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Cutting edge technology opens up musical instruments to young disabled people with the opportunity to join regional youth orchestra

On Friday 3rd June, the UK’s first disabled-led regional youth orchestra, the South-West Open Youth Orchestra, is taking part in BBC’s Music Day with a performance in Colston Hall as part of Bristol’s Fast Forward Music Festival. The South-West Open Youth Orchestra is the first of its kind, working with young disabled musicians who play a range of musical instruments, including a bespoke custom made digital musical instrument called Clarion that can be controlled simply by the movement of a musician's eyes - developed with funding from leading tech for good investor Nominet Trust and the National Foundation for Youth Music.

Bradley Warwick has Cerebral Palsy and uses this especially adapted musical instrument in the orchestra, he says. “Being part of an orchestra is new to me. I love it, and feel a kind of freedom and belonging. Disability should never be a barrier to enjoying music and getting involved.”

"Without the South-West Open Youth Orchestra there would be very few progression opportunities for young disabled musicians in the West of England. If true musical inclusion is our goal, which it very much is, then SWOYO is integral to it." Siggy Patchitt - Bristol Plays Music

The orchestra has been making waves across the country with performances at Bristol Cathedral, the Palace of Westminster and now as part of BBC’s Music Day at Bristol’s Colston Hall. Established by OpenUp Music - a charity that specialises in empowering young disabled musicians to create inclusive youth orchestras, the South-West Open Youth Orchestra is currently searching for more young disabled musicians from across the South-West of England.

Barry Farrimond, CEO for OpenUp Music, has created many of the instruments used by the orchestra. “This orchestra is showing that anyone with the drive and determination to succeed in music can do so if given the right support and training - we are really hoping to encourage more young disabled musicians to join. Our team works with each musician to find or create a musical instrument that is right for them. These instruments Often use sophisticated infrared cameras to convert facial movements, including minute movements of the head or eyes, into expressive musical notes.”

Vicki Hearn, Director of Nominet Trust said: “By harnessing new and existing digital technologies, OpenUp Music’s customisable and accessible musical instrument, the Clarion, has the potential to help many more disabled young people to express themselves independently through music. Nominet Trust has an established track record of using tech to promote inclusivity and it’s great to be supporting the Clarion’s development, enabling young people to experience the pleasure of making music together, often for the first time.”

Clarence Adoo MBE, was one of the UK’s top trumpeters, playing alongside artists such as Courtney Pine, before being involved in a car crash in 1995. It left him paralysed from the neck down. Now a member of the British Paraorchestra, Clarence has seen first hand the impact that the work of OpenUp Music can have. “This is something amazing. If you have the passion and desire to be a performer in music, get in touch with the South-West Open Youth Orchestra and they will sort out the rest!"

Anyone interested in auditioning for the Orchestra can get more information at www.openupmusic.org/swoyo email OpenUp Music direct on info@openupmusic.org or phone them on 0117 914 0917.