Brainfingers system allows disabled musician to play

By Joanne MacAulay
BBC Scotland news

Image caption,
Chris Jacquin can now play in bands and orchestras

Like many teenage boys, Chris Jacquin dreams of having a career in music.

He is already an accomplished composer, but performing is a greater challenge. Chris has cerebral palsy so he cannot hold or play a musical instrument.

That meant he could not sit the practical element of music exams, or play in bands or orchestras.

But now a special headband, which responds to clicks in his jaw, enables him to play the notes on a musical score on a computer - and this has been recognised as a valid musical performance.

The 17-year-old is excited by the possibilities which the Brainfingers system has opened up for him.

Jaw movements

Chris said: "Brainfingers has given me the chance to perform some of my favourite songs and has enabled me to perform in an ensemble."

He added that the system could enable musicians with physical disabilities to perform with able-bodied musicians.

Chris, from Edinburgh, has been working with the charity Drake Music Scotland.

Its music technology officer Rick Bamford explained: "We've adjusted Brainfingers to be sensitive to Chris' jaw movements, so as he increases the pressure between his teeth he goes through a trigger line which Brainfingers is reading.

"This puts him in direct control of how the score is played back."

Composer David McNiven is Chris' music teacher at George Watson's College in Edinburgh.

Professional composer

He successfully campaigned for the Scottish Qualifications Authority to recognise that what Chris was doing with Brainfingers and the laptop was as valid as playing a conventional instrument.

Image caption,
Chris wearing the Brainfingers headband

So Chris can now sit the compulsory performance element of his Higher music, which Mr McNiven believes will open many more doors.

"It's changed the rules now that people can use a laptop," he said.

"The ability to play with other musicians and feel the 'vibe' of being in a band or orchestra is just immense."

This summer Chris will be one of a group of young Scottish musicians playing a specially commissioned piece for the Cultural Olympiad as part of the New Music 20x12 programme. Technophonia, by composer Oliver Searle, will be performed in Edinburgh and London.

Thursa Sanderson from Drake Music Scotland said: "The idea behind the Technophonia project is to bring together young musicians who are using the technology with their peers, who are playing conventional instruments.

"This allows them to be part of inclusive music making and inclusive ensembles. That's what Technophonia is."

Chris is now practising hard for his Higher music and for the Technophonia concerts. However, his long-term ambitions are to go to music college and then become a professional composer.

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