Rewriting the score

Drummer Andrew Hewittt from Sydney and jazz musician Rob Shannon from Bathurst.
Drummer Andrew Hewittt from Sydney and jazz musician Rob Shannon from Bathurst.

Orange Regional Conservatorium’s Rewriting the Score residency brought together 13 professional musicians from across Australia, eight of whom are living with a mild to moderate disability, and five of whom are local professional musicians.

The intensive week-long collaborative and experimental workshop process was held at the conservatorium in the last week of October.

Artistic Director and Orange Regional Conservatorium Director, Graham Sattler, said the idea for the residency came out of a forum held by Accessible Arts a couple of years ago. At the forum it was identified that there are fewer opportunities for professional musicians living with a disability then there are for professional artists in other art forms.

“Arts practice for professional musicians with a disability is more limited. I felt that we could create some connections and that hopefully a valid and valuable way to do that would be to set up a residency,” Mr Sattler said. “It needed to be a substantial project to have an impact.”

The residency was very much a collaborative approach, asking the musicians to bring their skills and ideas and be open to the musical outcomes. Instruments played included various horns, drums, percussion, guitar, didgeridoo, vocals, piano and keyboards; with participants travelling from as far as Hobart, Perth and Brisbane.

“What’s been very interesting is that a lot of the musicians have come wanting to know what was expected of them… and what was expected of them was [simply] professional practice and a willingness to engage and to spend six days working,” Graham Sattler said.

For drummer Andrew Hewitt from Sydney, coming from a rock background into a residency with musicians who cross a range of other styles was challenging, but also why he signed up.

“When I found about this opportunity I jumped at it because I wanted to challenge myself. I’ve been playing in bands for years. I wanted to do something a bit different. This week I’ve been involved in playing jazz, with brushes, which I’ve not done for a long time, and some orchestral stuff, with horns and piano. It was really cool.”

Mr Hewitt said that for him the residency was all about music making, with people’s disabilities largely irrelevant to the process.

“I’ve always focussed on being a drummer, not my disability. I’m a drummer first and I just happen to have cerebral palsy,” he said.

Andrew Hewitt’s parents bought him a drum kit when he was 10 years old as something that might help him develop movement in his muscles.

“They thought it would be something I’d play for a bit and give up,” he said, but 30 years later he’s still playing and has made it his career. “I’ve played in a lot of rock bands and I also do drumming workshops with people with a disability, which gets me travelling all over the country.”

From his own experience running drumming workshops, Mr Hewitt knows firsthand the benefits of inclusive music programs.

“A lot of people with a disability don’t have the chance to express themselves. Put a drum stick in their hand, no matter how severe the disability, they know what to do. It gives them confidence and [it’s] something they really enjoy,” he said.

The musicians grouped up into trios and duos as well as coming together for bigger numbers. A dozen new pieces of work were created. Some were brand new works that came out of jam sessions, others evolved from ideas various musicians had brought with them. The new music was performed in an informal public concert on the final night of the project.

“From the feedback that I’ve got there’s been talk about learning, talk about opening up new, if not directions, but new angles and creative processes for everyone involved. And it was very deliberate to facilitate that but we didn’t want to impose any expectations as to where that went,” Mr Sattler said.

The project was funded by Arts NSW through the special Regional Conservatoriums pool of funding.

The participating musicians were paid for their time and had travel and accommodation covered for the week. This too was an important element of the professional experience.

“Paying a fee to the musicians is important because it’s about normalising the environment, facilitating the coming together and also paying people because they are professional musicians,” Mr Sattler said.

The conservatorium documented the process and recorded the music produced. Graham Sattler now hopes to write up the project as a model that others can draw from.

“What I’m now hoping will be an outcome will be a model that is seen as achievable for other organisations, ours also hopefully, but a model that will show that very little by way of allowance needs to be made, if anything, for professional musicians who happen to have physical disability. Showing that it’s much easier than maybe you think,” Graham Sattler said.

Andrew Hewitt said the main outcomes of his week were the chance to experiment as a musician and pick up new ideas. “It’s also given me a lot more confidence in my ability,” he said.