Hello and welcome to my new website and my first ever blog post. I hope that you find the content thought provoking. Please feel free to get in contact with any thoughts, comments or constructive criticism!
As a conductor living in lockdown, I was forced to stop conducting in March, and once I came to terms with the reality of not being able to make music for the see-able future, I decided to take stock and think. As someone who relies on working with other people to make music, I have found this to be a humbling experience and I will never take for granted that moment when you give the up-beat, and off we go.
The last time I actually gave the ‘up-beat’ was with Manchester Camerata in an all French programme at Withernsea High School. Manchester Camerata do incredible work right in the heart of communities and this concert (supported by Classically Yours) was attended by members of the local primary and secondary schools, plus local care home residents. The best bit was that we all performed together! I remember driving back down the M62 feeling good about life. The experience certainly made an impression on me and I have learnt a great deal about people through these projects.
How can music help us achieve equality?
Before lockdown was a reality, NEW Sinfonia were awarded our first large Arts Council of Wales grant for our ‘Great Sound Exhibition’. Central to this is a partnership with Disability Arts Cymru to develop a disabled musicians network for 17-32 year olds. We were set the challenge of raising £3000 to kick start the project. I must admit this felt like an impossible task when everyone appeared to be looking in, but I have been overwhelmed by the response. In times of crisis people actually look out and help. Generous sponsorship from the Carne Trust and our loyal audience saw us on our way, and then we actually brought in a new partner with Wrexham - Can do who are excited to jump aboard and make this target a reality.
The best bit of advice I have ever been given is listen, just listen to what people are saying, and to what are they not saying…
Lowri at Disabilty Arts Cymru is an amazing colleague and has opened my mind to the countless barriers people with disability face which stop them participating and benefitting from the arts. If you are not familiar with the social model of disability, I highly recommend a visit to their website here. To summarise:
“The model says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference”.
I was born 70% deaf and learnt to lip read to get through school. I remember watching films as a youngster and “seeing” amazing films, but not really catching what was said. I didn’t hear the birds until I was four after an operation. I remember playing the piano and not really hearing the notes, but feeling the sound through my fingers. It was a different sensation for me. Thankfully, through various operations, medication and growing, my tubes opened and I gradually had my hearing return. Lucky - considering my choice of career! But I only divulge this to give an insight as to why this work is personal to me. If you take a moment, and just think about what these barriers could be in music, the list can get quite long. Disabled people deserve equality and we need to change our attitudes and structures to remove these barriers.
So throughout April and May, I have been reaching out to dozens of amazing people and organisations who do inspiring work and our project is richer for partnering with these organisations, driving towards everyone having their voice heard and singing in harmony.
A summary of our key steps include:
We are holding Q&A sessions online to promote positive role models. (We hope to announce these officially very soon!)
Listening to the people and organisations we want to work with and what they want is key.
We are exploring the possibility of using VR/AR technology and build a user friendly app for realtime performance with no lag like Zoom. This would allow for performances/workshops in schools, care homes and hospitals whilst musicians are unable to go live. I want those most vulnerable and our elderly in homes and hospices to feel integrated and involved in music.
Yes, we can all see division and inequality: but to quote Jo Cox “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.” We need to work together: if classical music and our leading organisations can be more humble and genuinely listen to the people of our communities, we will open the door to them encourage them to step into our world. I hope our project will be a small step into that world.
It remains to be seen which ‘budgets’ will be cut as a result of Covid-19. It looks to get worse in the arts before it gets better. But I dream of a world where success is not just measured financially or by quantity - but empowering people to pursue and achieve success on their own terms no matter where you come from or who you are.
By working together, music can be as rich our communities. Covid-19 has caused the world to change – yet the inequalities it has exposed means we face big challenges and I want to try and do something positive through music.
RG June 2020