Amble Skuse has been selected for a residency with the British Paraorchestra. With a busy portfolio career, the writer, composer and performer says her Person-Centred Approach can teach arts and business a thing or two.
Like most musicians, my life seems to be a constant plate-spinning operation. Very few of us are lucky enough to have one thing we do. We balance our lives between playing, teaching, recording, writing funding applications, report-writing, composing, studying, networking, arranging, practicing, planning, workshop-leading, weeping over wine and any number of other freelance musician activities.
But as I grow, I start to wonder what the threads are that bind it all together for me. It would be too easy to say that it’s about music… of course it is but why this music? Why these people? Why those projects? Why me? Why now? In quiet periods of reflecting and planning, I’ve always felt that I wanted to draw together this with that and find a way to do all these in a way that somehow makes them one practice. And it’s only through this that the threads emerge – glinting, delicate, gossamer threads of love and passion which make up the whyness of why.
One of the things driving my work right now is a Person-Centred Approach. For me, this is a strand of equalities theory woven into an everyday approach which questions whether established structures might not want some reviewing. Of course, I’m biased in this. I have a condition called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) which makes me extremely tired. Imagine flu, your worst hangover and screaming-baby tired but every day, even after 12 hours’ sleep.
The result of this was that structured workplaces declared me unable to do my job. Now. I refute this. It’s not that I can’t do the stuff you want… It’s that I can’t do it while jumping through the 9-5, wearing-clothes-in-an-office, walking-up-stairs, commuting hoops. It’s not the job that is the problem for me; it’s the stuff surrounding it. The structures.
So I set about creating a career for myself where the structures don’t exist. Only the work. I worked from my bed and turned out some of the best stuff I’d ever done. Ha! It’s not me; it’s you, you… you… structuralists!!!
What on earth am I on about? Well, I’m on about a Person-Centred Approach. An approach that says that each person functions best under specific circumstances and, if we can find those circumstances, we can release the potential for everyone to do their very best work.
As musicians, we know more about this than many businesses. I think this is where we can really contribute to the arts and business debate. For so long, we’ve assumed that business can teach artists a thing or two. But I feel that our work practices in the arts are so radical that we can teach business a thing or two – especially about inclusivity.
For example, how many of us have done instrumental teaching and had to find that one metaphor which clicks for the student? Or only practised after 9pm because we know that, before that, our best efforts will be in vain? Or played in an ensemble with one person who has to play with their shoes off? Or done our tax returns in bed weeping over wine? (Come on now! Own up.) This is because, as artists, we know that simple brute effort is not progress, it’s finding that magic moment, the window, to slip through from normality to creativity. To find our best, we ride the waves of determination, misery, body clocks, quiet time, inspiration, support and rejection.
For me, this is the basis of my Person-Centred Approach.
For example, I’m currently piloting a project called Electron-Chix for women who want to use electronics in their musical practice. Our research found that a number of reasons exist around why women haven’t always engaged with electronics tuition. These range from feeling uncomfortable in a room full of guys, to the sessions not being at a time they could manage, to being pitched at the wrong level, to being too expensive. So our sessions are small groups (three max) of women (or gender queer / trans / non binary). We negotiate a time and date to suit, we start from wherever the women are with their practice and, in a gentle and friendly manner, we build from there. We also run them at my house because I have ME and I do my best work if I don’t have to commute anywhere with equipment. We’ve had people bring dogs, babies, tea, cakes, paintbrushes, ukuleles, max patches… Whatever you want. We’ve had a massive response to this approach and I’m currently putting together a funding bid with my organisation, Remembered Imagined, to roll it out for two years.
My second example of the Person-Centred Approach is my new commission with the British ParaOrchestra – a project put together by Sound and Music. Each of the players has a disability of some kind which impacts on their work differently. With each person, it’s not their disability which prevents them from being a kick-ass player (they all are!) but the structures in place around the work. So this piece will need to be bespoke and person-centred. For example, a player may need frequent rests in between sections or will require a sonic cue due to vision impairment or is limited to the number of notes in a chord due to their physicality. In addition, the rehearsal schedules also have to be managed in this way. There is no way I can lead a rehearsal of my piece of more than a few hours. The concentration required will fry my brain. So we need to think of a way to work on my piece that not only fits all our needs appropriately but also fits the budget and people’s travel and other work schedules.
So we can see that this Person-Centred Approach is never simple but it opens up the possibility to do things which are prohibited by a structural approach. For me, this is the thread behind much of what I do: persistence, finding a way, negotiation with my illness, kindness, release and recharging. All these gentle approaches require a different kind of strength and, as musicians, we have it in spades.
The Person-Centred Approach is like looking at a puzzle with the pieces missing and trying to do it anyway. The thing is, we all have pieces missing. If we look squarely at the missing pieces and then make something which bridges the gap, our puzzles are not only complete but are uniquely, dazzlingly brilliant.
 I call this structural restriction the ‘FIFO’ mentality, Fit In Or… (you can figure it out!).
Header photo: Amble Skuse
Amble is working with scientific and technological research institutes and psychologists from the University of Groningen to develop a system for using EEG (brain wave) data as an input for creative digital work. She will create a unique hardware/software combination to enable new sonic compositions and installations to be made from body data. The developing work will create a strand of disability art which focusses on the psychological experience of living with a disability or chronic illness.
Tracks & Sleepers
Amble is undertaking an epic train journey, travelling 7,000 miles from Scotland to Singapore. The trip is an artist’s residency on the move, responding to activities and blog titles sent in by the public via social media.
Amble has been commissioned to write a bespoke piece for the Paraorchestra using acoustic instruments and electronics. She will be looking at using BodySensor technology to interface between the two. She is also playing with the orchestra using her electric violin and laptop to create soundscapes and processed washes.
About the author
Amble Skuse’s work has been performed internationally from Canada to China by ensembles such as Mr McFalls Chamber, Red Note Ensemble and Rarescale.
She was a Creative Scotland International Creative Entrepreneurship Fellow, a BBC Performing Arts Fellow, has gained several large-scale grants from Creative Scotland to produce work and was awarded a BBC performing arts alumni fellowship. She was recently awarded an AHRC scholarship for her research into the use of BioSensors in Composition for her PhD at Plymouth University with Eduardo Miranda.