How do you connect with nature?
Lying in a hammock, muddy boots swinging gently. The grey morning light glowing through high branches; a moment of being ‘here and now’, a real treat for me since moving to busy central Brighton, inviting me to breathe the damp woodland air and notice myself listening for the first time that day…
Later, a wild stomp through the trees and wet leaves together with a group of children and their carers, kicking and chanting “u-nite -the -beat!”. A playful exploration of the sound-making potential of the forest, armed with sticks, a sense of freedom and bucket-loads of energy. From peaceful, introspective calm to lively, noisy adventure, Emily and Malik’s musical approach guided me to connect not only with the environment and its sounds, but with others in the group.
Unite the Beat are a Sussex-based group who promote community through music in nature. Their recent work has included facilitating groups to forage for sounds in the natural environment, producing a piece of recorded music or film as an outcome and stimulating community and connection in the process.
A video made from another group. Watch for inspiration and ideas of how to engage with nature as the weather tempts us outside again.
On the day I joined Emily and Malik, co-founders of Unite the Beat, the participants were school-aged children with varied learning difficulties. Emily told me they had visited the children’s school the day before to establish some familiarity and hopefully contribute to a smooth transition from school into the unfamiliar woodland of Sheffield Park. The effect on the group of simply being among trees, away from the world of strip-lights and plastic chairs, was noticeable to me in my supporting role.
Some children’s awareness seemed to gradually broaden and deepen as they were invited to notice sounds around them while being swung in their own hammock. Others were more engaged by chanting and beat-making together, or later by the energetic musical free-play where we hunted high and low to gather sounds that would be shared at the end in a group jam.
These different dynamic levels of involvement and open invitations to participate were a strength of leadership by Unite the Beat, particularly with those whose needs required greater flexibility. Children were offered some adult-led structure, while also being trusted to take part on their own terms and supported to explore freely if they preferred. One boy, who had moved away from the group while they learned a set of rhythms, closed his eyes and danced all the way through the rhythmic group finale. Small moments such as this emphasise to me the value of projects that create room for possibility through shared creative process.
I now notice my privileged position as part-observer part-participant; I was able to become immersed in the present moment with the children, detached from the distractions and concerns of being a leader or carer. In this role I was at liberty to play. It has been suggested in research (Young, 2011) that a child playing alone will make and explore sounds sporadically, but when joined by an adult play-partner who simply pays attention and mimics the child’s sounds, musical patterns and games begin to emerge. My undivided attention was with the children in this way, as collaborators in musical process and discovery. It seemed to me that creative and music-making ideas were, as Young suggests, born from connectedness.
In the woods with the children the natural world was our orchestra, and we had each other to be inspired by, laugh with, copy, join and compose with. My time with Unite the Beat was a time to play and be present. Whoever and wherever we are, we can take time to listen to our surroundings and each other.
Young, S. (2011) ‘Children’s creativity with time, space and intensity: foundations for the temporal arts’, in Coates, E. and Faulkner, D. Exploring children’s creative narratives. Abingdon: Routledge. pp.177-199
Thanks to Maddie Broad for showing an interest in our work and documenting her reactions.