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20 years of Drake Music: Bringing disabled musicians centre stage

Drake Music

For the last 20 years, Drake Music Scotland's vision has been to transform people’s lives through the power of music.

As one of Creative Scotland's Regularly Funded Organisations for 2018-21, Drake plays a lead role in making Scotland a place where ground-breaking new music featuring skilled musicians and composers with disabilities comes alive for everyone. 

Now, the organisation has big plans to celebrate its anniversary. On Friday 4th May, Drake will host a symposium, bringing together disabled composers, music leaders and musicians to talk about how their careers in music have developed.

On the bill are composers such as Sonia Allori, Kris Halpin and Ben Lunn, musicians such as Clare Johnstone, Mary Bell and Mathias Halvorsen, and campaigners such as Neil Patterson and David Martin Nicholson (Neil heads up our #LetMeONStage campaign, and David recently held an event at Scottish Parliament to celebrate and promote disabled persons music).

As Director Thursa Sanderson explains, "the day will include discussion time with delegates to look at how to create better training and work opportunities for disabled musicians in future".

Following on from the symposium, on Saturday 5th May, Drake's Centre Stage concert takes place at Queen's Hall in Edinburgh, featuring bands, soloists, and of course - the fantastic Digital Orchestra: Drake's groundbreaking digital ensemble of young disabled musicians.

We hope to raise public awareness of the great music that disabled people make, and get it heard much more widely- Thursa Sanderson, Drake Music Scotland

The orchestra is recently back from Singapore, where they played to over 10,000 people across three nights in March, at the True Colours Festival of Disabled Artistes (tour supported by Creative Scotland).  

Other performers include Equilibrium: a folk-inspired group that combines digital technology with traditional Scottish instruments; the iPad Ensemble with Clare Johnstone, one of Drake's current Talent Development composers; Liveheart, The Varifocals, Audability, and a wide range of soloists.

The concert is a key way of sharing Drake's work with a wide audience, but over the last 20 years, there have been a lot of highlights.

"Digital Orchestra's trip to Singapore is obviously a big highlight," Thursa says, "and we hope this will lead on to other international performances, possibly Helsinki - and even Japan in 2020!

"The Digital Orchestra performed at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in 2016, just after we hosted delegates from our sector from 18 countries at the International Society for Music Education conference in Edinburgh.

"Our collaborations with Sir James MacMillan's Cumnock Tryst have also been memorable, involving children with additional support needs from the local special schools in projects led by our amazing Associate Musician Matilda Brown, which won a Scottish New Music Award for Best Community Project this year.

Equilibrium's appearances at Celtic Connections, Sonia Allori's Lost & Found at Eden Court with people from the Inverness area who have experienced having a stroke; The Proclaimers coming to open our MusicSPACE studio; signing our agreement with our Finnish partners from Resonaari Music School in 2010 to create Figurenotes software ... and much more!"

Thursa explains that Drake's work has always been rooted in accessibility. "Adele Drake came up with the idea of harnessing accessible computing technology for music making," she says. "In the beginning, the idea was very focused on physically disabled musicians who could not play conventional instruments. The technology at that time included Soundbeam and switches, a movement sensor, much later versions of which we still use now.

"We still maintain this approach - looking at the needs of each disabled individual, who of course are very different, and finding the best solution for each so that they have as much control of their instrument (technology) in the same way as other musicians. This means they could play with expression and develop their skills just as their peers do on normal instruments."

As the organisation and its work continues to grow, Thursa says that "Scotland should be proud of this pioneering work.

"The Digital Orchestra is the first in the world, which is why we were so pleased to take it to Singapore where there was a huge amount of interest in how we developed this way of working with disabled musicians and our whole inclusive approach.  And they are not the only ones.  

"We have been talking to other people in our sector in different countries for some time now, and know that we have a good model, but that it also takes time for these things to develop.

"We would like Scotland to be the first country where music education and opportunities for disabled people to participate fully in artistic and cultural life are just an accepted, expected part of their lives. Our country is so enriched by diverse voices and perspectives from across all parts of society, and we are determined to make it possible for more and more disabled people to actively participate on an equal footing with their peers."

With the Regular Funding from Creative Scotland, the team at Drake are keen to continue their good work.

"We are putting the emphasis even more firmly on supporting the training and career development of disabled musicians, music creators, composers and performers," Thursa says. "We aim to work with partners in the arts -  not just in Scotland - but across the UK- for example, as a member of the PRS for Music Talent Development Network.

"We hope to raise public awareness of the great music that disabled people make, and get it heard much more widely."

This article was published on 30 Apr 2018