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Interview with Georgina Spray, co-researcher

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Georgina, a co-researcher on our new report, Reshape Music, shares her experiences of making music.

Georgina started playing the tenor horn when she was 7 and moved onto the French horn when she was 12. She has played in the Lincolnshire Music Service for a number of years. Most notably, she has toured to Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain and Germany and performed in the BBC School Proms at the Royal Albert Hall with the Lincolnshire Youth Symphony/Wind Orchestra. She has just graduated from the University of Huddersfield with a BMus (Hons) degree and is now actively seeking to start her career in music, focusing on music and disability.

One of her favourite things in the world is rehearsing with the London Centre of the National Open Youth Orchestra (NOYO), run by Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning. Georgina is also a newly elected young ambassador for the National Autistic Society.

My name's Georgina. I'm twenty-one years old. I'm from Lincolnshire and I'm working on our family farm and I'm trying to set up my own business. As well as that, I've just been offered a part time job for the charity Kids and I'm looking forward to getting started. I have played a range of musical styles, but mainly classical music.

I am currently playing with the National Open Youth Orchestra, which is the world’s first Disabled led National Youth Orchestra. At NOYO, we play pieces especially adapted for our orchestra and the instruments in it.

These include conventional orchestral instruments, alongside adapted instruments, such as the Linnstrument and the specially designed Clarion.

When and how did you first get involved with music making?

Music is important to me, because I find verbal communication difficult and music is like a universal language that people can communicate with. Without music, I probably wouldn't have made any friends and my teamwork skills wouldn't be so good.

A brass quintet came into my primary school when I was six years old and I fell in love with the trumpet. After nagging my parents for a year, they finally cracked and sent me to trumpet lessons. Shortly after I started, I moved onto the tenor horn and played in my first concert aged eight years old. When I started secondary school, I started playing the cello and doing my grade three exam.

Then, when I was twelve, I moved onto the French horn. I chose to move from tenor horn to French horn because I wanted to play in an orchestra instead of a brass band. My favourite experiences since I started making music include playing in the BBC School Proms at the Royal Albert Hall and touring five different European countries with my local music service.

Why is this research important to you?

This research is important to me because I think music education could be made more accessible to people and I think the more people that read the report and share it, the more likely the music education system will become more accessible.

The more awareness people have about the issues concerning access to music, the greater hope there is of Disabled people being helped into the world of music.

Do you think your experiences of making music have been the same as other people?

I think my own personal experiences of music making have been improved by being a member of the National Open Youth Orchestra, which is a pioneering Disabled-led orchestra. Although I played in my local music service's counter youth orchestras and ensembles, and toured Europe, I never felt included in a social way.

I was fine when we were rehearsing but felt excluded in the social setting. I would have to get the bus to some rehearsals that picked us up from school and I would always have to sit by myself and during the breaks, I would never have anyone to talk to. The loneliness I felt disappeared when I was performing.

What message do you have for other Disabled musicians?

My advice for people who are Disabled and who want to start making music is to research and find a group that you can connect with. If you can find the right setting for you, then your life will be enriched by music making in lots of different ways.

Playing music is very good for your mental health and wellbeing. If no groups are accessible, even learning to play an instrument of your choice will give you both a challenge and a reward.

How could Disabled musicians be better supported?

Music educators need to understand the limitations and obstacles that disability can bring, so that they can offer appropriate support. Everyone’s needs are individual, and I think that is important to remember.

I also think that if a Disabled musician is starting lessons with a music teacher, then the musician needs to make the teacher aware of their disability, and, if possible, tell the teacher how this might affect their music lessons.

Do you have any other hobbies or interests other than music?

Other than music, I enjoy rollercoasters, football, cross-stitching and Lego. I have a Merlin Annual Pass and like to visit Alton Towers regularly. My favourite ride is Wicker Man. Whilst I was at the University of Huddersfield, my mum and I had season cards for Huddersfield Town Football Club, but I also support Lincoln City as my home team. I enjoy making the Lego Expert Creator Kits as well. I recently got a rollercoaster to make out of Lego and now I'm saving up for the ferris wheel.

What is next for you in your musical career?

It's difficult to imagine what I will be doing in five years’ time if there are no opportunities at the moment because of Covid-19, but I hope to be helping the music education system become more accessible to Disabled people.