Young People with Special Needs Making Music using Technologies

In what ways can the process of creating video inform future planning of research into the roll out of the OpenUpMusic’s “Open School Orchestras” programme across the nation in 2017-2020? 

Founded in 2011, the British paraorchestra – which at the time of this project had recently gained a home at in Bristol – became internationally known in 2012 when it performed as part of the Olympics closing ceremony. In 2013/14 OpenUpMusic established the first youth orchestras in the West country to provide SEN/Disabled young people with opportunities to play in school ensembles and to perform. Orchestra members were, and still are, introduced to a range of cutting edge assistive music technologies as well as more traditional instruments; combinations afford the young people the highest degree of agency and control. New musical instruments are even created through participatory design to enable those young musicians who would ordinarily have been excluded from this type of experience to take part, and in some cases take centre stage.

In the period 2017 – 2020, a staged release of the Open School Orchestras programme was planned which sought to support Music Education Hubs, arts organisations and schools across the UK to provide opportunities for young disabled people to learn a musical instrument; to make music with others; and to have the opportunity to progress to the next level of excellence. Seven Music Education Hubs were on-board to deliver their own Open School Orchestras from September 2017; the intention was for a national roll out of the programme from 2018.  

What did the project involve? 

This project was focused through the primary research question: In what ways can the process of creating video inform future planning of research into the roll out of the OpenUpMusic’s “Open School Orchestrasprogramme across the nation in 2017-2020? 

OpenUpMusic and the Music Education Council (MEC) were in complete alignment regarding values and important foci; the latter’s Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Working Group (SEND) 4 key strands were: 

  1. Building and promoting the evidence of the importance of such work; 
  2. Amplifying the youth voice; 
  3. Building relationships & partnerships; 
  4. Training the workforce. 

As such, the second research question was:  In what ways can the process of making a video of OpenUpMusic’s “Open School Orchestras” work in one Bristol school classroom, and the product itself, contribute to these key areas?

The project worked with Claremont School as a a significant number of the students involved in the “Open School Orchestras work were able to articulate their own opinions, thus offering a “youth voice” perspective to the project.  

In order to understand how the project could contribute to the 4 key broad areas related to music making for young people with special needs/disabilities (noted in section 1), the reserachers envisaged a specific process: 

a) OpenUpMusic directors and the school teacher came together to discuss what might best be created.  

b) School Music sessions were videoed. Immediately after each session, the school teacher reviewed the work with the children to explore what they felt was important to them. This also was videoed.

c) A broader group of people (members of the MEC SEND Working Group) met to view and discuss video footage and the young people’s views (from b above); a sound recording for transcription purposes was made.

e) On the basis of decisions made by young people and the broad adult group, the final video was constructed.

f) In its final form, the video was viewed by the young people and their parents and their thoughts on this was collected.

g) OpenUpMusic directors and Marina Gall disseminate the video and findings from iv) above. 

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Marina Gall (Education, University of Bristol) Is a researcher who has written substantially on young people’s use of music technology. Her main research focus is technology and music, teacher education, and creativity. Marina has been led teams in large-scale research projects focussing on technology, and on teacher education
  • Doug Bott & Barry Farrimond (OpenUpMusic) are co-directors of the charity OpenUpMusic, a charity that forms programmes to create inclusive conditions for young disabled people to play music. They form Open Orchestras which help special schools set up accessible orchestras, so that hundreds of young disabled people get first access to music education every year.
  • Stephen Newton (Claremont School) is an arts co-ordinator and teacher at the Claremont School for students with physical disabilities, complex needs and associated learning difficulties. He is highly experienced in working with young people with special needs, within Music and other school subjects. 
  • Fiona Pendreigh (Music Education Council) is the leader of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Working Group, she has a background in education and was also a specialist music advisor. 
  • Malcolm Clare after working as a teacher and leading teacher training in London, Mal Clare became a videomaker; he has created films for educational TV including for the BBC. 

What were the results?

The researchers sought to attain the following outcomes:

  1. A video of the teaching/ the young people’s work process at one school: Claremont School, Bristol.
  2. ‘Teacher notes’ on key features of the work / teaching & supporting student learning.
  3. Video footage of the young people discussing their work and reviewing this with their parents at the end of the project.
  4. Marina Gall’s review of major points arising from the video/collaborative work, and the implications for future research work. 

An exhibition, which included findings of the work was held at the University of Bristol on October 13th 2016.  This was also be an opportunity to view the new music technologies that the young people in this project were using to make music.