Brighter Sound Project Manager Tim Chatterton gives an insight into the Swan Street Collective – an ensemble of young music-makers with additional needs.
For the last three years an evolving ensemble of young music-makers with additional needs from the Greater Manchester area has been meeting regularly at Band on the Wall (Brighter Sound HQ) to play, sing, create new music, record and perform. Under the musical direction of Kenton Mann from Music Unlimited and supported by Sam Yates (bass and electronics), Jote Osahn (violin and vocals) – and more recently Georgina Murray from Bolton Music Service (vocals and flute). The group meet on a Saturday afternoon over a six to eight week period to explore a variety of accessible acoustic instruments, electronic assistive technologies and vocal techniques to create music, socialise and have a great time in the process. The group comprises young people aged 14 to 21 – all of whom share a love of music and a determination and desire to play and perform as a group. They are a complete inspiration!
“always a delightful and humbling experience”
To make this happen, Brighter Sound has partnered with the Greater Manchester Music Hub (GMMH), the combined education authorities of Salford, Tameside, Stockport, Bolton, Oldham, Trafford, Wigan, Bury and Rochdale, to bring talented disabled young people together to explore and discover their musical potential and push the boundaries of possibility both instrumentally and vocally. Brighter Sound facilitate and manage the sessions at local music venue Band on the Wall on Swan Street (hence the name) in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. These culminate in a yearly performance at the Bridgewater Hall as part of the GMMH showcase performance – always a delightful and humbling experience for invited audiences and supporting musicians. This year was our third performance.
The focus of each weekly music session is to allow members of the group the freedom to explore the range of instruments and technologies on offer in carefully orchestrated ‘group jams’ out of which come new ideas that are gradually developed and structured into pieces of music over the weeks. These are sometimes arrangements of well known songs, loose group improvisations or group compositions and songs. The group often joyfully immerse themselves in playing over grooves that sometimes last for ten or fifteen minutes, before ending in mutual and spontaneous applause from participants and onlookers alike.
Supporting parents, carers, siblings and relatives who also often stay to listen to the sessions are an enthusiastic audience offering encouragement and the occasional helping hand when needed. The enjoyment, support and dedication to the collective shown by family and friends is a vital part of its survival and success. Apart from the obvious transport and wheelchair assistance they offer a much needed boost to confidence by their vocal and practical support and are on hand to advise facilitators on all sorts of individual issues and needs.
“Musical inclusion and accessibility is central to the Collective”
The use of assistive technology is playing an increasingly important part in how the members of the group access and create their music. The development of many new electronic instruments and software based apps that are adaptable to suit the needs of any musician has hugely increased the potential and scope of what is possible to the point that players with very limited movement can now contribute to a group session with far greater intent and precision. Instruments such as the Korg Kaossilator and iPad apps like ThumbJam have a wide range of synthesiser and acoustic instrumental sounds that can be played on any range of notes and using a touch screen instead of a keyboard.
Members of the group are all given opportunities to play on more conventional instruments such as keyboards, drums and various tuned and untuned percussion. They are encouraged to bring any instruments they already play; in the past, members have played a clarinet and guitar. Voice work and improving vocal skills is an integral part of every session with members learning microphone techniques and sometimes creating new lyrics for their songs. This year we have managed to include a new member who, although housebound, accesses the sessions via a remote video and audio link with the support of her family and Tameside percussionist Matt Robinson.
Musical inclusion and accessibility is central to the Collective which currently has a core membership of six young people with disabilities and four able-bodied musicians who accompany and support on the bass guitar, violin, voice and keyboard. Ultimately our goal is to increase the size of the group and try to remove those physical and cultural barriers and biases that isolate people with disabilities, providing an open platform that allows able-bodied and disabled musicians to work together creatively on equal terms. This goal is getting ever closer but there is still a long way to go and, no doubt, much more fun and exploration is to be had on the way to achieving it. We can’t wait for the next round of Swan Street Collective and to support its development long into the future.
If you’d like to find out more about the Swan Street Collective email firstname.lastname@example.org
Swan Street Collective is supported by Greater Manchester Music Education Hub and Youth Music using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.