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Interview with Holli Pandit, co-researcher

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

Holli has just finished her A levels in Music, Chemistry and French at Watford Grammar School for Girls. Next year she hopes to go to a Conservatoire to study towards a BMus qualification with harp as her principal instrument. She has been at Junior Guildhall for two years and will stay for her gap year. She was diagnosed with Asperger’s when she was 11 but started playing harp when she was 9.

In 2016 she played at Autism's Got Talent - an event organised by Anna Kennedy and her team. She also played in their show in 2019. She has been playing in the National Open Youth Orchestra (NOYO) since September 2019 and has really enjoyed playing contemporary music with them. In her spare time, you might find Holli reading fiction or music books. You can find Holli on LinkedIn here: Holli Pandit


Hello. My name is Holli and I play harp. I was diagnosed with autism when I was nine years old and now I am eighteen years old. The kind of music I play is mostly classical on the harp, but recently I've been learning a piece called 'Milonga' and it's an Argentinian love song.

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

I first started learning the harp when I was nine years old and before I used to learn the lyre, but then I decided to learn the harp because it was a more versatile instrument and it meant I could play in orchestras.

My first role model when I was learning the harp was my first teacher, because her harp was really tall and big, and I just thought it was a really nice instrument to play. I find music is important to me because it's given me more ways to express myself and it's also made me more independent.

So I have to travel sometimes to go to my lessons, which means I have to take the Tube and the bus and trains by myself, and it's given me a lot of practice now. I also find that going to music clubs, especially at school, has helped me become more independent and it means that I find socialising a lot more easier and less stressful.

My favourite experiences so far have been playing in the National Open Youth Orchestra, because it's really given me a lot of opportunities and it means that, as an orchestra, we are showing the world that we also enjoy playing music as Disabled people.

Another one of my most favourite experiences was when I played in the Anna Kennedy Autism's Got Talent Show. I've done that twice now and I really enjoyed playing the harp to the audience and also just showing as an autistic person, that I am also playing music just like the other non-Disabled musicians.

Why is this research important to you?

I find the research really important to me because it shows the barriers that Disabled musicians have to deal with almost everyday and I think that's important and I think that even if you're not Disabled, you can try and find ways to help us with the barriers.

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

As I have Asperger's, I find playing on stages with an orchestra quite stressful, because of the bright lights and also because the sounds are very loud and I find it quite stressful.

What message do you have for other Disabled musicians?

I would say, if you're a Disabled person who are looking forward to making music, you should contact your local music hub and see if they have any classes going on which interest you and if they don't, hopefully they should be able to signpost you somewhere.

I think if you haven't ever been involved in making music, you're missing out on a lot because it's an opportunity to express yourself without words and I think that's really powerful.

How could Disabled musicians be better supported?

I think music educators should learn more about disabilities in their training and different methods they can use to teach their students. For example, my harp teacher; she has developed some methods, so she'll show me where to move my arm and I find being shown something really benefits me rather than just being told what to do.

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

Yes. I'm interested in finance and politics as well. I find that they affect the music world quite a lot and I'm really interested in the music world. I also see them as a different way to look at the world from a different angle and I think that's really nice to see, because I like seeing lots of the world through the music point of view, but it's more refreshing for me.

What is next for you in your musical career?

In five years’ time, hopefully I would have finished my undergraduate at a conservatoire and I'll be a professional harpist. I will also still be playing with NOYO and I'm really excited to see what we will be doing then.

In five years’ time, I would like to see more Disabled musicians playing music with non-Disabled musicians, so that we can better feed off each other’s strengths.

I'd also want more Disabled musicians to speak out more about their barriers and also just to show people that they can be role models too, so that we have more people to look up to as Disabled musicians.