(* Apologies to Bill Clinton campaign strategist James Carville)
What is holding back increased participation and accreditation in music for disabled/SEN students in this country?
It’s not the lack of legislation which ensure that ‘reasonable adjustments’ are made to make music accessible to all children; it’s not a shortage of will or enthusiasm on the part of music educators and staff – everyone I talk to agrees on the need for more music and equality of opportunity; it’s not a shortage of ‘technology’: accessible music technology, in essence, means any piece of kit which gives access to music. It could be a Soundbeam, or it could equally be a small practice amp and a microphone with an echo switch. Increasingly, neither is it about the lack of accessible, re-usable resources for students and teachers.
What I believe we need most is, ironically, something we have in abundance already in many of our school music departments, music services, universities and colleges. We need imagination; planning; and ‘professional courage’.
Imagination…because, as I’ve suggested already, many departmental music cupboards already harbour useful accessible music technology. The trick is to look at at it all in a different way e,g, ‘could that keyboard be connected to the spare guitar delay pedal you have, and then linked to a small amp, so that when you play middle C, you get a heck of a drone..’ It’s creative approaches that count, not necessarily big budgets.
Planning…every teacher has to plan and planned lessons are usually more effective and enjoyable. To make your lesson accessible to all students you teach e.g. like the example above, you just need to plan a bit harder. Once you’ve created a set-up that works, you can apply it to many different contexts, so the planning time pays for itself.
‘professional courage’…(hint: it’s not attempting to placate your restless Year 9 class on a rainy Friday afternoon in early January by singing/playing Lady Gaga’s latest Top 40 hit on the piano after only one listen) I believe that the best way to judge a music department or service is based on how well they cater for those with least access to music. As ever, I’m not saying for a minute that it isn’t challenging or difficult for some, based on local conditions. But music teachers and musicians are so often the ‘big personalities’ in the room. They have the ability to make things happen, to fill rooms with incredible sounds, to encourage, to inspire, to cause laughter. ‘Courage’ here means going beyond your normal comfort zones and expectations of yourself, trying methods you’re not familiar with, taking the chance that you might fail, but crack it next time.
Teachers, as ever, are the biggest resource we have.