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South-West Open Youth Orchestra wins prestigious award for breaking down the musical barriers imposed on young disabled people

Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards recognises ground-breaking orchestra for its contribution to empowering young musicians and inspiring wider participation in music creation

10th May 2017, London — South-West Open Youth Orchestra (SWOYO) was last night awarded the Learning & Participation award at the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards, the highest recognition for live classical music-making in the United Kingdom. The orchestra was recognised for its contribution to wider participation in music creation, empowering young disabled musicians, and high quality musical experience and understanding.

SWOYO is the UK’s first disabled-led regional youth orchestra, featuring disabled and non-disabled young musicians playing conventional and electronic instruments — including the ‘Clarion’, an award-winning, accessible musical instrument that can be played with any part of the body, including the eyes. Developed by OpenUp Music, with the support of Nominet Trust funding, the Clarion is making music creation accessible, challenging expectations, and opening-up opportunities for musicians to develop their abilities — all through the creation of great music. Two SWOYO musicians play the Clarion; Bradley Warwick with his eyes and George Roberts with small, precise movements of his head.

The Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards are the highest recognition for live classical music-making in the United Kingdom were set up in 1989 to celebrate the outstanding musical achievements of both young and established, British and International, musicians. The Learning & Participation award is awarded to a project, initiative or organisation which has inspired wider participation in music-making and has created high quality musical experience and understanding.

OpenUp Music’s Chief Executive, Barry Farrimond, a leading authority on accessible music technology, said: “SWOYO’s ethos is that orchestras should be open to everyone. In so many situations disability arises from the way that society is organised, as opposed to any impairment an individual may have. We find that many of the young musicians we work with are disabled by a near total lack of opportunity and access to youth orchestras. Being recognised for our contribution to music by the Royal Philharmonic Society is truly a milestone for our non-traditional orchestra.

“As well as breaking new ground by creating cutting edge musical instruments, we’re also redefining what it means to be a musician. The majority of existing musical repertoire has been created by non-disabled people to be played on instruments that are only accessible to non-disabled people. We have always recognised that the instruments our musicians play and the unique ways in which they play them provides a unique opportunity to create new musical repertoire, and in doing so, we’re opening up music participation to a new audience.”

Vicki Hearn, Director, Nominet Trust commented: “As a shining example of how technology can break down societal barriers, SWOYO and the Clarion have enormous potential to help thousands of disabled young people to express themselves independently through music. The recognition of their work at the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards is thoroughly deserved. Nominet Trust is proud to have been able to support OpenUp Music’s journey, initially through our early-stage Social Tech Seed programme and then through our Social Tech Growth fund to help accelerate its development. We look forward to seeing the SWOYO team realise their ambitions and extend their inspirational work nationwide.”

The work of the SWOYO is also laying the foundations for the National Open Youth Orchestra, the world’s first disabled-led national youth orchestra, due to launch in September 2018. The National Open Youth Orchestra is calling for more young musicians to join their pioneering group. They are looking for those who have a passion for music, are between the ages of 11-25, and have the drive to play any instrument with energy and perseverance. For more information, go to www.thenoyo.org