The distinction between “access” and “inclusion” is simple but important. A ramped entrance ‘around the back’ for wheelchair users may be accessible, but if everyone else uses the stepped front entrance it isn’t inclusive. This was essentially my experience of practical music lessons in secondary school. The music room was upstairs and there was no lift. The school placed a keyboard in a downstairs back room and me and a ‘partner’ would be left with instructions to practice for the hour. Naturally, left to our devices, my chosen partner (one of my friends) and I ignored the instructions, played on tamagotchis and ate Quavers. I had access to an instrument, but experience of musical education was hardly inclusive. It was partly for this reason that, back in February, we selected OHMI for a grant.
The OHMI Trust pioneers the use and development of instruments which can be played with one hand. The R&D side involves an international competition to design suitable instruments which accurately emulate a traditional instrument. But, these instruments were born to be played! The team secured the funding to run a teaching pilot this year which enabled 15 disabled children in Birmingham to attend lessons and learn to play the instruments.
I was lucky enough to attend their performance on Saturday at Birmingham City University along with lots of proud families and teachers. The young musicians from local primary schools treated us to renditions of familiar tunes (including “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”) and some of their own compositions, in groups and solo performances.
I enjoyed chatting to founder, Dr Stephen Hetherington, and general manager, Rachel Wolffsohn, about how far the Trust has come and what’s next. Locally, a grant from The Wisdom Factory CIC this year will help build on the pilot programme by supporting a weekly ensemble group for a whole term by funding the teachers and vital accessible transport. Strategically, the Trust is continuing the R&D competition and is working hard to demonstrate to local authorities that musical education is far from inclusive in the mainstream. It’s not just the instruments that are needed, but teachers to facilitate learning, accessible performance spaces and accessible transport.
Several OHMI team members are in the new Channel 4 Paralympic advert, which is a celebration of performance by talented disabled people in music, dance and sport. The ad’s theme, Sammy Davis Jr’s “Yes I can,” aptly echoes OHMI’s mission to provide a framework for removing barriers, facilitating aspiration and encouraging self belief.