Wales

As you may be aware, over the last number of years the BBC National Orchestra of Wales has embarked upon large scale educational and outreach projects, playing to thousands of students from both primary and special schools across Wales.

Our new project, Feel The Music, is a large scale symphony orchestra concert aimed specifically, but not exclusively, at deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing adults and children.

It is, in fact, the brain baby of one of our trumpeters, Andy Everton. An improvisation workshop many BBC moons ago (with Django Bates and the Human Chain) started an interest in more expressive and creative forms of music making for Andy that meshed well with his burgeoning passion for education and outreach.

Increasing involvement in the orchestra's education and outreach department, alongside his own outreach projects, meant that when the opportunity to devise his own project for us came along, he was ready to meet the challenge.

Feel The Music has now been in development for around two years, and Andy has taken advice from a multitude of specialists and organisations. The premise of the project is simple - to explore the fundamental building blocks of music: pitch, rhythm, volume and tempo.

Of course, this in itself presents a number of challenges. Those deafened through illness or an accident may have a memory of sound, but if you are culturally deaf (ie without hearing from birth), how do you relate to the spoken word, and indeed, to music?

There are, however, other senses involved in the appreciation of music, most obviously that of visual perception and vibration. Thus, the orchestra will be set out with 'pathways' through, around, and behind the sections. Andy has also sourced 'soundboxes' that utilise large speakers under pliable wood, which users can sit, stand, or lie on, in order to feel the physical effect of musical vibrations.

There is also a more elusive sensation, one that is as yet an unproven theory, but one that anyone who has worked with children or adults with a sensory deprivation will be familiar with. There is a belief that just as you can 'feel' the atmosphere of a room, occupied or vacant, when you enter it, so you can feel the intent of a piece of music despite being without the possession of faculties normally deemed necessary to appreciate it.

I asked Andy what, if any, concerns he had as we approach the first performance of Feel The Music, and his primary concern was that the project be relevant; conceived with inclusivity as a priority, this must be fun, entertaining and informative for both hearing and deaf audience members.

Education and outreach is a two way street, and should always challenge the orchestra's members too, whether that be challenging our preconceptions, the way in which we play, or teaching us new skills. There is an onus upon us to make the arts accessible to everyone, and it is only through constantly questioning and challenging the boundaries of what we do that we can achieve this.

Feel The Music will be held at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay, on Tuesday 23 October at 7pm. There are a limited number of free tickets available – for more information, call the Orchestra’s Audience Line on 0800 052 1812.

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