A former student at West Nottinghamshire College has brought his joy of creating music to a group of learners who have visual impairments, thanks to new sound-based technology.

Marshall Fairbrother, 19, who has no sight due to being born with septo-optic dysplasia is working on a traineeship with Inspire Youth Arts, visited the college with IYA artists, to work with individuals on a sensory project, designed especially to provide access and opportunities in the arts for young people with sensory loss.

A former music production skills development student at the college, Marshall joined six students to introduce them to a new way of creating individual pieces of music through a project devised by Inspire Youth Arts.

Marshall and manager of Inspire Youth Arts, Andy Dawson, worked closely with the college’s visual impairment team to plan the specialist session for students. Marshall was particularly proud to work once again with senior visual impairment support assistant, Lisa Southwell, who was one of his assistants during his three years at college and during his work placement with Inspire.

Duncan mentored the group through their journey with music and sound

The music project was led by Duncan Chapman, a composer with Digit Music, to create a user-friendly app, with a push-pad and joystick called CMPSR, for individuals to use to create music. This was connected to an iPad and an app called Thumb Jam. The group of six at the college were the first to use this kit, coached by Marshall.

Marshall and Duncan encouraged the students to create a range of sounds using the iPads and CMPSR, including raindrop effects, Spanish guitar, bells, horns and a range of other wind and string instruments. The pieces were recorded, and students were able to critique their musical compositions and reflect upon what inspired them.

Marshall, from Alfreton in Derbyshire, joined Inspire Youth Arts on work placement during his time as a student at West Notts College and continued to work there to complete a traineeship and voluntary work. Recently he was asked to become involved in this drive to bring music to young people with disabilities.

Andy Dawson, manager of Inspire Youth Arts, said: “Sensory impaired young people can sometimes be hidden in plain sight, so it’s been great to be able to work with teachers at West Notts to explore working with these students.

“Having Marshall on our team has driven our desire to provide more sessions for people who are like Marshall, but also to be able to train him up so he can become a workshop leader.

“Today the students have already created complex, beautiful pieces of music out of nothing in just a couple of hours. So, if we could work with them for every week for six months, imagine what could be achieved. It’s a great starting point for this project.

“We worked with Digit Music, which was born out of our Able Orchestra, a large disability-led ensemble which has previously performed at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms. We’ve been developing music, ideas, initiatives and workshops and kit around making music more accessible. In the main we work with physical and learning disabilities all over the county. This is our first full on visually impaired workshop.”

The project has been funded by Arts Council England and Inspire Youth Arts’ long-term aim is to keep developing disabled young people to become musicians and to be expressive and creative.

Marshall said: “I came up with the idea to work with the students at my old college. They have all worked brilliantly with the equipment and their ideas. I had a totally different session planned for the day, but it changed organically. I liked how the plans changed because we found something unique for this group to take part in, which they really liked.

“They had free reign to make their own music, taking control over which sounds they had access to. We chose this to be as least complicated as possible and the joystick is like the ones used on wheelchairs so it’s easy to use. Duncan and I have worked well together on this project, and I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Student Josh Osborne said: “I enjoyed working on this to discover what I could do by myself. I’d be interested in doing this again, I’ve had a really good time. My favourite sound was strings of the cello.”

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