Drake Music: breaking down disabling barriers to music

Drake Music: breaking down disabling barriers to music

New Disability Horizons contributor, Carien Meijer, CEO of a dynamic music and technology hub, Drake Music, tells us how the organisation works to break down physical and social barriers using assistive music technology that enables disabled people to express themselves through music.

Our focus at Drake Music is on nurturing creativity through exploring music and technology in imaginative ways. We put quality music-making at the heart of everything we do, connecting disabled and non-disabled people locally, nationally and internationally.

Our programmes are currently being delivered primarily in Bristol and the South West, Manchester and the North West, and London and the South East. We are also branching out beyond these areas; specifically into the North East, Yorkshire and Wales – initially with our schools based projects and the delivery of training and consultancy.

Non-disabled people can make music in many ways and at many different levels – our vision is a world where disabled musicians have this same range of opportunities.

We promote a culture of integrated music-making, where disabled and non-disabled musicians work together as equals. We are passionately committed to our belief that everyone can fulfil their creative and musical potential given the right opportunities. Our performances, research, consultancy and training activities all focus on the removal of disabling barriers and widening our reach to get more disabled people, of all ages, involved in music.

Assistive music technology

Since 1988 we have pioneered the use of assistive music technology (AMT) to make music accessible. AMT is a broad term for technology that provides access to music making. Examples of AMT include a computer running Clicker 5, a switch (a large accessible button that can be connected to a computer) or an angle arm that enables an instrument to be mounted onto a wheelchair within easy reach of the student.

Accessible music education

At the end of 2011 we launched ‘Introduction to Music’ – a new accessible music course available from Drake Music and OCNSWR (Open College Network South West Region). The course can be accredited at Entry Level, Level 1 and Level 2 and is designed to be fully inclusive, enabling disabled and non-disabled students to work together. The course combines practical performing and composing activities with learning and assessment resources for Clicker 5 software, which is physically accessible to almost any student.

Drake music | Accessible music for disabled people

We piloted it with student Bradley Warwick, who, like many teenagers his age is passionate about music. In 2010 he became the first student to pilot Drake Music’s Introduction to Music course, achieving a Level 1 pass for all four units. Bradley’s success is especially significant because he has cerebral palsy and uses an electronic Voice Output Communication Aid to speak. Historically, very few students who face such disabling barriers to music have had access to a formal music education; fewer still have achieved an accredited outcome.

The key to success with the Introduction to Music course is that it comes with a comprehensive set of accessible learning and assessment resources, created by our team at Drake Music. Bradley has no significant learning difficulties, so by using the Clicker 5 resources to learn as well as Assistive Music Technology to perform and compose, he was able to access every aspect of the course at Level 1.

Bradley used two switches to control the Clicker 5 on his computer, independently learning about key musical concepts, watching films and listening to audio clips. He also completed a range of assessment tasks using Clicker without adult intervention.

Bradley’s main musical instrument for performing was an MIDI Creator and a sensor that he plays using his head. This enables him to play pre-determined musical scales on any instrument sound he chooses. He also uses switches to both trigger sounds and control expression effects like vibrato. Bradley composes music using the computer programme Sibelius 5 software via The Grid 2, a voice output communication aid.

Other Drake Music education initiatives include a nationwide consultation in 2011 into disabling barriers to formal music education – the findings were published in March 2012. Drake Music is currently looking at entering into partnership with a number of music hubs across the country. This will put accessibility and progression in music at the heart of music education, so we’re very excited about this. After many years of research, writing and influencing, we can see the landscape of music education changing significantly in relation to the removal of disabling barriers through increasing opportunities for teachers both to broaden their perspective, and gain more access to information and resources.

New commissions

Creating new work is at the heart of what we do and we have commissioned some talented contemporary artists to work in a variety of ways. Our recent commissions include a piece called Distant Interiors. This was created during March/April 2011 by three artists investigating translation and interpretation via remote collaboration, i.e creating music together while being apart. Melanie Clifford, Ailís Ní Ríain and Rebecca Key communicated via email, file-sharing and through the DMIT blog.

Young DM is an exciting new platform where young people can showcase their own work and ideas, discuss their passions or simply meet others online who have an interest in music, technology and art. Young DMs can create a profile upload their own music, discuss ideas, find out about Drake Music workshops in their area or just hook up creatively with other young people.

From this brief introduction, you can see that although we’re a small organisation we have big ambitions, and we see the next couple of years building on the work we have undertaken and increasing our reach. Technology is providing opportunities for us to find new ways to both make music and collaborate and increasingly to share resources.

Please do look at our website if you’re interested in finding out more, making music and opening up creative opportunities for yourself, a family member or friends. We have many free resources available from our website and you can also experience some wonderful performances. We think there is something there for any reader who is interested in music to get involved in. We’d love to hear from you.

By Carien Meijer

Check out our Arts and Culture section for more articles like this, including iPad art from disabled artist Jason Wilshire-Mills and dance company Subtle Kraft bringing disability and dance together.

Let us know about your involvement with arts and music by emailing us at editor@97c.026.myftpupload.com, joining us on Twitter and Facebook, or commenting below.

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