sound it Out are one of the best run, most reliable and friendly organisations that I have ever worked for, a musician’s dream. As a musician, it’s very easy to get caught up in your own bubble, and the work of Sound it Out enables me to get out there and feel as though I’m doing some good with the skills that I have learned, and share the love of music with those that very often do not get the chance. I certainly did not become a musician only to engage with people that can afford to pay top whack to access music.
    This is very short-sighted of the Arts Council. Do they not realise that artists like myself cannot live by performing alone, and that some of us don’t want to? How many performing/community artists will be unable to make a living and consequently give up?I haven’t got the time to work on projects that are badly run with no organisational support, where I have to chase and chase to be paid. This is why Sound it Out stands head and shoulders above so many similar organisations. Why jeopardise the future of an organisation that is so good at letting us do what we are good at? We need more organisations like Sound it Out, not less!

  11. Kate Buttolph says:

    Comments from Vox Populi Community singing group, which grew to independence out of a SIO project and has taken a proud part in two cross cultural Choral Fusion projects.

    “I feel strongly about SIO losing its core funding. I know as a member of Vox Populi that we owe a huge debt of gratitude to them. Not only in the money sense, but because of all of their help and invaluable advice over the past years, enabling us to keep going.
    Working with them on various projects has been a pleasure and it would be sad for me to lose this connection and I am sure others in the wider community would feel the same.”

    Enid Bradley (Chair)

    “In a time when communities are encouraged to come together, removing the funding from one organisation which has been so successful in doing this very thing seems to be very much against the trend and therefore incomprehensible.”

    Lee Stephens

    “Vox Populi is a small community singing group which owes its existence to SIO. Without its support and advice the group would never have continued after [the original project] concluded. We still have close links with SIO and value their valuable work in bringing together the arts and people who never normally have any contact with the arts.”

    Phil Taylor

    “”SIO have offered Vox Populi the opportunity and support to enable us to work with other groups and share in experiences we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to. Their support has been invaluable.”

    Yvonne Taylor (Treasurer)

    “SIO’s personal touch and professional expertise has enabled me to do things I would never have dreamed of doing on my own. I feel commitment and funding from ACE couldn’t be better placed to serve the community.”

    Ray Barrow (Secretary)

    • clareedwards says:

      It is so encouraging to hear directly from the participants who benefited from a SIO project – thanks for collecting these views Kate. Thanks too to Vox Populi!

  12. Louise Blackburn says:

    As a person just starting out as a Community Musician Sound it Out has been utterly invaluable to me. I consider myself extremely lucky to be on the Wolverhampton New Horizons Course.

    I think it is nothing short of disgraceful that the funding has been cut.

    Without SIO I would not have known where to start on this precarious career path and they have given me an amazing grounding already.

  13. Pete Churchill says:

    I can track my career as a freelance music practitioner by looking at my involvement with SIO over the past 15 years – volunteer, shadow, freelance musician, lead artist and now artistic director on a couple of projects. I’m also aware of many others whose professional life has been nurtured through the long term work of this efficient and user-friendly organization. But not only is their existence vital for the employment and career development of freelancers, they fulfill a pretty much unique role (as far as I can see) in having the needs of people ‘on the edge’ at the heart of what they’re about. It’s all very well funding ‘excellence’ in terms of resident and touring performance companies, but surely this needs to be balanced by enabling people who are outside the mainstream – for whatever reason – access to artistic experience, expression and creativity. I don’t know of any other music-based organization that does this nearly as well as SIO does.

  14. Paul Carroll says:


    (Please note, I am a freelance musician who works for Sound It Out but the following comments constitute my own opinions.)

    It’s okay, there’s always the excellent provision of the Youth Centres and Day Centres. Oh no, wait! They’re being closed or activity is being cut through reduced staffing. ACE’s withdrawal of funding from Sound It Out is a mistake and makes no sense. Consider the consequences for those people who might have been involved in a Sound It Out project but didn’t get the chance. I don’t wish to be dramatic but you don’t hear about the young person at risk who doesn’t offend or the vulnerable mental health service user who doesn’t go back into hospital because they were too busy enjoying Sound It Out music sessions; enjoying because they are achieving and being acknowledged for those achievements by support staff as well as their piers. Sorry, is this the rant about funding in general that I was supposed to avoid? Below is my personal experience.

    I am a musician who wouldn’t feel confident calling myself one if it wasn’t for Sound It Out. I began as a volunteer on their Musical Connections project. Here, Sound It Out provide a well-staffed setting for musicians to gain confidence in working in groups and observe highly experienced musicians at work. I also found it extremely inspiring as I witnessed the awesome power of music as common interest bringing isolated people out of their homes and into a positive social situation. I have since been driven to engage people in meaningful and personalised musical experiences; people who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have had the opportunity. My confidence and skills grew through training and shadowing programmes provided – for free – by Sound It Out and continue to do so with the support of their amazing team. And, as a freelancer, I have taken my skills elsewhere, working throughout the West Midlands. So, the professional development and encouragement which Sound It Out provides to musicians goes beyond their project portfolio. ACE, Sound It Out are a total bargain: you get so much more for the money you put in, both in terms of the project money that they generate through fundraising and the musicians they tool up to work all over the country.

  15. Claire Farrell says:

    Having worked with SIO I know first hand that they are one of, if not the most unique, engaging, and professional organisations that add significant value to the city. The passion, integrity and opportunities SIO have to offer sets a very high benchmark for other orgainsations in the region.

    If there is anything I can do to support please let me know.


  16. Ruth Jeavons says:

    I started with Sound It Out (Musical Connections) following a lengthy admission to hospital. The amount of help and confidence it has given me is huge. I have rediscovered a musical side I forgot I had, I have used music as a way to cope and get away from some of my demons. It has also made me realise that music is not something I want to lose when I manage to get back to work. I am even looking at volunteering in music at some point thanks to SIO. I would like to thank everyone who has helped me and given me opportunities I would never have otherwise had. This is really sad and a bad decision. Please let me know if I can help.



    I run a small design consultancy and have been fortunate to work with the wonderful people of Sound it Out for about 9 years now.
    During those 9 years I have seen the way SIO has grown from strength to strength, in doing what it does best – giving people a chance in life. That’s it!
    There’s no way I could improve on all of the messages of support on this blog post, especially those of Pete Churchill and Paul Carroll, but to add that if there is anything I can do to help in any way please let me know.
    Best wishes, Spencer.

  18. Penny Collier says:

    Hi Clare
    I’m astounded by the Arts Council’s decision. Looking again at their Long-Term Goals I find it extremely difficult to understand how this could have happened. I’m tempted to quote them, but they are there for all to see! If Sound It Out can’t make a huge contribution to at least four of them, I don’t know who can. Like Clare I worked for Sound It Out right at the beginning after the Birmingham Year of Music in 1992. Since then I’ve watched it develop into a thriving organisation with a national profile, excellent governance, continuous reflective practice and above all profoundly affecting and enriching the creative lives of numerous people of all ages. And all this can happen because of the wealth of diverse professional musicians that it employs and supports to extend their practice by both giving to and learning from all the people who create music with them.
    It’s a mystery to me – I hope there is something we can all do. Please let me know……..

  19. Andy Ward says:

    First of all Clare I know you have no vested interest in this so it is moving to see somebody doing something out of a sense of belief and right.

    I do have a vested interest in that our studio has been home to the Sandwell group for the last few years but on the other hand it is not a large part of what we do so my own reasons for hoping it continues are as follows:

    I also started my musical journey with a similar project way back in 1984 at Holly Lodge school in Smethwick. I was skint, 16, had a 2nd hand Roland SH-101 for Christmas and no training but me and 3 mates wanted to play. We used to catch 2 buses every week and set up in a classroom of gear (as did loads of other kids / bands) and play. The teachers would come round and sit in and help out and after a year we also got to record and perform 2 of our own songs at the end of our time there – incredible to think how initiatives like this help to form a true and genuine love of music in all of its forms and help to form lifelong bonds and friendships. I have seen 2 SIO groups come through the studio – starting as shy, introverted kids and being transformed into friendly, talented, outgoing young adults over the space of 8 months under the truly exceptional mentoring that Sound It Out provide.
    They may or may not go on to become leaders in the field or lifelong musicians but the bonds that they formed and the skills they developed will be with them forever. This is something Sound It Out repeat year on year, group on group and has been the only initiative I have ever witnessed that achieves what they do.

    I am sure there are always winners and losers in times like these but the only thing that would be lost from any closure of Sound It Out is hundreds of stablised, mature, happy and content young adults that were given a chance. It is a shame that the Arts Council can put such a small price on that.

    Good luck.


  20. Duncan says:

    Hi Clare
    I would like to add my name to those in support of Sound It Out. Over many years SIO have been one of the most consistent and imaginative music organisations that I have had the pleasure of working with. Much of the work that I have done in the past with SIO has had a deep and lasting effect on both the participants and the artists involved.
    What has always impressed my by the work we have done is the level of creativity and imagination that has been applied to all parts of the process so that our projects have been both socially and (most importantly) musically stimulating.
    I work “for” many organisations but “with” very few, Sound It Out has always been in the second group so that rather than thinking that I am merely delivering someone else’s ideas the projects we have done belong to all of us.

    As one of the most established community music organisations and given the quality of the work i’m puzzled by this decision which seems to fly in the face of the stated ACE objectives.

    let me know if theres anything else that I can contribute to


  21. Clare Smith says:

    It is not only wrong but completely incomprehensible why Sound It Out has been disinvested 100%. I understand cuts had to be made across the board and ACE’S comments that they had to lose good organisations from their portfolio. I question ‘good’ as a description when it comes to this organisation; exceptional, life changing and life enhancing are more accurate. I know they achieve great art for everyone through thoughtful quality processes of all kinds.

    Clare Smith (Director 1999-2005)

  22. Sid Peacock says:

    Hi Clare,

    Thanks for taking the lead here.

    I have had the very good fortune to work on some major projects with Sound It Out, firstly as an artist and then artistic director. In fact it was SIO that first gave me these working opportunities and played a major part in developing my confidence and abilities as a community musician. With SIO I have always found the order of importance to begin with the participants, teachers/leaders, then the artists and end with the organisation. Perhaps in hind sight SIO might have spent more time blowing their own trumpet and developing their public image but then they would have ceased to be the thing that makes them special.

    On Friday I watched the Birmingham Jazz Ensemble at Rush Hour Blues. It is a group made up from young people who have attended various sessions in the past run by SIO and BJazz. One particular young guy who we have helped a great deal since meeting him at school many years ago is doing very very very well. I hadn’t heard him play for a while and was amazed at his standard. He is moving onto greater things from a disadvantaged starting point. SIO played a major role at that starting point as they do with thousands of others throughout the West Midlands.

    I have not been able to look at the successful organisations in depth but I am wondering if there any on the list that have disadvantaged communities as their primary concern? If not then this decision runs the risk of being perceived as an unfair cut on provision to the working classes in a largely working class city.

    I am fortunate to be working with many organisations around the city all of whom deliver high quality music projects to many communities. I see SIO as integral and pioneering force amongst them. The highly successful “Banded About” project run by the Music Hub last year was very obviously a larger version of the “Ways Into Improvisation” project designed by SIO in 2004. It seems bizarre that the arts council would now want to cut funds to a group that are informing other leading education providers in the area.

    On a more ominous note, I was working with a young guy yesterday telling me how his friend was serving 4 years for GBH. The guy I was working with was a recently graduated musician. He made it quite clear that it was his involvement in music that ensured he did not end up with a similar fate to his friend. My own story is the same and I know SIO works with people who tred that same thin line on a daily basis. This is not to say that people in low income areas are destined for a life of crime, it is just that boredom and exclusion can generate frustration that all too often erupts into self destructive behaviour. Trust me, the type of work SIO does saves society a lot more hassle and money in the long term.

    The arts council have a difficult job and would no doubt like to support many more activities. I think they can reconsider SIO’s position and to do so would not be perceived as a back track or reaction to pressure. The best leadership responds to grass roots and shop floor experience. If we make the case clearly and without rancour I am pretty sure the arts council will at the very least reconsider the decision to cut funding to Sound It Out.


  23. Scott says:

    Having worked for SIO over the past 3 years, I can wholeheartedly vouch for the life changing projects they facilitate. The difference made to adults and young people across the West Midlands is huge. Countless communities have benefitted from SIO’s vision to empower individuals with rich and diverse experiences. Generations, cultures, races and even rivalling gangs have been brought together through projects co-ordinated through SIO. The loss to communities and individuals will be immeasurable as the potential positive difference SIO makes is left reeling after the announced cuts.

  24. Sarah Stone says:

    I’ve worked with SiO for years but have only recently experienced, first hand, one of their free training programmes (New Horizons) and it’s changed my life. I’m now able to realistically develop work (I love) around my 2 young children…that fits around family life and ISN’T THAT ONE OF CAMERON’S BIG SOCIETY OBJECTIVES????!!!!!! Here we have an organisation that provides a way to help achieve this and their funding’s drastically cut? EH?? EH???? Baffling. Yet another political contradiction. I hope and pray the decision’s over-turned.

  25. Professor Andrew Downes says:

    It is crazy that SIO, an organisation which has, over many years now, brought the joys and benefits of music to people from all walks of life, including socially deprived and we disabled, is losing all its AC funding, while elitist organisations which perform very narrow and artistically dubious forms of “music” to tiny audiences have hardly lost any of
    theirs! This makes me think that perhaps the Arts Council itself should lose all its funding!

  26. Mark Bick says:

    Sound it Out play a really important strategic role in developing diversity in the musicians working in community and education settings. They cross barriers. Though Sound it Out’s projects and training, conservatoire classical music & jazz students, Indian classical musicians, Gospel singers, Iraqi refuges, English folk musicians, self taught urban music specialists and many others, all work together, learn from each other and develop deeper respect for each others skills and cultures. Very few other arts organisations seem to be doing this. The impact goes far beyond Sound It Out’s own excellent work. These people go on to work across the arts and in music education across the region and beyond, influencing new generations of musicians.

  27. Mary Keith says:

    Wholeheartedly agree with all comments here. It is the cross generational, cross cultural aspect of this work that I find so inspiring, using music as a tool to foster real relationships between diverse sections of society, which in terms of todays Big Society is invaluable. The attention to detail, and response to need is also expemplary, laying an easy path for both participants and leaders. The quality of the results is testament to this.

  28. Matthew Stone says:

    I’ve recently joined the New Horizons course in Worcester and have found it incredibly helpful and invaluable really, especially having just been recently released from uni into the big wide world! – It’s a massive shame that it’s got to a stage in this country where this sort of thing is happening, and on such a large scale. Here’s hoping that we all find a way through this, one way or another – see you outside the offices in 45 minutes!

  29. Matthew Stone says:

    Ha! – that would be, *New Horizons course in Wolverhampton* …even

    Thanks for the chance to make a noise yesterday, let’s hope it works out 🙂

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