Ewan Mackay – Inclusive Practice in Action – Sound Connections Reflections for Think22


We are pleased to share reflections from Disabled musicians on the recent Sound Connections “Inclusive Practice in Action” event. The focus of this year’s conference was Diversifying the Music Education Workforce, a topic close to our work here on the Drake Music Think22 programme, so we decided to invite musicians from our network to attend and respond. 

This article is by composer Ewan Mackay. Many thanks to Ewan for his thoughts!

A formal portrait of Ewan who smiles as he looks off-camera. He is wearing a tuxedo and bowtie and his hair is neatly combed to one side.Having attended the Inclusive Practice in Action (IPIA) conference recently, with a handful of other friends from Drake Music, I have been reflecting on what inclusion within music means generally, and for me as a composer with Cerebral Palsy.

Generally, I have found that my condition has not been a limiting factor in my work so far. I began my musical journey when I first took up the cello, and then moved to composition in my early teens. I can’t say I have ever faced any prejudice or unfair treatment as a result of my condition, in fact, the opposite has been the case. While I fully understand that everyone’s situations are distinctly individual when it comes to how they feel they have been treated, I can only speak for myself and my own experience.

In attending the IPIA conference, I was fascinated by the diverse range of views expressed by speakers and delegates alike, however, I felt like something rather critical was missing. Music has long been viewed as the great communicator and a universal art form. If this were the case, would there truly be any need for open forums such as these to discuss the issues of inequality so many feel they have faced?

One of the discussions I feel supported my view that music is indeed universal was presented by Dr Asif Sadiq. Among his many valuable points, he believes that making sure that all individuals, be they a teacher or student, should be made to feel included and heard as an automatic right. One of the ways of achieving this would be through using authentic communication to make sure that we are all on the same level and everyone is understood and valued within their role in inclusive music practices. Furthermore, he asserted that if we adopted a growth mindset, we can all learn and grow in our understanding of music and of what more can be done to make those who feel marginalised, feel included. The question of leadership and responsibility was also one which struck a chord with me. I believe that as a composer it is important to be a good leader who takes responsibility for the betterment of the projects I am working on.

The standout statements of the conference for me also came from Asif. He stated, “if we can see ourselves in leaders, we want to become them in the future”.

Perhaps the solution to the issue of inclusion for disabled artists working in the arts is to have dedicated inclusion leaders who are disabled themselves, and who understand the issue deeply. Achieving this would mean that organisations would be best placed to serve the needs and aspirations of disabled members of our creative institutions.

Another aspect of the conference which I felt promoted inclusion – even during the pandemic – was the fact that it was held virtually. I personally would have found travelling to the conference difficult, and so I appreciated the fact I could enjoy and engage in enlightening conversation from the comfort of my own home. Technology has come so far to connect us all, and its true benefit has been seen and felt during the pandemic. The idea that individuals can feel included through the use of technology, in general, is really important, and the idea that technology is now enabling individuals to become valued and respected members within the musical community has meant that those who may have previously been marginalised now feel less isolated. For many years, Drake Music has  strived to use technology to its fullest and has, occasionally, gone against the norm in its use of technology to enable performers to participate in musical and creative activities, at times coming together with performers of traditional concert instruments. This ground-breaking approach to inclusion and music creation was clearly far ahead of its time, and as a result, Drake Music has been the leader in using technology in an inclusive way to break down barriers for disabled musicians across the country.

There is still much to do in order to close the inclusive holes which perforate the creative world. The idea that music knows no ability, sexual orientation, race or religion is indeed true. Music is as diverse as those who work so hard to create it, and I believe it should be lauded as the universal language that I – and many others – have known it to be.

To summarise this entire reflection, the inclusion of all individuals should not be an option or a token gesture it should be an automatic right. We must learn from the past, and from each other, in order to make a more diverse musical community.


Hear Ewan’s Drake Music Emergent commission, filmed and recorded live at the Barbican Centre.


Read the other reflections from the Sound Connections Inclusive Practice in Action conference

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