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Blog: An Open Conversation - The Future of Inclusive Ensembles

Posted on 16 March 2020

Blog: An Open Conversation - The Future of Inclusive Ensembles

Organisations and artists gathered for the second event in our Open Conversation series to talk about future developments for inclusive ensembles and orchestras. The event was connected to a performance by our inclusive ensemble RNS Moves, which brings together musicians with and without disabilities, including members of Royal Northern Sinfonia. Click here to find out more about RNS Moves.

We were joined by key players from the sector including ParaOrchestra, ShareMusic & Performing Arts Sweden, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Drake Music Scotland, Open Orchestras, Arts Council England, the Royal Irish Academy of Music and Candoco as well as several composers and musicians.

Attendees gave snapshots of their work to spark discussion in the areas of creative development and innovation, audiences and international work, and artist development. Here were some of the takeaways:

Inclusion is not a project

The new motto of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. They found that using the social model of disability as a core value of your company can change how you look at all of your work, and this change takes time. Their biggest lesson was ‘don’t talk yourself out of doing it’

Create a safe space for music making

Examples included using timecode, so music is measured in minutes and seconds rather than crotchets and quavers; using musical notation to level the playing field while still encouraging precision in playing; and finding a comfortable approach somewhere between the formal orchestral tradition and the freedom of the avant-garde.

Develop and showcase disabled composers too

There have only been three classical concerts in the UK with repertoire exclusively by disabled composers, so their work may not get mainstream exposure otherwise. Commissioned pieces should be allowed time to evolve and be shared with other ensembles for repeat performances.

Consider being culturally inclusive

The Setubal Youth Ensemble in Portugal is not tied solely to the Western classical tradition and incorporates young disabled musicians from a range of backgrounds and musical traditions.

Learning from your mistakes

Some organisations’ work is more mature than others, but we have all been learning through our mistakes. That process is also essential to the many disabled artists using new technology in their performances – how do you learn an instrument when there is no-one to teach you? Reflective practice is a vital tool for this.

Excellence breeds excellence

The Royal Irish Academy of Music has been working to address worries that inclusivity will impact on quality, and is encouraging teachers to move away from the ladder of skills such as scales and arpeggios. Music is timing, expression and colour, and excellence in the learning experience can develop excellent work.

The realities of touring

We are not fully preparing young disabled musicians for the challenges they will face by always providing fully accessible opportunities – we need to have honest conversations with them. Often, by the time disabled artists arrive at the venue they have used up half their energy for the day, which affects their performance. Maybe we could use technology to mitigate this with remote participation in rehearsals and concerts?

Accessibility is honesty

Don’t forget audience accessibility: the best approach is to be honest with people about what they need to traverse in order to get into the performance space so they can make an informed decision about whether to attend. Accessibility can also be used as a creative tool.

Working internationally is tough but rewarding

You need to be incredibly dedicated to the wellbeing of artists and staff for touring inclusive ensembles to be viable, and it can be high risk with no profit at first, but it builds credibility for the ensemble and shows that the UK is leading the way. High quality performances will sell themselves and ultimately change public perceptions.

Provocations for future work:
  • What happens next for musicians taking part in our training & opportunities? We need to focus on pathways and signposting artists to each other.
  • What would a fully inclusive conservatoire look like?
  • How do we ensure diverse music leaders are running our programmes?
  • Young musicians are protected from failure, so how do we make them aware of the challenges in the real world?
  • How can we build on this gathering in future? Who else needs to be in the room, or attend remotely?
  • We are at risk of preaching to the choir – how do we get our messages out into mainstream networks and make sure we’re not being exclusive?

The Open Conversation was illustrated by Crayonce, watch the time-lapse below to see the discussion that took place. 

The finished illustration