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Rachel Starritt

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Rachel starritt playing the piano

Rachel Starritt feels supported by her friends in RNS Moves. The environment is encouraging. She is constantly learning and has overcome obstacles by working methodically.

“RNS Moves is a steppingstone to working and communicating with other people,” she says. “It stands me in good stead for the rest of my life in whatever I do.”

Rachel is visually impaired and has Asperger’s syndrome. Her in-depth interest in music allows a place for her to be creative and feel happy with like-minded people.

“Social situations and interacting with people can be challenging. Working with others is difficult, but I have developed strategies,” says Rachel.

Hearing the piano for the first time as a child in her school assembly stirred something special.

“I didn’t know what it was, but it intrigued me so much, especially when I heard hymns,” she says. “I knew I wanted to play the piano for the rest of my life.”

When Rachel was ten, she joined the junior department of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama; she is now studying at a postgraduate level there. Learning from a patient tutor instilled confidence in Rachel and inspired her to pursue music.

“I studied with a teacher at the Conservatoire who understood my learning style and needs and helped me express myself,” she says.

Tim Burke [Chorus Director, Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia] directed Rachel in The Lost Thing: a collaboration of disabled and non-disabled performers held at Linbury Studio Theatre in London. An introduction to Helen Blythe [Senior Producer, Royal Northern Sinfonia and Classical Music Programme] informed Rachel of RNS Moves.

“I worked with the Paraochestra previously, and I got involved with RNS Moves after the pandemic,” she says. “Clarence Adoo [Original RNS Moves member] decided to form an ensemble with disabilities, and I was familiar with some of the musicians involved.”

“I thought it would help my self-confidence to work with people who I respect,” Rachel says. “Because of my Asperger’s, I need to create with others as I could end up playing my instrument well but not developing skills to collaborate,” she says.

In 2021, Rachel’s colleague James Risdon delivered a thought-provoking workshop on memory use which motivated Rachel to look at her piano technique. Memorising music is now easier for Rachel as she has gained strategies.

“Improvisation as a soloist is hard to do. I took what I learnt about improvising in an ensemble and applied it to my music,” she says. “I spotted my weaknesses and turned them into strengths.”

“I have experienced playing with other instruments that work differently from my piano,” she says. “I adjusted techniques learnt in lessons to interpret music in a new way. We all connect. ”

RNS Moves presents classical music not always from a score and allows technology and traditional instruments to come together. Genres mix, and there is newfound freedom, where there is space to add an unwritten note or explore a different groove.

“Your instrument needs to unlock what you can be, and you need to connect with it,” says Rachel. “Pianists have big souls; they want to let go. Some directors don’t always allow that, they focus too much on the score,” she says.

The ensemble continues to push through barriers and create a network of supporters. Rachel wants people to be familiar with RNS Moves and to make more connections.

“We’re on the right path. We have concerts and projects lined up with composers and groups and are going to different places around the country,” says Rachel.

“We may be an ensemble first, but we grew into a community.”