Blog 7: The glory of volunteering


“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” I came across this quote which is attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson in a book I was reading recently.

famous people are always assumed to echo some profound truth that often escapes the notice of your average Joe living a hectic life. To me this quote seemed like a good summary of my own experience volunteering. So rather than rest on the laurels of some famous person, I thought I’d try to convince you as to why you should give volunteering a go using my own perspective as an average millennial living a frantic life, trying to figure out my place in the world.

If I had to make a list of all the pros and cons of volunteering, there would be zero cons and so many pros. Firstly you have nothing to lose, and only a wealth of experience to gain. You get to meet some really interesting folk, try new things, see wonderful places and find out and develop your interests. It’s like this: when you leave school, you find out that you are a highly refined, fine-tuned, uniquely shaped piece of a puzzle but you don’t know where you fit. A ubiquitous contemporary problem, and the only good solution I’ve found is to just try lots of different puzzles. Maybe one of them will spark something in you? If not, then at the very least you can hone in on exactly what it was you didn’t like and try something different. All of it piles onto your mountain of experience and very few things come close to being as rewarding as volunteering. Ensemble too has its own line-up of volunteers, without whom the whole operation would collapse. From supporting the workshops to the songwriting process, our volunteers ensure that all the young people leave with a bright smile on their faces. But enough from me, instead here are some reflections from our brilliant volunteers Albi Taylor and Nicola Denman on their experience volunteering for Ensemble.

How did you come to start volunteering for Ensemble?

Nicola: I have the brilliant Ensemble Project Coordinators Michael Timmons and Donna Maciocia to thank for that. I used to be part of a community band called Blochestra which sadly came to an end a couple of years ago. I was really missing and craving being part of a music project, not just the playing music part but the social aspect as well. It was then that Michael told me about Ensemble and encouraged me to join as a volunteer.

Albi: Donna and I met whilst I was a studentat The Glasgow Songwriting Festival and then at The Academy of Music and Sound. Not long after she asked me if I would like to volunteer.

Can you tell us briefly about what your role as a volunteer entails? How have you found the whole experience?

Nicola: As a volunteer you are there to support; supporting with setting up the workshop space and ensuring the workshops run smoothly, supporting the songwriting process; but most importantly supporting the participants, encouraging and making sure they feel comfortable and safe throughout the project. It’s such a rewarding thing to be involved in.  Currently I’m working with you Shobhita, helping with the organisational and planning aspects of creating your brilliant blogs and podcasts.

Albi: I suppose the role is about helping people write songs, but the actual role is helping people feel comfortable, safe, included, listened to and all of those things. You’re writing a song together, but ultimately it’s about the relationship with the person you’re writing with isn’t it? It’s been incredibly fulfilling and I feel as though it’s enhanced my life as much as it has the young people’s.

What have you found most rewarding about volunteering at Ensemble?

Albi: Just the heart-warming glee of seeing people grow right in front of your eyes over what’s a relatively short time in people’s lives. Yet you feel as though what you’ve gained or what you’ve shared is not relative to the time spent.

Nicola: It is so rewarding to see people grow so much confidence over a short space of time. Each time it’s like we start with a pack of seeds and by the end of the process we’re in a colourful, wild meadow.

What is something new that you have learnt about yourself through this experience?

Nicola: Ensemble has taught me that I’m more capable than I let myself believe. I tend to hold myself back from opportunities for fear of the unknown. The first time I volunteered at Ensemble I was going through a stage of low self-confidence and although it did make me step out of my comfort zone, it did so in such a supportive environment that encouraged me to push myself. By the end of the project, I had performed an original song in front of the group. It was such a boost to my confidence.

Albi: I think maybe I’m more aware and appreciative of the similarities between people no matter where they’re from, what they do or what age they are and also feeling the shared humanity in something like music. With all these things it’s not necessarily the actual thing that you’re doing, like songwriting, it’s all the blethers and interactions with people in between that I get so much from.

Do you think this experience has influenced your own professional practice as a musician?

Nicola: Absolutely, Ensemble has taught me that anyone and everyone can write a song and encouraged me to get back into singing and songwriting.

Albi: I love the learning and growing you do when you work with any other creative person. Each person brings a different sort of creative ‘palette’ to the mix, their own ways of working and that’s what makes the outcome such a beautiful picture. Ensemble is such a beautiful collection of people and everyone’s got a slightly different colour palette that you can work from.

What advice do you have for anyone who might be new to volunteering for Ensemble and wants to give it a go?

Albi: Just walk in with an open heart and give it your all. Just open your heart to it and share with people and it’ll fill your heart too.

Nicola: Ensemble is the most welcoming, encouraging and fun group of people you can find. You will laugh, a lot. If you want to get involved in a project which truly takes care of everyone involved; to be part of a creative, fulfilling project and to perhaps learn something new about songwriting in the process then Ensemble is for you.

Lastly, what is your favourite memory of volunteering with Ensemble so far?

Albi: Putting Vikings and Eastenders together in the same song (laughing). It was for a song called ‘The Norse Waltz’ and it had me laughing like a drain.

Nicola: There are so many great memories of Ensemble but if I had to choose one it would have to be seeing Ruairidh (a young person who I had been supporting) perform his final song at the sharing at the end of the project. The sheer joy he was exuding made my heart burst.

I couldn’t have put it better myself. Like I said before, whatever the shape of your piece it will fit right into the Ensemble puzzle. Join us and you could even be part of our next big banger. All of our fabulous volunteers played a huge part in our debut album No Place Like It. You can find it here at: