I believe the best way to raise awareness about the talents of people with learning disabilities is to promote them in as many different ways as possible. With today’s technology, it has never been easier to reach people, and my charity successfully runs a website, blog, YouTube channel, Twitter account and numerous Facebook pages. It took a long time to build our audience across these platforms, and I recall some mockery about my small number of followers in the early days. Fortunately, leading an organisation gives you a thick skin, and I remained determined to take every opportunity available to further my campaign. It was definitely worth the hard work and has provided my growing network with a model to follow. We have a global online community and people recognise The Music Man Project brand across the UK and overseas. These online platforms were also a lifeline during the COVID-19 lockdown.
I always thought a podcast would be a positive addition, but I didn’t have the time or expertise to produce one on my own. It was while visiting “Our Broadway”, a group for sight-impaired musicians in New York, that I understood how important it is to capture the voices of my students, their families, volunteers, supporters and anyone else linked to this global community. We all have amazing stories to tell and our unique contributions to history risk being lost forever if we don’t find a way to record them. Humanity will keep making the same mistakes unless we learn from those who walked our path before us.
As with so many moments in my life, someone came along to help me at exactly the right time with exactly the right personality, skills and desire to make a difference. When local photographer and musician, Jon Webber, began volunteering at The Music Man Project in Essex, we found a volunteer, bass player, photographer, sound engineer and podcast producer! The Music Man Project Podcast was launched during the first UK lockdown in early 2020. Interviews about coping with isolation, dealing with bereavement, a Music Man Project Philippines Special and lots of other topics filled 15 episodes and generated over 1,500 downloads. One student even listened in the bath! It was a great start, thanks to Jon.
Seemingly unrelated, in the middle of the first lockdown, I performed in a socially-distanced play to celebrate the birth of radio. “The Power Behind the Microphone” marked one hundred years since history was made in Chelmsford: On 15 June 1920, the world’s most famous opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba, was brought to the Marconi New Street Works to perform a radio concert. It was the first live entertainment broadcast by an artist of international standing and it revolutionised the world of entertainment. The performance followed a series of experimental broadcasts run by The Marconi Company earlier that year.
The radio play was the only live theatre performance in the country during lockdown and the story was covered by Michelle Durant from Chelmsford Community Radio. Fast forward 6 months and I am talking again to Michelle on CCR, this time following my recent Honour from Her Majesty the Queen. We discussed the prospect of The Music Man Project having its own slot on her station and the idea became a reality a month later. From a modest podcast to a monthly radio show with the potential to reach thousands - all in the City which invented the Wireless!
The Music Man Project Show on CCR is an opportunity to bring the voices and talents of musicians with learning disabilities to a much wider audience. It will feature news, interviews and music to showcase our work in Essex and around the world. I am excited to share the stories of my amazing students who continue to astound and inspire me in equal measure every day.
When promoting the show, Chelmsford Community Radio Director Hal MacLean said, “We are delighted to be able to have such a worthwhile charity as part of our presenting team. When we set up the station, we were clear it is for all people, not just those who have a background or skills in radio. This collaboration exemplifies what CCR is all about and we are eagerly looking forward to seeing this take root on the airwaves".
Where The Music Man Project and Chelmsford Community Radio lead, I am confident others will follow. Why is there not already a regular radio show about learning disability on BBC local radio or even national radio? How fitting that such an innovation has come from the home of radio, where this once ground-breaking technology all began.
You can tune in to hear The Music Man Project Radio Show every second Sunday of the month from 10am-12pm in Chelmsford on 104.4FM or anywhere in the world by visiting www.chelmsfordcommunityradio.com, or by asking your smart speaker to “play Chelmsford Community Radio. You can also listen on demand on The Music Man Project Podcast!
Thank you to my producer Jon, thank you Michelle and thank you Chelmsford Community Radio! Once again Chelmsford is the ‘Power Behind the Microphone’, this time for people with learning disabilities. Mr Marconi would be proud!