Youth Participation: what is it and why does it matter?

In 1995, the Canadian Mental Health Association released a spot-on definition of meaningful youth participation:

“Meaningful youth participation involves recognizing and nurturing the strengths, interests, and abilities of young people through the provision of real opportunities for youth to become involved in decisions that affect them at individual and systemic levels.”  (MHCC Youth Council, 1995)

In 2006 the Commonwealth Youth Programme and UNICEF explained:

“As there are many types of developmental processes, cultures and unique individuals in the world…. there are various definitions of participation. A basic concept of participation however, is that people are free to involve themselves in social and developmental processes and that self-involvement is active, voluntary and informed.” (UNICEF Youth Programme Participation Toolkits, 2006)


You may ask why youth participation is so important, or why it matters at all.

Most successful companies wouldn’t dream about selling a product without first getting feedback from their customers. They may accomplish this in a variety of ways: focus groups, surveys, usability testing, data analysis or social media feedback just to name a few. This is an imperative process that helps companies to better understand and respond to the needs of their customer. After all, customers are the ones buying the product.

In a similar vein, any organisation or systemic process that is put in place for the benefit of young people should ultimately involve them in behind-the-scenes development processes. Whether you’re creating a new law for the youth justice system or funding a youth music project, if young people are being affected it only makes sense that their voices are present at the table.

Youth participation means that young people have some role in the structure of an organisation, project or initiative. It can appear in many different forms, but it means that young people’s voices are present in some capacity when decisions are being made.

Young people can be empowered to have a say in a variety of ways, through:

-        surveys and questionnaires
-        one-off focus groups
-        a series of consultation sessions
-        taking the lead on aspects of a project
-        becoming members of organisational panels, steering groups and boards
-        a dedicated youth board, youth council or advisory group
-        campaigning for key issues
-        getting involved in local, national and  international political structures

This list could be endless!

That’s not to say that every organisation is ready to jump headfirst to a culture of participation where young people and adults are sharing decisions jointly. It takes a great deal of tools, training, experience and awareness-building to get to this point. Participation is something that must be carried out in a thoughtful and researched way, lest it become an exercise in tokenism.

In 1992, UNICEF and sociologist Dr. Roger Hart published a Ladder of Young People’s Participation as a useful framework for participatory practice. It’s important to say that this ladder is not meant to represent an entire community at one singular point. Every instance, initiative, individual or event can fall on different rungs of the ladder at different points in time.


For example, if you are running a focus group it may fall around rung five of the ladder (young people consulted and informed). If one young person has taken the lead in organising the focus group, that individual may be operating around rung six (adult-initiated, shared decision making).  If some reason on the next project that particular young person isn’t as eager to take the lead, his or her engagement level may clock in around rung four (young people assigned but informed).

To make matters more complicated, while an adult may perceive that one young person is at one point on the ladder at a singular point in time, when asked that particularly young person may perceive that he or she is at a completely different point.

As you can see, this is not an exact science. Because of this, meaningful youth engagement can sometimes feels like an on going experiment. Or rather, a journey that you are all on together. Now you might be saying “this sounds too complicated, and not really worth my time.” While it’s not an exact science, the transformational power of meaningful youth participation can be astounding.

Meaningful youth participation can ensure that programmes and services are relevant, engaging and responsive to the needs of young people themselves. Initiatives that respond meaningfully to young people are much more likely to garner wider interest and reach their target audiences. There are many examples around the world where the power of youth voice has been harnessed to transform local communities (more on this in later posts).

Most importantly, for young people meaningful engagement can bring with it a sense of ownership, skills building and an immeasurable confidence boost. It empowers them to have a say in things affecting their lives as individuals and members of a community.

What are your thoughts or experiences when it comes to meaningful youth participation?


The above words are my own and represent my personal views. They do not officially represent any of the organisations or projects I am affiliated with.

Introvert Superpowers

Extrovert vs Introvert Chart

In our current Western culture there can sometimes be a tendency to associate introverts with other descriptors like: shy, awkward, anxious, uncomfortable, socially timid or afraid to express their opinions.

More and more these views are being challenged, and discussions are being had about the power of introverts. Introverts are not unilaterally shy, awkward or timid. Introversion simply refers to the way in which some people process the world around them.

  • Introverts do their best thinking when they are alone: when we build in periods of reflection we are most able to solve problems, address challenges and create new things.
  • Introverts can be as socially engaged as extroverts: albeit in shorter bursts, and with the need to recharge afterwards.
  • Introverts can be great leaders: we can harness our listening and problem-solving skills, make insightful suggestions and build strong ‘behind-the-scenes’ partnerships.

Recently, I’ve begun to think about my own experience as an introvert. I notice that as I get older I become more and more comfortable with who I am. I find this to be even more true as I learn to embrace some of my more introverted tendencies. As this happens, I notice that I am able to unlock what I’m calling introvert superpowers:


In conversations I tend towards listening and asking questions. I am genuinely interested in others: their unique stories, ideas and challenges. Through active listening I’m able to encourage people; helping them to discover new ideas, views and solutions.

Inner Life

Introverts spend a lot of time exploring their own inner world, and for each person this inner world will be different.  I find myself reflecting a lot on feelings, revisiting situations or replaying conversations. I spend a lot of time empathising, hypothesising and trying to understand the inner world of others. Quite often I’m also brainstorming new ideas and solutions to problems.

Getting out of my comfort zone

Even though I’m an introvert, I can be quite at ease in extroverted settings. At one point there was nothing I feared more than chatting to people at networking events or speaking up in round-table discussions. After a great deal of practice and stepping consciously outside of my comfort zone, my confidence has increased and these situations have become quite easy.

… but only for a little while

While I’m now comfortable in extroverted settings, I’ve learned that in order to be most effective I do need to manage my ‘extroverted credits.’ For instance, after a networking event or a day of conversation-based meetings I know that I’ll need some quiet time to recharge my batteries.

In becoming aware that I need these recharge times, I am able to build re-energising activities into my daily life such as: taking walks, eating lunch in the park, meditating, reading and listening to music.

By consciously building in pockets of time to recharge and enjoy my introverted-ness, I think I’m even more able to hone my internal skills and build up even more ‘extroverted credits’ that I’m able to spend later on.

Any other introverts out there? What are your introvert super powers?

The Saxophone and British Women Composers


Belize born Errollyn Wallen has been hailed as a ‘renaissance woman of contemporary British music.’ She is an accomplished artist whose eclectic stylings have been performed in concert halls around the world. Her works have been heard most recently at the 2012 Paralympics opening ceremony.

During the 1980′s and 1990′s, she composed an onslaught of chamber works which prominently feature the saxophone. Most notable is her work Mondrian composed for woodwinds, strings and soprano saxophone. In a nod to her blended British-Belize background, she seamlessly combines classical and jazz stylings. This short  clip from the BBC Learning Zone discusses the ways in which she accomplishes this.

Multi-instrumentalist, composer and political activist Lindsay Cooper is most known for her work with  the avant-rock group Henry Cow. A saxophonist herself, Cooper has performed extensively on the instrument. She has written works for saxophone quartet and most interestingly, a Concerto for Sopranino Saxophone and Strings.

Former professor at King’s College and the University of York, Nicola LeFanu is an active and applauded composer. She too has composed a Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Strings.

Nicola LeFanu – Alto Saxophone Concerto: Saxophone Concerto

Last but not least, we have Jamaican born Elanor Alberga. An accomplished pianist and composer, she composed her work Glinting Glancing Shards for saxophone quartet in 2002.

Below you will find a list of select works for saxophone by British women composers. I will emphasise that this is a select list and is not meant to be comprehensive. It is something that is taking shape based on my own interest and exploration of the subject, and  I will be expanding as I discover more.

Select Works for Saxophone by British Women Composers

Meditation for Musicians

When I finally decided to visit the New York Insight Meditation Center, I was filled with apprehension. Could I really sit still for 40 minutes? Could I focus on just my breath for that entire time? I knew that the answer was most likely a no, but it seemed like it was worth a shot.

Two hours later I walked out onto a balmy Manhattan street feeling giddy and invigorated. It turns out that I have been meditating for years. Ok, not in the strictest sense of the word. Still, during my first sessions I noticed that I was able to slip very easily into some of the meditation practices. Why, you ask?

Meditation practitioners sometimes use different techniques and “focus objects”. At the beginning of each meditation one might set an intention to focus solely on an object, sensation or saying. One might focus on the breath for instance, or the feelings in the body. Sometimes one might decide to focus on sounds, or the thoughts that are flowing through the mind. Sometimes there are sentences that one chooses to repeat, and so on.

As a professionally trained saxophonist at her instrument for almost 20 years now, a number of these practices came quite naturally to me as a beginning meditator. For years I have been focusing on my breath, as I find it to be one of the key components in controlling tone on the saxophone. Focusing on sound is probably the number one skill utilized during my practice sessions.  In later years I find myself focusing more on tensions in my body as I play, as those unchecked tensions morphed into some serious carpal tunnel during my college years.

That first visit to the meditation center was now more than a year ago, I still believe that my skills as a musician helped me to slip more easily into a regular meditation practice. At the time I didn’t realize how much meditation would help me in return, not only in my daily life but also as a musician.

I have decided to write this article about meditation from the perspective of a musician. Meditation can benefit us all in our daily lives, but it can help musicians in a few particular ways. I have given a brief description of some meditation practices below. If you find this interesting, I have also given some links to beginner resources.

Meditation: The Breath

First choose a place and a time when you know you will not be interrupted, turn the cell phone off or leave it in the other room. Next you should position your body in a way that allows you to be comfortable but alert. Some people choose to lie down, while others will sit either on a chair or a cushion on the floor. You may choose to close your eyes, or leave them half-open with a gentle gaze towards the floor.

Once you have assumed a comfortable position, take a few moments to draw your attention inwards. Do a quick sweep through the body, establishing the intention to relax. Start to take notice of the senses; be aware of physical sensations, moods and sounds.

Then in a very gentle way, start to become aware of the movement of breath. Notice where the movement of the breath registers most vividly: for some it is the nostrils, the rising and falling of the chest or the sensations in the abdomen.

Once you have decided on a place to rest your awareness, it becomes almost like an anchor. It is a place for your awareness to return to again and again, even after the mind begins to drift off. Watch the breath with mindfulness; you are not trying to control the breath. Be with the breath as it is in this moment.

Now, you may notice that after some time the mind has drifted off. That’s only natural. Without any judgement, simply note that “thinking is happening” and gently bring your attention back to the breath.

The breath is something that is always there. In our lives we can sometimes feeling stressed, frustrated, annoyed or angry. Drawing our attention momentarily to the breath can help us to remain centered and calm during these times. That helps us to approach certain unsettling or high-pressure situations with more clarity.

This is particularly helpful strategy for musicians. In the practice room we can easily get caught up on that one passage that’s not quite right. On the stage, we are exposing ourself to high-pressure situations. If we are mindful enough to take a moment to step back and focus on that ever-present breath, we may find ourselves able approach these stressful situations with a newfound sense of clarity.

Meditation: Sounds

Begin this meditation just as you would a meditation on the breath. Choose a place and a time when you know you will not be interrupted, and find a position in which you can feel both comfortable and alert. Close your eyes, or if you are feeling sleepy you may choose to keep them half-open with your gaze towards the floor.

Once again, you will draw your attention inwards. Establish a presence in your body, becoming aware of sensations, feelings and moods. Make a note of your intentions to relax. Next, bring your attention gently to the breath and rest here for a few moments as you breathe in and out.

When you are ready, start to notice the sounds that are happening around you. First notice the sounds that are happening close to your ear, in your immediate surroundings. Maybe you hear your own breath or heartbeat. Gradually you can move outwards to listen to the next layer of sound, perhaps you hear a fan running in the room. After some time you can move even further outwards, maybe to a bird outside the window. Eventually you can move to sounds that are very far away, perhaps a train passing by in the distance. There is no need to try to identify these sounds, nor is it necessary to focus on one specific sound. Just be with the sounds as they are happening.

This is another helpful strategy for musicians. With enough practice, one gradually begins assigning less and less meaning to the specific sounds that we hear. One learns to listen without attaching labels or emotions. In the practice room, this could translate itself into a more relaxed and balanced attitude. As musicians we can sometimes criticize or beat ourselves up for what we perceive as mistakes and errors. Through this meditation practice, we are able to hear what is happening without being carried away by an emotional response.

Meditation: The Body

Once again, find a place and a time where you will not be interrupted. Find a position where you are comfortable but alert. Some people prefer to do this meditation while laying down, just try not to use pillows as they may encourage you to fall asleep!

This meditation is used as a mental scan of the body, focusing the attention on various parts of the body from the toes to the head. The purpose of this meditation is not necessarily to relax, but to be aware of sensations (or lack of sensation) experienced as you focus on each part of the body.

First, close your eyes and draw your attention inwards. Rest your awareness gently on the breath, following it as it moves in and out of your body. When you feel ready, bring the awareness to the physical sensations in your body. Notice the places where your body is touching the ground. Notice where it is touching other parts of your body. Are you experiencing any sensations of pressure in your body? Tingles? Aches?

Bring your awareness first to your left toes, focusing on each toe and the sensations that may be present. When you are ready, slowly let go of the awareness of your toes and move the awareness to the bottom of your feet. Rest here for some time before moving the awareness to your ankle. Be aware the breath in the background. If it helps, you can imagine that you are ‘sending’ the breath to each part of your body as you exhale.

Continue this pattern as you slowly move up through the rest of your body, eventually reaching the top of your head. Once you have scanned your entire body, spend a few moments noticing the sensations in your body as a whole. Feel your breath as it moves through your entire body, in and out. Feel how your entire body is connected.

As musicians, we are oftentimes unaware of the effect that our movements have on our bodies. Repetitive motions and unchecked body tension are both things that can lead to injuries. When we’re injured, we are not operating at 100%. Sometimes the pain can get so bad that we’re not operating at all!

Mindfulness and awareness of the body can be highly beneficial. It allows us to be mindful of tension, postures and repetitive motions that could cause injury. For those of who have experienced injury, body meditations can allow us to bring a gentle awareness to the sensations associated with the injury.  When we pay closer attention to pain, we may notice that it is not always the same. It ebbs, flows, pulsates or burns; it is changing and moving. Such mindfulness can sometimes help us to have a better understanding of and relationship to pain. If anything, it makes us more aware of the actions we take to exacerbate the pain. Being aware of the sensations in our body allows us to see more clearly when it time to “ease up” or take a break.

Some Resources:

There are plenty of online resources if you would like to learn more about meditation.

Teacher Sharon Salzburg has a wonderful 28-day meditation program for beginners. Her book Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation is available for purchase, and offers a step-by-step guide for beginners along with some useful audio files featuring guided meditations. I would highly recommend this book for beginners.  If you are interested in finding out more, you can check out some of her guided meditations that are generously provided on this website:

Jon Kabat-Zinn is a scientist and writer that started teaching mindfulness and meditation practices to patients dealing with chronic stress, pain and illness. In his eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course, he combines meditation and yoga to help his patients. While these methods have proven very useful in treating individuals with chronic medical conditions, they have been used to teach meditation practices to people from all walks of life. His book Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness is available for purchase. Some of his materials are also available online:

A printable meditation guide:

If you have the time, I would highly recommend this series of talks by teacher Gil Fronsdal. Several times a year, he offers a 5 or 6 week instructional series for beginning meditators. You can find his recorded talks and corse materials generously provided online:

The Saxophone: A Guide for Composers



In hopes of consecrating his career as an instrument maker, Belgian inventor Adolph Sax moved to Paris in 1841. Three years later, his new instrument, the saxophone, would make its debut under the baton of Hector Berlioz in an adaptation of his Chant Sacre made solely to feature the instruments of Sax.

When conjuring images of the saxophone, many people immediately think of jazz. In its conception however, the sax was intended as an orchestral instrument. The saxophone – a nineteenth century European invention – during the time of its invention had no connections with jazz – an American musical style of the twentieth century. When the saxophone emerged, the orchestra had undergone many enhancements to the lower end of its range. It was, however, lacking a strong bass voice in the woodwind family; the bassoon was in the midst of transforming into the modern day instrument, and the bass clarinet was struggling until Adolph Sax designed the straight-bodied form. He hoped that his new invention, the bass saxophone, would be just the boost the lower end of the woodwinds needed.

In its beginnings, the saxophone was very well received. Hector Berlioz applauded the instrument for its versatility:

“[The saxophones] principal merit in my view is the varied beauty of its accent, sometimes serious, sometimes calm, sometimes impassioned, dreamy or melancholic, or vague, like the weakened echo of an echo, like the indistinct plaintiff moans of the breeze in the woods and, even better, like the mysterious vibrations of a bell, long after it has been struck; there does not exist another musical instrument that I know of that possesses this strange resonance, which is situated at the edge of silence.” – Hector Berlioz

The saxophone found increasing popularity as an orchestral instrument, today we can reference thousands of composers who have used it in their works. In the resources section below, you will find a link to download a list of composers and their works which utilize the saxophone. It should be noted that this is a select list, and is meant to give an overview – it is by no means comprehensive.

The saxophone saw use as a chamber instrument as composers began to recognize its flexibility. In a chamber setting, the instrument can add a new breadth of colors and tonal resources to the ensemble. In the resources section below, you will find a very select list of chamber works employing the saxophone.

The saxophone quartet is a very popular medium for composers today. The standard instrumentation mirrors that of the string quartet with soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. Sometimes, we see works for two alto saxophones, tenor and baritone, with composers omitting the soprano saxophone in order to gear their works towards student groups. Today however, as more and more young musicians are starting to perform on soprano saxophones, this is becoming a non-issue. There are other examples of varying instrumentation, for instance the Canonic Suite for Four Alto Saxophones by Elliot Carter. The instrumentation of soprano, alto, tenor and baritone however, is accepted as standard.

The first consideration in writing for the saxophone is the range and transpositions of the instruments. Please see the resources section for a PDF file containing all of this information in an easy to read format.

The Bb Soprano Saxophone:
Keyed range from Bb below the staff to F above the staff
Transposes up a major second from concert pitch
Many newer instruments are equipped with a high F# and sometimes G key

The Eb Alto Saxophone:
Keyed range from Bb below the staff to F above the staff
Transposes up a major sixth from concert pitch
Many newer instruments are equipped with a high F# key

The Bb Tenor Saxophone:
Keyed range from Bb below the staff to F above the staff
Transposes up a major ninth from concert pitch, and is written in treble clef
Many newer instruments are equipped with a high F# key

The Eb Baritone Saxophone:
Keyed range from A below the staff to F above the staff
Transposes up a major thirteenth from concert pitch, and is written in treble clef

Adoph Sax was a clarinetist/woodwind specialist, and developed the saxophone with the extended range in mind. It took many years for the upper range, commonly referred to as the altissimo range, to develop after the invention of the instrument, but it is now fairly commonplace. The altissimo can add up to an octave to the keyed range of the instrument. Some range considerations are similar to that of other woodwind instruments, like the oboe the lower register is rich and resonant – but can sometimes be muddy. Upper register considerations would parallel those of any other woodwind, most similarly the clarinet.

A couple of recorded examples of the use of the altissimo register:

Ibert, Jaques – Concertino da Camera: Cadenza
Martin, Frank – Ballade: Opening

The saxophone is an instrument capable of many extended techniques, below are a few examples:

Timbre Variations:

The timber of a certain pitch can be varied through the use of alternate fingerings, or by opening and closing additional tone holes. For example, there are three ways to finger a middle Bb each resulting in a difference of timbre and intonation. Middle A on the other hand has no alternate fingerings. Timber variation may be obtained through the opening and closing of additional tone holes.

Quarter Tones:

The saxophone is an instrument that is capable of playing quarter tones. Quarter tones are obtained through the use of so-called “unconventional” fingerings.

Glissando and Portamento:

A glissando is characterized by rapid chromatic (sometimes diatonic) movement, while portamento is a sliding between two notes. These techniques became common of the saxophone during the 1920s Vaudeville Era, and have since made their way into contemporary literature. It is important to note that this technique is most effective in the upper register of the instrument.

Slap Tonguing:

As a single reed instrument, the saxophone is capable of an effect commonly referred to as slap tonguing. It is an effect that creates a percussive articulation, along with resonation of the desired pitch. It is as a result of suction in the mouth, and the sound that the reed produces which is amplified as it travels through the horn. This is generally notated with a plus sign (+) over the pitch.

Percussive Effects:

Key clicks occur when a saxophonist fingers a specific note and the quickly closes the keys, resulting in a clicking sound and a resonating pitch. When notating key clicks, it is important to keep in mind that the fingered pitch is not always the pitch that will sound when the key is depressed. Also, a clicking sound can be produced when opening the keys, as well as closing them. (This sound is not inevitable and can be eliminated. It is, however, another option for creating percussive effects on the saxophone.)


Multiphonics (sometimes referred to as “multiple sonorities” or “multiple sounds”) can be defined as “the simultaneous production of more than one audible tone.” Without modifying the instrument itself, this can be achieved in two ways:

  • By combining vocal sounds with conventional saxophone sounds, or
  • By changing the resonance of the air column within the instrument in order to produce two or more simultaneous tones, either by:
    • Distorting the tone (air speed, embouchure pressure, etc.) or
    • The use of fingering patterns which create several tube lengths within the instrument on which multiple sounds can be produced

With this in mind, we can say that there are three different kinds of multiphonics on the saxophone:

  1. Multiphonics employing the technique of singing while playing
  2. Multiphonics which use conventional fingerings with distorted tone production
  3. Multiphonics using special fingerings

The third kind of multiphonic is by far the most commonly used. There is a great diversity in the notation of multiphonics in works for the saxophone. Your decision regarding notation should be based on the compositional effect you are looking for. It is perfectly acceptable to indicate unspecified multiphonics, leaving the decision up to performer, if you looking for the “sound” rather than specific pitches. If you wish to specify a particular multiphonic, it is generally done through the use of a small fingering diagram above the staff. This is where it is useful to know a saxophonist who is willing to work with you on choosing multiphonics which will work for your composition.


Select Orchestral Works Utilizing the Saxophone
Select Chamber Works Utilizing the Saxophone
Select List of Saxophone Concerti
Saxophone Ranges and Transpositions
Some Extended Techniques for Saxophone

If you have any questions or comments regarding this material, or if you found this at all helpful please feel free to email me and let me know!

Edit(08/31/12): The above links have been repaired

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