Current Work (2007)
Over the years, Drake Music has worked in highly innovative collaborations with a range of cutting edge disabled musicians including Lyn Levett, Mark Rowland, Steve Knight and Catherine Long. It has also engaged in pioneering work both in the use and development of assistive music technology such as soundbeam, which allows you to play an instrument without the use of touch, and E-Scape, which opens up a range of possibilities for using computers to make music independently. The Drake Music website is full of information about software and hardware which facilitates composition and performance by disabled musicians.
[There has been some criticism within the disability arts sector about the lack of input from disabled artists in terms of running the project. This is being taken on board by the new director Carien Meijer who is currently leading a phase of organisational redevelopment.
What does Drake Music currently offer?
The project is primarily about broadening opportunities for people to develop as musicians. We currently work in London, Bristol, Manchester and Milton Keynes. (There are independent sister projects in Scotland and Ireland.)
Drake Music is about offering opportunities to people of all ages who want to learn to play an instrument either through new technology or through other means. This can be because they just enjoy it and see it primarily as a social activity or because they want to become professional and work within the music industry. This can be done either in a formal or informal educational environment.
Drake Music has been going through a period of change. We are in the process of clearly setting out our artistic vision and what it means to progress musically. Currently, we have: a team in Bristol who work with children and young people; in London we tend to work with adult musicians on a one-to-one basis in our small accessible music studio; the project in Milton Keynes concentrates on ensemble work and in our Manchester region we work with adult groups and schools. In the future we would like to broaden the range of opportunities available in each region through courses, workshops, summer schools, showcases, and commissions.
The most important thing is that people can see that, regardless of disability, you can be a musician. Some of the musicians, who worked with Drake Music over a number of years, have given us feedback that we haven't emphasised their musicianship enough and have put too much emphasis on their disability. This criticism includes how people have been portrayed and this is one of the issues we intend to address in the short and long term.
Tongue and Groove
I asked musicians from the Tongue and Groove project for feedback on their experience of working with Drake Music.
"I had a busy job at the Open University working in Health & Social Welfare before I had my brain injury 10 years ago. I used to like singing in the OU Choir, and helping children learn to play recorder at the local school. I started with Drake Music about 5 years ago." "I enjoy being involved with Drake Music. I worry about getting things wrong, but it is useful to be with other people who can help you learn different ways of doing things. I hope to learn more, including how to play without worrying about getting things wrong, how to relax and enjoy being a member of a musical group."
"I was born with cerebral palsy. I am not able to walk and I have a limited use of my hands. I don't see the condition I am in as a disability but an opportunity to learn to see life from a different aspect. I have more time to think. Among my interests […] is the computer. It provides me with the tool that enables me to write, connect with people remotely, create graphics and compose music."
"You can read more about my involvement with Drake Music on the website."
"I really enjoy taking part in our weekly sessions! Even the performances we give to the public reward me with a great feeling of achievement, when I have played my keyboard in the right key and in time with the other members of our band. We call ourselves Tongue and Groove. We are so lucky to be helped and taught by such experienced and patient tone deaf tutors (Just joking there)!"
"You try producing music by licking a plastic set of plastic, black and white strips. It makes it very difficult for your eyes, and your tongue gets very dry and it begins to stick to the keys and gets sore after awhile. Some keyboards have sharp edges and that can be painful! When I was performing in Cuba, it was so hot playing under the stage lights; my sweat got into my eyes and onto the keys. Everything was a blur. But the performance was a great success. As the members of the audience were leaving the ramshackle theatre a few of them were interviewed on camera to record the reaction, they were very impressed to see English dance the Cuban way and never seen an English person, play Salsa, in an own composition by tongue. Drake Music has helped me to discover and use an ability to communicate with anyone, in any country, in any language, through music."
Sylvia and Steve Gardiner
Sylvia joined Drake Music about seven years ago through a workshop, and she has played at the Millennium Dome with Jools Holland.
"I, Steve, joined the band about three year ago, when I went alone just to see if I could keep in time with the music, and was surprised to find that I was better than I thought and I enjoyed it."
"Since January 2002 we, along with our tutors at Drake Music in Milton Keynes, have been using E-Scape, a computer program, as our main performance tool. It has given us the ability to play music as equals alongside other musicians, with the help of this technology." "The Milton Keynes Community Foundation has funded us for the last five years. In 2005 along with Drake Music they gave us the funds to make our own CD, which is called Note 4 Note and so Tongue and Groove was born. We have also performed at the Northampton balloon festival, staged our own concerts at The Stables in Milton Keynes and The Castle Theatre in Wellingborough, where we promoted our debut CD." "We would not have been able to do any of these things without the help of our tutors, Drake Music and funding from The Milton Keynes Community Foundation." "Our aim is to meet other musicians, perform with them as equals and to help the next generation of disabled musicians achieve their potential."
Do you have disabled people working in the organisation?
Yes we do but not enough. Our strategic plan is set to address this as a critical objective. It's not right that the majority of our workforce, management and governance are non-disabled people. This is not about political correctness but we believe that there is something wrong if we have a team of primarily non-disabled people working with disabled musicians.
Are any of the Drake Music tutors disabled?
Yes, but only a few and this has been flagged up by a wide range of people both internally and externally and needs to be addressed urgently.
What should we be looking out for over the next 12 months?
In the short term, we will be making great efforts to diversify the workforce with more disabled people involved in the governance and development of the organisation. Funding permitting, we plan to commission new work. This hasn't happened in the last couple of years. We are particularly interested in bringing artists together both disabled and non-disabled, thus bringing together different backgrounds, practices and creative processes.
There is a lot of work currently going on but not very high profile. In Milton Keynes, Tongue and Groove have established themselves as an ensemble of six musicians who perform in different places; they released their first CD, Note 4 Note, in March 2006. In Bristol and the South West, we are working with 7 different schools. London has a small accessible music studio and lot work with adults. Manchester works regularly with the Stockport CP Society and is also about to start the Music Engine project which is open to all disabled adults in the region. In future, we hope to develop work with a far wider range of artists and organisations.
Anybody interested can come to us and discuss their ideas and find out how we could work with them. Informal discussions are really important and we are always open to new ideas.