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Sophie Hardava - Marketing Intern, University of Birmingham

In early 2021, I happened upon a Summer Arts Experience Internship opportunity offered through the University of Birmingham and after an application and assessed task, I was granted the chance to become a marketing intern for 20 days. At the time, my internship was with the “Town Hall Symphony Hall”, or as it is now known…B:Music.

Looking back at the past of Town Hall and Symphony Hall

Birmingham's Town Hall was an important venue for the Suffragette movement across the span of 74 years (1872-1946).

Interestingly, the Town Hall has continued to be a political venue and welcomed a multitude of important figureheads. For example, on Friday 11 October 1908, Prime Minister Asquith came to the Town Hall to speak at a meeting of the Birmingham Classical society.

Similarly, Symphony Hall has also welcomed many public figures (alongside some of the world’s greatest musical artists and orchestras), including Bill Clinton (G8 Summit) and Mikhail Gorbachev (G8 Summit). Since its opening, many of the country's foremost politicians have spoken in both Hall’s, including William Gladstone, David Lloyd George, Clement Atlee and Margaret Thatcher.

Did you know that Nelson Mandela visited the Symphony Hall during his trip to Birmingham in 1993?

A private concert was hosted by Sir Trevor McDonald, in Mandela’s honour and famous musicians, including Hugh Masekela and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, performed to raise funds for Health and Refugee Trust of South Africa. During the concert, Mandela made a 30-minute speech to the audience and performers in which he showed his gratitude for Birmingham city’s support for the anti-apartheid movement.

Even less known is the visit made by Paul Robeson, an American actor, singer and civil rights activist, who came to the Town Hall to perform on 25th February 1949.

Robeson performed range of Old English, Old French and Negro Folk songs. He also performed at a second concert on 21st May 1949 presented by The British Soviet Society. Officers of the Met Police were present in the audience as part of the Foreign Office’s agreement to supply the FBI with details of Robeson’s activities. In 1950, Robeson’s passport was withdrawn on grounds that his right to travel was against American interests and during this time he sang for audiences in London and Wales via transatlantic telephone cable whilst he could not travel. It was not until June 1958 that Paul Robeson regained his freedom as the US Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to deny a US passport on political grounds.

Looking to the future of B:Music

In light of the worldwide Black Lives Matter movement, following the death of George Floyd, Black Birmingham artists were commissioned to create new music on the theme of racism, both individual and system, for a project titled “Now Is Not the Time for Silence”.

The project aimed to amplify black, Birmingham musicians’ voices and allow for their personal experiences of racial inequality to be heard. The artists involved in the project included David Austin Grey, Alex Polack, Romarna Campbell, Reuben James, Namywa, Ashley Allen and Indigo. They spoke to China Moses about their recognition, or lack thereof, as black artists in the music industry. It was especially noteworthy to hear that Reuben saw a change in the Town Hall’s previous approach as the association has embraced working with, and commissioning black artists to make a political statement (you can hear more of what was said here).

The charity has furthered the relationship with Namywa, who also happens to be the founder of Girl Grind UK. Their mission statement is “to amplify the unsung voices of women and girls from marginalised communities and support creative entrepreneurs.” The initiative is striving for equality and visibility of BAME women/girls in arts, health and business growth sectors.

So, what are my thoughts on B:Music?

It seems evident to me that B:Music is carefully sourcing the artists it works with, and helping them to help others. It was clear that the aim of the Now Is Not The Time For Silence project had been achieved, as it welcomed a new conversation.

B:Music is working with some of the most diverse and inspiring artists - assisting them in their career progression and showcasing their talents to a wider audience.

Jazzlines is the talent development programme, which is spearheading the drive to forge relationships, and provide support to these diverse artists. One such initiative is Power Up, created by the PRS Foundation, which is working hard to bring opportunities for those who need the support to showcase their incredible talents. I learnt of the work that has been carried out with Lady Sanity - a Birmingham rap star, who has been taking the rap game by storm, earning her a spot to perform at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games closing ceremony in 2018.

As part of its talent development, Jazzlines offers a number of initiatives available to those within the wider Birmingham region including a summer school, ensemble and family jam. As music students move from primary to secondary school the Jazzlines team try to bring them back in for progression into the ensemble.

As with every other industry, and element of society, it takes a long time to truly make a change, and so it comes as no surprise that with the relaunch of B:Music there has been no overnight turnaround leading to better inclusivity and diversity in the jazz, and musical industry. Yet, the effort is clearly there to make a change, and drive the progression that is necessary. With the initiatives and leaders currently in place in the organisation, there have been a number of young, talented, diverse artists, that have risen to stardom and slowly, but surely, the change will continue to take place.

Across my 20 day experience, I have been able to go behind the scenes during one of the busiest periods in the music charity’s history – the launch of B:Music.

Within my first week I was invited to visit the new music space that had been created in the Symphony Hall, and there were many more opportunities to follow. I was delegated tasks that included, creating captions for social media posts, posting social media content, undertaking digital monitoring tasks, watching a live performance – and so much more. The 20-days were completely jam-packed with experiences.

I was also able to meet a range of people who work in a number of fields in B:Music to gather an understanding of what it is they do. It became immediately clear that everyone was incredibly passionate about the relaunch – the purpose of which is to reflect the charity’s mission: to inspire a love of live music through performance, participation and learning. With the rebrand, came the opportunity for the organisation to amplify the work it has done with musicians and artists from diverse backgrounds, and the ways in which B:Music has helped to harbour their talents.

During my short internship, I saw the true grit and determination behind those leading this launch - special mention must be given to Director of Sales and Marketing, Richard Loftus and the Jazzlines team, Mary Wakelam-Sloan, Rohit Jepegnanam and Richard Foote - in their efforts to support, develop, and progress the talents of artists who would not typically have such opportunities.

There are several issues that are facing institutions such as this one which have led to their invisibility in wider society especially amongst people within my demographic. Birmingham is a melting pot of ethnicities, yet before the push for change, I could only find the occasional artist with an ethnic background in the line-up of events. These sites are of great historical importance, and it would be devastating to see such landmarks disappear.

Once it had come to my attention that B:Music venues, Town Hall and Symphony Hall had hosted a range political leaders, I began to question how these venues and the charity responsible for them are attempting to continue with this legacy.

What is B:Music doing to bring change, awareness and provide a spotlight to those who are marginalised or under-represented?

With all of my experiences, and discussions with those within the organisation, it is undeniable that there is a real push for change – which is even more evident in the future line-up of events (which you should check out here). Undoubtably, a change is being made to allow the voices of some of the most diverse artists to be heard. Within 20 days, I worked on a number of tasks involving artists – each of which were from a variety of backgrounds and facing varying obstacles.

B:Music is truly striving towards achieving its charitable objectives in every way possible, and I invite everybody to come to their venue and hear some of the incredible talent that Birmingham, and beyond, has to offer.

Whilst my 20-day internship may have come to an end, I am sure this will not be the last time I visit a B:Music venue.

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