New Ideas in Music-Making
Whether it’s the instruments themselves, the programming, or the educational approach, people living with disabilities face persistent barriers to participating in music-making. But, as Clayton Smith explains, those barriers are dropping with the evolution of digital technology. Clayton is the Lead, Programs & Exhibitions at National accessArts Centre (NaAC), and he’s on a mission to make music accessible for everyone. He’s been exploring the ways people living with disabilities have been excluded from music-making — and taking them on one by one. And he’s not alone.
Sound Ideas is a new workshop series at the NaAC, and the country’s first public program in creative music and sound arts for artists living with developmental disabilities. The series is conducted by Charles Matthews and Gift Tshuma, co-founders of Blurring the Boundaries, a disability-led organization spearheading major developments in accessible digital music technology. The series focuses on creating fun and playful ways for artists to explore sound creation, regardless of prior musical experience or knowledge — the first barrier on Clayton’s hit list.
Like a Broken Record
There’s a pressure that comes from Western ways of teaching, explains Clayton. “If you think about what makes a great musician, it’s usually hours and hours and hours of rehearsal time. Experts say that it requires anywhere from two to five years to feel comfortable with an instrument. But what if you can’t afford or access an instrument?”
As a group, the first task for the artist ensemble is to co-create user-specific, accessible digital instruments. Next, they’ll explore ways to collaborate, create, and rehearse online, eliminating yet another barrier: the need to travel.
“We’ve learned from the pandemic just how important personal connections are,” says Clayton. So, he and his team are looking into ways artists can stay connected while staying in their homes. Think of it as a digital jam session that’s free from the social pressure to play something perfect. “We’re really more interested in musical expression than musical ability,” he adds.
The goal is to produce 10 original digital recordings that will be shared online and played for the public in partnership with Sled Island Art and Music Festival (Calgary, AB) and CRIP RAVE Collective (Toronto, ON). That’s where Edward (Ed) Renzi, Coordinator of Audio and Music Programs, and Carlos Arteaga, Studio Facilitator, come in.
Music to Whose Ears?
“Music is arguably one of the most important languages that we’ve ever developed as a species,” Ed says. It’s universal amongst all cultures, he explains, but not always understood the same way.
“Some of our artists will want to make a pop song or a country song,” adds Carlos. “It may not sound like a pop song to someone else. But it’s important not to put expectations on their work. Anything they want to work on is valid, and can be a song.”
And in the end, if the artists in the program want to integrate their music and sound art into performance pieces or art installations, Clayton and his team will be there to help.
“We hope music programming will integrate with the rest of the NaAC’s programming and create opportunities to blur the boundaries between painting, drawing, dance, movement, and performance,” he says.
To learn more about Sound Ideas, visit accessarts.ca