Remotely Facilitating Accessible Music Making with Electric Storm Ensemble

Over Feb & March we have been back with Electric Storm Ensemble and Leonard Cheshire St Michael’s for a series of music making sessions. With the lockdown restrictions currently in place these sessions are taking place via Zoom with me as the Associate Musician leading 1-to-1 sessions with 5 residents.*

The project is made possible with funding from ACE’s Cultural Recovery Fund and a donation from the Joyce Fletcher Charitable Trust.

Two Disabled women are playing music using technology. One plays an iPad the other makes music using her eyes with a computer.


I was able to visit St.Michael’s Leonard Cheshire home to deliver some training to Adrian and Rebecca, the two main activities coordinators at St.Michael’s. They seemed very excited by the prospect of having Drake Music sessions again and the possibility of having a more active role within the sessions themselves.

I decided to focus my training on the iPad app Thumbjam, as it is so versatile – a good ‘all rounder’ which can be picked up and played and instantly sound ‘good’ because of the high quality sounds – but equally an instrument unto itself that can be learned and used in a more advanced way like any other. There are often updates to the available sample sets and loops online.

Equipment used: 2 Manfrotto angle arms (‘magic arms’) with iPad cradles, 2 iPads, 2 Mini rigs.

The training focused on the practical setting up of the arms and the iPads so that they could be accessed by the participants. Adrian had seen myself and other Drake Music associates run sessions before, so he was able to pick this up very quickly, and in turn, so did Rebecca.


The session length is 45 minutes long. The nature of making music over Zoom means timing and musical connections become more abstract. When you’re not In the room with someone it presents another layer (and potential barrier!) of complexity.

Using pre-recorded drum loops or clips in Ableton live (which I often do in sessions), or working within a quantised framework essentially becomes redundant. I’ve been using these increasingly less in recent times anyway, as it locks you to a tempo and anything outside of that sounds ‘wrong’. So in this situation the music making becomes more ethereal. No bad thing! The ether between musicians depends on your internet speed!

I knew, from past sessions, that two of the participants, Mandy and Jackie both like to play their instruments using their head. After some research we tried using some Eye Gaze software but the issues around their laptops (installing software, buying cameras) meant that we initially began to use Google’s Clarion Light, which runs online on their website. Despite concerns over bandwidth – it runs fine!

Jackie and Mandy are playing this in very different ways. It tracks the nose (this can be changed if needed). Despite the limitations of the ‘light’ version of the instrument, it is still very accessible and has a lot of variables to work with.

Mandy’s movements are more subtle and composed… On Clarion there is a setting with 6 squares, and on a woodwind instrument, this is perfect for her playing style. We have had some great moments in the sessions using this!

Jackie’s playing is faster and intermittent… there’s a ‘flower setting’ (she has called it) which has more notes, much closer together. This pattern, set to a marimba sound, is ideal for her.

A music-making session with music leader Luke projected large on a screen while he plays guitar


I have found so far that it’s been quite a success, creatively: all the participants are very engaged and enjoying the music making and the renewed social contact. My image is projected quite large onto a wall (!) and it seems like my not actually being there isn’t that much of an issue so far. I have made a point of involving Rebecca and Adrian as much as possible, asking them to play in accompaniment (which they enjoy), their creative input has been very positive. It quickly became clear to me that getting them involved and enjoying the music making process was key to the success of the project. It turns out Adrian can play guitar and Rebecca is very proactive, making lots of useful creative suggestions. In the past when we have delivered sessions in person, staff have not had to participate and we have not discovered their creative talents.

Because I’m not there in person, a lot of the very nuanced elements of this workshop situation are lost. (i.e. Mandy’s very subtle movement to playing the Clarion Light, I cannot be there to adjust it if needs be). However I am delighted to say Rebecca (and Adrian) has a wonderful manner with Mandy and all the participants which I now fully trust, and through the first three 1 -to-1 sessions we are now in a position to start bringing the musicians together to form 2 ensembles. Electric Storm Ensemble are back in full swing!

I was also pleased to hear news that Adrian and Rebecca have been initiating music making sessions with the participants on Fridays using a mix of their own equipment and ours! It’s great that this has happened so quickly and naturally.

A room in a care home, two women are engaged in a music-making session via zoom.

Next Steps

The next phase of the project is to bring the musicians together into two ensembles, and expand on the songs they are composing.

*Drake Music have previously delivered the project at St Michael’s Leonard Cheshire care home, and in various venues in Bristol.

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