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Sound Connections from Drake Music’s ‘We All Make Music’ Festival

This piece has been written by Sound Connections Programme Assistant, Katie Whitbourn

The Drake Music conference, ‘We All Make Music’ took place on Friday 9 March 2018 at Amnesty International in London. Drake Music are leaders in music, disability & technology, and this festival was a day where they shared their brilliant practice and inspired attendees to become change-makers.

The day started by setting the context for music education and disability which concluded with the point that “it should not be the job of the disabled person to highlight their own injustice – it should be a shared responsibility”. We were told about what was currently happening in music education and what needs to change, such as the state of music in special schools where there is significant room for growth. Also outlined was the medical model of disability versus the social model of disability. The social model suggests that disability is caused by the way society is organised rather than (as the medical model would suggest) the person’s impairment. It is therefore our job to look into the ways we can remove the barriers that have been built in society over time. This message of breaking down barriers and creating accessible opportunities really underpinned the day. At the end of the first talk we were left with the question: what small action can I take to be someone’s change-maker? The idea being that everyone has a part to play in creating change, no matter how small.

The breaking of barriers to music, and how this can be done, was really highlighted by John Kelly’s brilliant performance of ‘We Don’t Fit in a Box’. John is a musician and active campaigner for disability rights, who worked with Drake Music to develop his instrument the ‘Kellycaster’, which was developed for his specific needs. The song very much became the anthem of the day, everyone joining in with the chorus, singing ‘let my music speak for me’ and playing together in an ensemble with the instruments and technologies learnt in the workshops.

The morning workshops included learning about and how to use thumbjam, touchboards, how to make the most of iPads and going from traditional instruments to tech. In the latter workshop we were shown the range of instruments and techniques that could be used in various group settings and how technologies could be incorporated and developed to make them more accessible for people with disabilities. The afternoon workshops included new approaches to peripatetic music teaching, accreditation and progression in music making, Drake Music’s R&D work and the DM Labs. DM Labs were created to bring tech experts and disabled musicians together to create new instruments. We were shown some really inspiring examples including a presentation from Steve Varden who created the fabulously named “eco-powered, electric wheelchair, electronica, one-man band”. In his presentation he explained how he used a variety of basic materials and tech to restructure a wheelchair, so he could perform his music.

The day ended with commitments and questions from the audience.  Each attendee wrote a commitment they would make as a result of the day and read it aloud as ‘We Don’t Fit in a Box’ played alongside. My own pledge was to encourage and advocate for inclusive and accessible music practices. This created a real feeling of the collaborative nature of the event, everyone together, a movement to create change. This lead onto thinking about the next steps beyond the conference; what needs to be done to put this thinking and these values into the mainstream? What can we do as organisations and as individuals?

In 2017, Sound Connections committed to becoming an Attitude Champion. An Attitude Champion is an organisation that champions accessible practices, internally and to all partners, ensuring that events are as accessible and as inclusive as possible and that Deaf and disabled participants know what to expect. As an Attitude champion, Sound Connections will strive to go beyond the legal obligations of the Equality Act and implement best practice.



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