Charlotte White – Bronze Arts Award

In 2008 Charlotte White gained a Bronze Arts Award through working with Drake Music at St. Rose’s school, Stroud. While it was undoubtedly a really good thing to have her musical achievements accredited, a Bronze Arts Award was, quite honestly, a poor reflection of Charlotte’s actual academic and musical abilities. In the same academic year she achieved an A and three A-stars at GCSE in English Languge, Media, RE & Art – the latter achieved largely through mouth painting, and she is now (2011) at the University of Kent studying for a degree in Sociology and Criminology. So why did we decide to go for a Bronze Arts Award? There were a number of reasons…

Charlotte faced significant physical barriers to music. She performed and composed exclusively by moving her head and thumbs to control a computer using switches and motion sensors. Her performance set-up at the time consisted of a MIDI Sensor mounted to one side of her head, connected to MIDI Creator, and two thumb switches connected to Desktop Soundbeam, controlling Ableton Live and Reason software. To compose music, Charlotte was using a SmartNav ‘hands free mouse’ and The Grid 2 software, to control Sibelius 5.

Charlotte was really keen to pursue GCSE music, but we only had a very limited amount of time to work with her each week, not really enough to pursue GCSE. Furthermore we perceived a number of potential barriers to GCSE music that the exam boards seemed unwilling to positively engage with at that time. For example, how could we be sure that her particular use of assistive music technology would be acceptable within the performance elements of the GCSE course? How would Charlotte be able to independently access the relevant learning resources, most of which were available either in textbooks that she couldn’t hold, or as PDF documents that were incompatible with most computer screen reading software?

We also looked into the possibility of having Charlotte’s musical performances formally accredited in some way by either ABRSM or Trinity Guildhall, but neither was able to offer anything (although Trinity are of course involved in accrediting the Arts Award). In retrospect we should also have looked into the music exams offered by the London College of Music.

The Arts Award presented a versatile and accessible accreditation option for Charlotte and we all really enjoyed the process. While she could have chosen to pursue the Gold or Silver awards, these relied on a certain amount of group work with other students. Not only were there no other students at St. Rose’s who were in a position to do a Gold or Silver award alongside Charlotte at that time, but she was also keen to study by herself, so Bronze was the only option.

The Arts Award people were really pleased to have a disabled student follow their course, and you can read Charlotte’s Arts Award story on their website here:

BBC Radio 4 have made a 30 minute documentary on Charlotte called ‘Charlotte White’s Musical Flight’, broadcast in March 2011 which you can listen to via the iPlayer here:

Finally, here is Charlotte’s performance of an abridged arrangement of the Prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite no. 1 in G Major, which contributed towards her Arts Award: