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Disability History Month: Therapy in Musical Expression

Essex-based music service T.I.M.E. provides opportunities for musical expression to all.

Therapy in Musical Expression band performing

UK Disability History Month celebrates the lives of disabled people, challenges disablism and pushes forward the fight for equality. This year, it takes place from 22 November to 22 December. Over the month, we will be sharing some examples of best practice from across the music industry. This week, we hear from Essex based music service T.I.M.E. (Therapy in Musical Expression)

T.I.M.E.’s concept stems from a collaboration of friends and musicians with one aim in mind - to make a positive difference through music, in particular, to those who may not be able to access such stimuli.

The conception was formulated as a result of musicians and directors Marc Barnacle, Rob Fillary and Andrew Oakley delivering music workshops at the Pioneer School in Basildon. The sessions were a revelation as to how music could be used to not only provide people with aural contentment but to also break down communicational barriers between verbal and non-verbal students, to stimulate areas of the brain that would otherwise not be as active, to allow development for fine motor skill usage and to serve in a therapeutic sense for those with extremely limited communication and mobility.

T.I.M.E. encompasses a wide range of services for people of all ages and abilities, but have particular focus within the realms of disability and mental health. We offer therapeutic / sensory /relaxation based sessions, songwriting workshops, instrument tuition and broader workshops, covering all forms of rhythm building, communication through music, motor skill/co-ordination and speech development and other various approaches to creative and musical expression. 

A primary focus for our service is to empower individuals with independence and encourage them to express their creativity. This process has enabled us to form bands comprised of members with varying disabilities.

We have assisted the members to compose their own material and we are now witnessing them showcasing these pieces to audiences on a regular basis. The groups have performed at the Essex County Council Volunteer Awards, The Wat Tyler Paralympic Festival, MIND (National Charity) Fundraising Festival, Barnestock (Essex Based Music Festival for Teenage Cancer Trust) and a variety of live venues, clubs and open mic nights across Essex and London. Each and every show creates a hugely rewarding effect on the individuals’ confidence and self-esteem.

Our goal is to provide our disabled musicians with the same opportunities that those from mainstream backgrounds would receive.

Initially, we found it difficult to acquire performance bookings outside of charity domains and events specific to disability. The band appeared to be labelled with a tag that was only suited to the disability domain. However, with perseverance and by continually documenting the bands live performances, we were able to showcase this to venues/promoters and eventually receive the positive feedback for the band that we knew was greatly deserved.

Once people removed the perception of disability and rightly focused on the creative output, the same opportunities could not be denied. We are delighted to see T.I.M.E.’s band now appearing alongside mainstream music acts.

Live performance and other forms of musical and creative participation has a profound impact on each individuals wellbeing. For example, one of our first clients was a highly reticent character, with alcohol dependency, anxiety, depression and was heavily socially isolated. This gentleman is now the lead singer and front man of the aforementioned band.

As part of this group, he has performed at a multitude of venues and festivals across Essex and London, taken part in radio interviews and has progressed to assisting others to be creative and perform. This is not just due to the ‘power of music’, but is a result of social inclusion, feeling important when part of a team/project and enabling the ability to realise one’s self-worth and true potential - each of these elements are an integral part of our service and delivery.

We continue to look at ways to provide equal opportunity within disability and that has most recently lead us to the release of a fundraising single, which was entirely composed and performed by disabled attendees of the Papworth Trust (Basildon). Via our weekly songwriting sessions, we were able to assist this group to put forward their ideas, develop instrumental skills and ultimately compose their own song. This has now been officially released as a digital download and all funds are aiding the centre’s costs and being used to purchase instruments for T.I.M.E. music sessions.

We have found that many local studios were not equipped with sufficient access for disabilities. For example, some environments recording spaces are accessed via a flight of stairs and the building contained no lift. It appeared that this factor had not been considered. We do not seek to label this as bad judgement by the owners, but see it as more of an example of how people with disabilities are not equally considered within this business. It seems fair to state that the assumption that disabled individuals do not actively seek to enter this domain sadly exists.

Unfortunately, this has also been witnessed within live performance. Most notably, when being asked to perform at our local Paralympic Celebration Festival. We were dismayed to discover that access to the main stage, which our group had been asked to perform on, had no ramp for wheelchair access. This resulted in two of our members being unable to take to the stage and perform their self-composed material, which they had spent 6 months developing alongside the other members.

The frustration and disappointment they incurred, especially when present at such an appropriate event to celebrate their abilities, was devastating. All involved on that day have strived to increase awareness, campaign for equal rights and reduce the possibility of this occurring again to other individuals.

As most people will be aware, the many exciting and fulfilling opportunities that music and performance provide do not often present themselves, and there are many who will never get to experience such a process. By facilitating these practices, we hope to enrich the lives of those embracing them and in turn, enable a far wider clientele to access the same opportunities.

No matter what age, background or ability, T.I.M.E. acknowledges that everyone has the opportunity to produce their own, unique stamp on the musical world.

About T.I.M.E.

T.I.M.E. is an Essex based music service, with a concept that allows participants of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, the opportunity to express and experiment, for their own benefit, within a musical environment.

Having worked in the education, care, drug & alcohol rehabilitation, mental health and respite sectors, T.I.M.E. has become an ever growing and expanding business concept - with no limitations and is available for all.

T.I.M.E. offers therapeutic/sensory/relaxation based sessions, songwriting workshops, instrument tuition and broader workshops, covering all forms of rhythm building, communication through music, motor skill/co-ordination and speech development and other various approaches to creative and musical expression.

No matter what age, background or ability, T.I.M.E. acknowledges that everyone has the opportunity to produce their own, unique stamp on the musical world. No boundaries are set. No musical experience demanded.

Published: 22/11/2016

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