This year, UK Disability History Month is themed around music.
To celebrate we are sharing guest posts from disabled musicians, sound artists, producers and more. We asked people to respond to the provocation: “How does being a disabled artist/musician influence your creative process? Indeed… does it?”
In our third post we hear from Robyn Steward, one of our Emergent commission winners for 2018.
I have always been interested in music, I got my first keyboard when I was about 8 which I loved, however my cerebral palsy means I really struggle to use my left side and therefore 2 handed instruments with any control.
I started playing the cornet ( smaller version of the trumpet) at around the same time, this had a huge advantage of using just the right side of my body, and this worked really well for me.
However my school music lessons did not seem to translate to the trumpet, everything was 2 handed and required you to read music ( I have since learnt that I had underestimated the effect of my nystagmus (eyes constantly moving up and down), and so anything with lines is going to confuse my eyes.
I also was aware that I wasn’t interested in pop music really. It was sometimes escapism, but it wasn’t any more than that. As I grew older I got interested in bands like The Velvet Underground , and Portishead.
Cornets and trumpets can only play 1 note at a time , and are usually taught in a classical way which involves reading music. I was struggling with the reading, but when I started going to a beginners big band I got taught how to learn scales by ear ( meaning not using written music).
A few of us from the course went to a gig in Brixton and saw Spaceheads, a duo of trumpet and drums. Andy Diagram (Spaceheads’ trumpeter) plays trumpet through guitar pedals. Specifically, a loop pedal which allows you to record live layers of yourself.
A light bulb went on! I saw the connection to the music I had been listening to and how I could play music like that with my trumpet.
So the next challenge was to learn about the technology behind this.
To begin with I used a digital guitar effects board in Logic X ( music software), but I found this didn’t work in a live environment so I decided to take the plunge and try the real thing.
One of the first things I learnt was there weren’t many disabled role models who were also female and played the trumpet ( I don’t think I found one). I learnt what I know through watching youtube videos having the occasional lesson with people who did it , and then experimenting.
So my entire sound is informed by my disability limitations, but it offers me a lot of drive to try and refine my setup so that it is as lightweight (to aggravate my fatigue less) and as VI friendly as one can be. I have had to learn to be comfortable in the dark and navigate by my hands.
I am lucky and feel so privileged to have help from Heart N Soul. They bought me my radio mic, which has reduced wires. This helps me so much as it means I’m less likely to trip. I also have electrical tape wrapped around most of my power cables so I can distinguish them in low light.