Sofa Sessions #9: Wellbeing Edition (fundraiser for NIAMH Wellbeing)

Magwere at Sofa Sessions #7

The Sofa Sessions are back! It’s been a while since #8 in the Ulster Hall – as you may know, I’ve been off in Finland studying a Master’s in Music, Mind and Technology at the University of Jyväskylä. My thesis project will combine coaching, music-making, mindfulness and positive psychology exercises to boost participants’ wellbeing, confidence and skills. With that in mind, I’m hosting a special Wellbeing Edition of the Sofa Sessions this August (Sun 23rd), in the beautiful Duncairn Centre for Culture & Arts, Belfast. Event link here.

For eight years now I’ve been providing wellbeing training and seminars/talks, and my individual coaching is centred around boosting wellbeing, to help the client take positive action towards their goals or changes. It was my own experience of depression that led me into coaching and positive psychology, and it’s been important to me to share wellbeing resources with people for free (this blog being one example) as well as through my work. So I’ve decided to make this event a fundraiser for NIAMH Wellbeing, the largest and longest-established independent charity focusing on mental health, learning disability and wellbeing services in Northern Ireland. NIAMH (the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health) also support clients in the Republic of Ireland and Scotland. Their vision is ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing for all’, with services focusing on early intervention and supporting those with specific mental health needs. Read more on NIAMH’s work here.

If you’re not familiar with the Sofa Sessions format, they are cabaret nights where I bring together local and visiting musicians, dancers, visual artists, film-makers, writers, poets, comics and other creatives to talk about and share their work with the audience and each other. I was inspired by many great people and projects – the Jools Holland show is an obvious one, but John McGurgan’s Carousel gigs in the Black Box also made a huge impact on me, and made me want to create something equally magical. Working with/performing for Beat Carnival, Beyond Skin and Love Music, Hate Racism gave me a deep appreciation for how music and other arts can overcome divisions and bring communities together. I’ve also seen how such charities help people develop skills they didn’t know they had, and experience the sheer joy of being part of an artistic project.

So, the Sofa Sessions were in turn intended to inspire the audience to create, whether they’re already practising artists or are keen to get started. There’ve been singalongs and invitations for anyone with performer envy to jump up on stage and perform with the assembled musicians. They’re also meant to inspire collaborations and future projects – because as I began to meet many hugely-talented artists over the years, I kept being surprised at how disconnected some of the artistic groupings often were. I met a lot of musicians who were well-connected with other musicians, but not so much with artists, film-makers, writers etc.; likewise for the artists, film-makers, writers. Even within art forms there was often minimal crossover between genres or styles. I wanted to create opportunities for people working in different art forms to meet and experience each others’ work, and whilst I think this has been improving greatly over recent years (partly because of social media making it easier to find and connect with other artists), I’ve kept connection-making at the heart of the Sofa Sessions.

Jamie Harper's painting of Xavier Cardriche at Sofa Sessions #2

Chrisy McCullagh (Omagh) and Xavier Cardriche (NYC), who met when I paired them to perform at Sofa Sessions #2, recently played together in New York. Donal Scullion, who loved the screening of Ponydance’s Ormeau at Sofa Sessions #7, followed up by co-creating the fantastic Ponies Don’t Play Football with them. Soundman extraordinaire, Tim Bates, who did a stunning job at all of the Ulster Hall Sofa Sessions, went on to work with some of the performers. And Sofa Sessions #5 led Conor Scullion to invite Suzy Coyle and myself to create You, Me & the Sea – an adventure which has taken him and me to Finland (where he’s studying a Master’s in Music Therapy).

It’s wonderful to be back home and hosting another night of amazing talent; I’m trying to squeeze in as much as possible on the night, and as always there just won’t be enough time to include everyone I’d like to on the bill! However, there’ll be playalong/singalong opportunities so come on down for an auld jam. I’ll be announcing artists over coming days (keep an eye on the Sofa Sessions Facebook page and @soulambition Twitter feed) and am still programming for the event, so please do get in touch if you’re an artist with a story to tell about arts and wellbeing.

If you’re a charity working in individual or community wellbeing, I’ll be happy to give you display space on the night for your promotional materials. Mail me at tracy [at] soulambition [dot] com for more info. Likewise if you’d like to donate prizes to raffle on the night. Huge thanks so far to the Duncairn Centre for donating use of the venue, and to the artists already signed up for donating their time and talent to the cause. Thanks in advance to those of you still to get involved!

Date: Sun 23rd August
Time: 7:30pm (doors at 7pm)
Venue: Duncairn Arts Cultural Centre (Belfast)
No bar – bring your own
Fee: Donation-based (pay what you can afford)

Please spread the word (social media buttons on the left), and I hope to see you there!

Amazing Sofa Sessions event last Thursday. Loved the wonderful mixture of performers. An inspired concept. Can’t wait for the next one! Thank you.”

Congratulations once again for that evening. Without doubt one of the finest gigs I have ever been to. And not just for 2012.”

PS I’ll leave you with one of my favourite TED talks of all time:

[Images: A live painting of Xavier Cardriche by Jamie Harper, at Sofa Sessions #2; Magwere performing at Sofa Sessions #7, captured by Jonathan Ryder Photography]

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