Who really benefits from our funding?
I recently had the sincere pleasure of attending a live performance by the South West Open Youth Orchestra (SWOYO) as part of BBC Music Day. I had been looking forward to hearing the SWOYO, having heard all about them and their incredible achievements from the team at Open Up Music, one of Nominet Trust’s Social Tech Seed-funded projects.
The SWOYO is the UK’s only disabled-led regional youth orchestra, and they play bespoke Open Musical Instruments (OMI), which they (and other young people with disabilities) have helped to co-design.
Officially, I was a “funder” going to see some of our “beneficiaries” - a site visit of sorts. Unofficially, I was a music lover going to an exciting live performance at Bristol’s Colston Hall! (Appropriate, as the theme of BBC Music Day was “for the love of music”!). I invited my father to join me, as he happens to be visiting from the United States and is himself a great lover of music.
The performance was tremendously moving - and not just because the pieces (one composed by Dr Liz Lane for this occasion) soared - but also because the audience was moved - transported, even, as with all excellent performances. When I spoke to my father after the concert, we realised how much we had benefitted from the performance - perhaps as much (though of course in a different way) as the young musicians themselves.
I asked my father to share his thoughts about the concert:
“Well, to tell the truth, I cried.
That wasn’t entirely surprising because I have to take a big box of Kleenex to the opera. But this was different. The opera composers - those guys are trying to make you cry. The SWOYO wasn’t trying to make me do anything. They were just making beautiful music.
The SWOYO is exactly what its name announces, an orchestra open to all - all levels of physical abilities. The common factor seems to be the desire of each member to produce the most beautiful music possible. The players use a variety of instruments - conventional, modified (for their physical capabilities,) and digitally controlled, and - unless you were determined to keep this unconventional structure in mind - after a few moments you would be caught up in the sounds and rhythms and effects of the music.
This, for me, seemed to be one of the goals of the SWOYO - to allow each member to express the music in his or her soul despite physical limitations. That’s what happens in fact; when you’re listening to the music playing, the physical abilities of the performers - the performers themselves - vanish. You just hear beautiful music.
But I mentioned the effects of the music. And this is something that really surprised me. There was an almost palpable joy in the performance; the players and the conductor seemed happy and glad to have this opportunity to perform, and the audience responded in the same way. If I had to give a phrase to it, I would say it was an open community of music lovers. The music was lovely, but this atmosphere made it unique.
From a personal standpoint, I felt fortunate to watch these people doing something for the sheer love of doing it. All that hard work to produce something casually beautiful for the enjoyment of the audience and of the players themselves, too. What the SWOYO does seems like a gift.
It is affirming, from a social tech funder’s perspective, to hear the work that you fund referred to as a “gift” - not to the direct “beneficiaries”, but to the wider world. When I joined Nominet Trust and heard about OpenUp Music, of course I thought of all the young musicians who would benefit from access to adapted musical instruments and the Open Youth Orchestra programme - who would have an outlet for creative, independent expression. But I did not initially think about how much their audiences would benefit - my father, myself, everyone in that concert hall - and all the SWOYO concert goers to come.
When ‘tech for good’ is really good, it can be transcendent. It can be ‘tech for the love of music’. It can be ‘tech for an open community’. The benefits, and beneficiaries, are potentially limitless.
If you’re interested in finding out more about OpenUp Music, visit their website: http://openupmusic.org/
By Annie Radl, and her father, Israel Radl