Musicians strike the perfect chord at international concert debut

Five kids from Drake Music School were flown to Singapore to perform at the  Asia Pacific Festival of Disabled Artistes
Five kids from Drake Music School were flown to Singapore to perform at the Asia Pacific Festival of Disabled Artistes
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It was a dream come true for a group of musicians eager to share their unique sound with the world during a once-in-a-lifetime performance in Singapore.

With a growing international reputation, the world’s first disabled youth music ensemble, Digital Orchestra, were centre stage at the Asia Pacific Festival of Disabled Artistes with their performance of a track especially written by them for the event.

Part of Edinburgh-based Drake Music Scotland – the nation’s leading arts organisation providing music-making opportunities for adults with disabilities – the five musicians battled against logistical challenges to fly around the world and appear in front of their largest audience yet.

Chris Jacquin, Rhona Smith, Stephanie Forrest and Andrew Griffin, who are all wheelchair users with cerebral palsy, and Steven Thornton who has a learning disability, showed off their musicality to about 10,000 people, using adapted technology including iPads, laptops and Handsonic pads, as well as an electronic drum kit.

It was the first time the orchestra had performed outside the UK and Drake Music Scotland artistic director Pete Sparkes said the mere logistics of an international trip would normally be prohibitive.

“Transporting four wheelchairs and a team of 18 is expensive and would normally stop a group considering an opportunity like this. But thankfully Singapore Airlines were extremely supportive, flying us from Manchester Airport to Singapore and back again, as well as funding help from British Council and Creative Scotland.”

Sheldon Hee, Singapore Airlines general manager UK & Ireland said: “We are delighted to support Drake Music Scotland, they are a wonderful organisation that make sure everyone can experience the joy of music playing.

The orchestra utilises assitive technology to create music electronically.

Pete explained: “One of the barriers for our musicians is traditional instruments are not something that they can access, usually because of a physical disability – moving a bow or pushing the strings require a certain strength.

“We find solutions for them to be able to control musical sounds such as iPads and the fantastic power of laptop and buttons and switches.”

The Digital Orchestra grew out of youth music ensemble, Technophonia, which debuted as part of London 2012 Cultural Olympiad and the musicians talents have since flourished.

But Pete – who is immensely proud of the achievements in Singapore – said it can be a challenge encouraging people to give digital orchestral music a chance: “We struggle to get big audiences for performances in Scotland because it’s a new way of making music and audiences haven’t seen or heard how great it can be.”

To help boost fans and celebrate the organisation’s 20th anniversary he urges people to come to the Queen’s Hall for a concert on May 5.