Where could I go? (DMF 1)
Churchill Fellows are required to define their research topic and justify their choice of travel destination. I proposed Music Education and Performance for People with Learning Disabilities as my topic, but where could I go?
Music Man Project visits to South Africa, India and Nepal plus our ground-breaking performances at the London Palladium and Royal Albert Hall dictated that I was typically the subject of research rather than the researcher. My teaching is already the basis of world-leading PhD research by Music Man Project Director Natalie Bradford at the Royal College of Music. In her literature review, Natalie discovered that, whilst music therapy was widely explored, research supporting the use of other musical participation activities is almost non-existent, particularly with reference to well-being.
Online research revealed a global dearth of innovators in this sector. Although Special Schools want their children to learn music, their lack of expertise, funding cuts and the decreasing value placed on Arts Education from government regulators (a tragedy not limited to this sector) causes regular class-based music-making to inevitably remain an appealing afterthought, the first item on the unattainable wish-list for children, parents and school leaders. Schools engage music therapists to work with individual children at great cost, but this is not music education.
The situation is even worse for adults. They leave full-time funded education with a learning age many years lower than their year group suggests. They are expected to live independently, seek work, attend day centres and learn basic life-skills. The lucky ones have the support of healthy and determined parents, charities and care homes to guide them, but many thousands fall through the net. Their relatives pass away and they endure an unreliable, unsuitable or exploitative care system most concerned with saving money. Life is worse still for disabled people around the world living in extreme poverty, in warzones or in communities where they are considered a curse. Whatever their circumstances, the disabled population is far more likely to experience loneliness, mental health problems and dementia, in addition to physical complications related to their disability.
It is unsurprising there are so few organisations around the world offering group music education to people with disabilities. For innovators and reformers there is certainly no money to be made - only obstacles, fear and low expectations.
I finally found the website for Daniel’s Music Foundation (DMF) in New York. It was immediately apparent that this charity was one of the leading Special Needs music educators in the world and I needed to learn from them in person. My Fellowship destination would be New York and the reason for my choice was Daniel’s Music Foundation.
As I approached the purpose-built facility in East Harlem, I just hoped the centrepiece of my research lived up to my expectations…