UK Disability History Month showcases the story of disabled peoples’ historic struggle for equality and human rights. The Music Man Project was honoured to perform for the 2023 centrepiece event - a reception in Speaker’s House at the Houses of Parliament hosted by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle.
Whether performing to the Women’s Institute at a Scout Hut in Ingatestone or to His Majesty the King at the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Marines, The Music Man Project Global Ambassadors possess a unique ability to disarm their audience and suck them into their joyous world of magical music-making. This latest event was no different.
While I was in awe of the stunning stately surroundings and high-profile guests (including Government Ministers, gold medal-winning Paralympians and TV celebrities), my musicians were the epitome of calm professionalism as they entered Speaker’s House carrying their instruments, PA equipment and banners. As soon as I struck the first chord on the piano they showed their renowned commitment, energy and charisma. As always, they won the hearts of their audience.
After excellent speeches by Mr Speaker, by our patron the Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt and other MPs, the focus turned to The Music Man Project performers. Although this was Disability History Month, I introduced my musicians as history makers.
"Our ambassadors are role models. They represent the now, the future and the potential of their community. We must look back to history to inform the future, to what can be achieved with the right support and opportunities”.
Reinforcing my point, in an adjoining room alongside a portrait of former Labour Minister David Blunkett, a large TV screen displayed photos and videos of The Music Man Project making history. The digital exhibition included our ground-breaking partnership with the Royal Marines, performances at the London Palladium, the Royal Albert Hall, 10 Downing Street, Painted Hall in Greenwich, Birmingham's NEC and a tour to San Diego. It showed TV coverage, celebrity endorsements, our UK network of regional Music Man Projects and life-changing teaching trips to India, Nepal, South Africa, America and the Philippines.
Back at the main reception, the speeches gave way to a rousing performance of our theme song ‘Music is Magic’. Our patron Anna Firth MP, who helped arranged the visit, was keen for us to follow this with our famously energetic song ‘High Low Middle’ to get everyone up and dancing.
The room transformed. The guests, who had to this point given respectful applause between sipping their champagne, were suddenly taken under the spell of our musicians. The future of disability accessible arts and culture was there for all to see: performers with disabilities showing their musical ability, entertaining, educating and inspiring. Reversing perceptions.
Then I glanced up from the piano…
The Speaker, whose role is almost as old as Parliament itself.
The Speaker, who represents the House of Commons to the monarch, visiting dignitaries and the House of Lords.
The Speaker, who chairs debates in the House of Commons where MPs consider and propose new laws.
The speaker, who so famously shouts ORDER…
...was dancing Gangnam style and the Can-Can! Egged on by our revelling musicians, his beaming smile and raucous laughter mirrored the Ambassadors' every note and movement. It was a joy to behold!
I reflected on how The Music Man Project students work their magic. It seems their learning difficulties and love of music connects with people on a deeper level, somehow relieving us of the burdens which characterise our daily lives. It's like gold dust. Looking up from the piano the realisation struck me that, far from being receivers of music therapy, they are the ones actually helping others to live in the moment. To let go.
Speaker’s House was added to the list of prestigious venues that The Music Man Project has taken by storm. The following morning, Leader of the House, Penny Mordaunt even referred to the events of the night before in the chamber!