Role Models for young musicians with learning disabilities

  • by dnunnlso

    Thursday, 13 August, 2015 - 11:44

Musical role models are an important part of anyone's personal musical journey, and we often relate most to those musicians with whom we share key ideas/traits/background. But what if you are a young musician with a learning disability? Will you share the same non-disabled role models?

Unbelievably, this is really the first time I’ve written a blog post, and it’s definitely (to my shame), the first on the Youth Music Network – don’t worry I’m going to do my best to make up for that!

Choosing something to write about in a forum of very knowledgeable and experienced fellow music educators is not easy, but luckily I have the focus of our current Youth Music funded programme of work with special schools in East London. Though that hardly narrows it down!

We are just beyond the half-way stage in our project and so I hope to share some more materials/ideas/questions over the coming weeks, but for now I thought I’d just note some things about one of the most interesting issues that has come up during our work over the last year or so, and that is role models.

In a focus group in July 2014 with teachers from schools we were working with at the time, representatives from our partner Music Hubs and artists from a partner arts organisation of ours, Heart n Soul, the room came alive around the issue of musical role models for young people with learning disabilities. The question was who and where are they? Luckily for all of us, Heart n Soul, Drake Music and their like are doing a great deal to make sure artists with disabilities succeed and are visible but others in the room acknowledged that they didn’t necessarily know who these artists are and where to find them.

For the LSO, the idea that our musicians are musical role models for young people is key to any work we do through LSO Discovery, but the above posed a direct question to us – considering that our orchestra does not consist of any musicians with disabilities, what are we doing to contribute to bringing forward these artists with learning disabilities, who would be such important role models for the young people we are working with in schools? Wow! Quite something to tackle, and I note here the important work of OpenUp Music in developing truly inclusive ensembles.

We’re glad the discussion happened because it made us realise that we need to be bringing artists with learning disabilities into collaborative and leadership roles in our own work. We took an important first step with the help of Drake Music Associate Artist Gary Day and percussionist Saul.

We invited this dynamic duo to lead part of a day of workshops in June 2015 for groups from East London special schools at LSO St Luke’s. They worked with 2 LSO musicians to deliver some percussion-based workshops. Saul is also working to complete an Arts Award and this was part of that process. Attenders of the day (from schools and our partner Music Hubs) commented on how good it was to see a young artist with a learning disability in a leadership role. This was just a start, and we’ve since also held a practice sharing workshop with LSO musicians and Heart n Soul artists.

There is much more to say on this, but I've deliberately tried to keep this short and hopefully invite the thoughts and ideas of others.

Here are a couple of key questions we are asking ourselves more and more, and I’d encourage you to ask yourselves too, if you’re not already – what can we (or I) do to ensure we are collaborating more with artists with learning disabilities? What can we (or I) do to ensure more young people with learning disabilities have the opportunity to become musical role models?

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Ruth Jones work profile's picture

Great to hear about Saul's leadership and his Arts Award work!

Re older young people - I just met with double bass player Gus Garside, CEO of Creative Minds organisation for artists / performers with learning disabilities. They have some great guidelines for young leaders with learning disabilities on how to plan events .

Also found out about great project like Stay up Late and Gig Buddies, and "learning disability heavy metal band "Zombie Island Crash"

dnunnlso's picture

Thanks for the links Ruth, I had read about gig buddies before (Zombie Island Crash are new on me) but the Creative Minds stuff looks really interesting and I'm exploring it. David

The Turning Tides Project's picture

Hi, I'm afraid I haven't really started using the Youth Music Network yet . We're just beginning a Youth Music Funded Project called Jam Buddies - so i'm sure i'll be posting more about that . Most of my work in the last ten years , and the Turning Tides Projects , in the last 18 months has been with young adults with 'learning disability' or 'autism' labels

I found your Blog because I searched ' Social Model of Disability' - thought you might like to take a look at our website ( or maybe like us on Facebook so you'll get links to some of the other orgs we follow):

I spoke at the Creative minds Conference last year - and met loads of people so i'm sure that network is well worth exploring. Likewise Paul Richards and Stay up Late- and i think you can probably still find the Heavy Load Channel 4 documentary ( if not i'm sure Paul would be able to ) .

Have you found The Twisting Ducks ? we like them . If you haven't seen it try and find "Mr Prime minister".