From SOAS to Bengal to Edinburgh: Music alum Sally Jaquet

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Sally Jaquet is a community musician, committed to showcasing just how vital music and the arts are in forging bonds, connections and maintaining social and emotional wellbeing. You can see her in action in this video with three mini music workshops here.

Sally completed the MA Music in Development at SOAS, having been inspired to do so by working for charities after her undergraduate degree. It was whilst working at Oxfam that Sally realised arts and creativity weren’t integrated into charity work. She saw how difficult topics could be made more understandable through art and music and was frustrated at the lack of emphasis on creativity in mainstream charitable activities.

‘Music and Development at SOAS was my dream course’, Sally explains. ‘It was just the best thing I’ve ever done.’ At SOAS, among a diverse group of students and lecturers who were all committed to looking at things globally, Sally was confronted with her privileges. ‘SOAS teaches you to be constantly critical. Even the lectures weren’t wholly academic – there was a human perspective to them. I was also able to get involved in so many extra-curricular activities, such as Cuban Big Band.’

‘During my MA, I was exposed to amazing music from all over the world’, says Sally. She even learned the Kora, something she would never had had the chance to do at another institution. ‘My lecturers were all so inspiring. There was not one lecture or seminar I left and though, “that was ok” – I came out of each one thinking “wow!”‘

After her MA, Sally worked for music charities including Pan Arts, before moving to Bengal for eight months. Here, she travelled around, getting involved in everything from the Rajasthan International Folk Festival and creating children’s programmes at the Jaipur Virisat Foundation, to organising an event in Bengal which connected the country’s poet laureate, Tagore, with Scottish poet Robert Burns. Bengali children all knew songs by Tagore, explained Sally – and being Scottish herself, she was amazed that many of Tagore’s songs were influenced by Robert Burns’ work, such as Auld Lang Syne. Sally’s collaborative project worked to connect both Scottish and Bengali musicians, and was a real highlight of her stay in India.

SOAS alum Sally Jaquet

Now, based in Edinburgh, Sally is a community musician, working in a variety of settings which encourage collaboration, bonding, and expression through arts and music. As well as being a Music and Arts tutor for homeless charity, Crisis, Sally is involved with a community garden project, facilitates a choir for people with Parkinson’s, called Singing4Fun, and works for the Edinburgh Love Music choir.

When asked about the value and importance of arts and music, Sally said: ‘Human beings need food and shelter to survive. But the things that make us human are art, music and being able to connect on a community level.’ Music, Sally explains, is so important for confidence and resilience – and in protest: ‘Recently, music has been used to convey experience, express emotion, and create systemic change around historical moments like the Black Lives Matter movement and Covid pandemic.’

There is then, a political side to music. One of the projects Sally has been involved in is ‘Music in Detention‘, where musicians go into detention centres and work with the people there to help them express themselves. ‘We also want to highlight what awful places detention centres are. We wouldn’t be allowed in there if we weren’t musicians – in a way, music gives us a vehicle to not only help these people, but also let society know what actually goes on in there.’

Employers were excited about hiring a SOAS graduate, Sally explained, ‘also, I made so many contacts and networked with so many organisations whilst at SOAS – it really made me stand out. It just opened up so many avenues – as well as teaching me musical ideas and techniques I wouldn’t have learned anywhere else. Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else – and I wouldn’t be where I am now without my degree.’

Sally Jaquet is running a series of Global Music for Kids’ workshops from 28 February – 2 March, aimed at children under 10.

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