The Share Music project pairs disabled people with musicians and helpers to enable them to collaborate in workshops and perform together, as Giles Dawson discovered.
Jamie Todd has written a piece for solo flute. He has done it with his left knee and foot and the help of computer software called Cakewalk Express. Jamie, who is 27, wheelchair-bound and unable to speak, can only be a composer thanks to a project called Share Music. His guides and helpers are professional musicians, who come for a week to run the courses, and young non-disabled people, each of whom is assigned to one of the disabled course members.
One of the most committed professionals on the books of Share Music is Mary King, an opera and concert singer whose London performances have taken place in the Royal Opera House and Wandsworth Prison - among many other venues. Before she started at the Guildhall School of Music, Mary had taught in a comprehensive and feels deeply involved in education and inclusion for everyone in cultural activities. As well as leading at least one Share Music course each year, she is a member of the management board of the Orpheus Centre, which organises the courses. Teachers can arrange for Orpheus performers to visit their school, or contact the organisers to discuss outreach workshops.
It is an absorbing experience watching Mary and her two colleagues, instrumentalist Michael Copley and movement tutor Annie Gargya, working with Jamie and his fellow course members. The key concept, the point from which this course began, is communication. Not all the disabled members are wheelchair users like Jamie but, whatever their disability, they are encouraged and supported in doing whatever they can physically.
It takes quite a lot of time and patience to get everyone organised. Not all participants have equally good recall of what happened at the last session, so picking up where they left off is not straightforward. Mary, Annie and Michael need to know beforehand what the difficulties are likely to be so they can accommodate them. Everyone has an instrument to play as part of a "meeting a friend" session. For the most disabled, it can be a major achievement to retain a small cymbal or tambourine in the hand and get some music out of it.
Later on, the group breaks up into smaller unitsto develop and rehearse duets and trios. Until he had both hips replaced last year, Angus, in his early twenties, was confined to a wheelchair by severe arthritis. He still has problems with other joints but, in the context of Share Music, he is capable of helping to devise and perform in a short dance piece about the dynamics of a relationship. To the accompaniment of Debussy's Syrinx, Angus and student dancer Jenny create something compelling and very watchable. Annie and Mary are there to encourage and bounce ideas off. "When you think it is right," says Mary, "you go!" In another studio, Michael is taking a chamber group through a folk song arrangement he has made for the course. As with the dance, there is a real atmosphere of inclusion and empowerment for people who for too long have been considered as having little to contribute to artistic life.
Over in the restaurant, as Jamie scrolls through his new flute piece, hearing a synthesised rendition as he goes, his pleasure and sense of fulfilment are plain for all to see. He will be even more pleased when the audience at the culminating show hears the official world premi re.
* ORPHEUS CENTRE
SHARE Music was founded in 1985 by Dr Michael Swallow with the aim of giving young disabled and non-disabled people the chance to collaborate in a workshop situation and put on a show together. More recently, Richard Stilgoe has picked up Dr Swallow's idea and extended it to run courses all over the United Kingdom and at the Orpheus Centre in Godstone, Surrey, which Mr Stilgoe started in the mid-1990s. Since April 1999, the centre has been home to seven disabled apprentices (there is room for 10) who will stay for an average of three years, learning performing arts and life skills. Plans are under way to extend the accommodation at the centre to cater for a further 11 apprentices. Michael Foster, in charge of fundraising and marketing, hopes to see the new block in use by September 2001. John Kelly, programme co-ordinator for the apprentices, would like to hear from people willing to be involved with the centre as volunteers. Share Music courses (seven days, six nights) cost pound;375 all-inclusive.
The Orpheus Centre, North Park Lane, Godstone, Surrey RH9 8ND. Tel: 01883 744664. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. www.orpheus.org.uk