James Holt – 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 singer-songwriter James Holt. Many thanks James for sharing your learning and experience.

A black and white photo of James wearing stylish sixties clothing. He has a mop top hair cut and looks at us quizzically.Having attended many music and education related conferences in the past and, as this was my first online conference, I was quite wary of spending most of the day at an online event, with the potential risk of ‘Zoom Fatigue’, however the Sound Connections team did a wonderful job in keeping the conference engaging and thought-provoking throughout.

The pre-conference information was very clear and concise with links and instructions to find each of the panels and zoom discussion groups – it was all very well brought together and felt as close as it could possibly be to a physical conference. In some aspects the online experience offered more advantages, aside from being completely inclusive and allowing worldwide access, which I will go into in more detail below.

The first session involved a very interesting keynote discussion on diversity and inclusion from Asif Sadiq, followed by an interview conducted by Brenda Rattray about Asif’s experiences and exploring potential solutions to issues surrounding the lack of diversity and representation in all aspects of life. What struck me most about this discussion was the amount of positivity that was shown towards this topic through the practical solutions and thought processes that Asif had put forward. One of the key statements he made was that exploring diversity and inclusion has the ability to benefit not only those in minority groups, but has a positive impact on everyone – and that diversity is not a problem, but an opportunity we need to embrace. This positive outlook on the subject seemed to carry throughout the conference.

In the zoom discussion group following the Asif Sadiq’s keynote speech many more interesting points were raised. One key point was that representation can help organisations to understand and consider the needs of minority groups – there was an example made in Asif Sadiq’s speech that supported this – and having people from minority groups on panels to contribute to decisions made within organisations, using representation to highlight the experiences and perspectives of their community. This was a key talking point within my zoom break-out group and we discussed how each of our experiences may differ from others in minority groups, with representation being a key component in understanding the needs of others.

As a deaf and disabled composer / musician, I have always been of the mindset of “don’t create barriers for myself” with regards to my disability and working with others. However, these talks and sessions have made me become more open- minded about sharing my needs – for example it can be especially difficult for me to hold a conversation when in a noisy environment.

Routes into Music Education

The second session I attended was called “Routes into Music Education” with Sharon Jagdev Powell and Eva Rose Hicks, and again this talk was angled towards diversity, but through the lens of the education sector. As a music teacher myself, I’m always interested to learn more about how diversity and inclusion can be encouraged in schools. Again there was a lot of positivity, as in the morning session, and calls for action among the delegates and music culture
workforces in general – stating that we cannot be allies unless we challenge and take action.

The zoom meeting that followed was an interesting mix of music practitioners, teachers and students. It also involved a free-form writing exercise to allow delegates to reflect on their thoughts of the conference so far using a method similar to that of stream-of-consciousness writing. I found this particularly interesting and a good way to process my thoughts of the conference and it helped me understand that all of us have challenges to overcome and this is valuable know when trying to understand and have empathy for one another. This is also links back to sharing my own experiences, as a person who is disabled, as it will help others to see things from my perspective.


Another aspect of the Sound Connections conference I enjoyed was the Padlet discussion board, which allowed delegates to leave comments, and reflections on the conference, but also to respond to some prompt questions encourage people to share their experiences on allyship and Sharing Power.

I thought this was a nice touch and very worthwhile as it gave delegates the opportunity to engage with the subjects easily and anonymously – in a physical conference a similar anonymous exercise would involve submitting small notes into a box.

Under the circumstances, I believe that the Sound Connections team did a wonderful job putting this conference together, and the dedication and expertise of the speakers was evident throughout the conference. The conference truly felt like a community space, where ideas can form and flourish, despite it being online, and I would love to attend the conference in person one day.


Check out this performance by James Holt for a DM virtual gig in 2020.


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

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