Beams, bells & …. bedazzled!

John Burbedge

‘Be prepared to be amazed!’ proclaimed the programme for the pioneering Beams, Bells and Beyond: Orpheus & Treloar’s in Concert - for once the hype lived up to the billing.

Limitations in movement gave way to skill and ability as a packed audience of more than 500 fell under the spell of youthful disabled musicians at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s artistic Southbank.

It was not just that young disabled people were hitting the big time and making history by performing with leading musicians for the first time at one of the world’s most prestigious music venues. It was the qualities of the performances that seared them into the memory and stirred the senses of those who had the good fortune to attend.

Quite apart from the physical quality of the performances, bearing in mind the disabilities of two-thirds of the performers, it was the additional qualities of sensitivity, insight, humour and honesty that drew the much-deserved standing ovation after almost two and a half hours of inspired entertainment.

The Beams, Bells and Beyond concert was the brainchild of Larry Westland, Founder and Director of Music for Youth. His wife had heard young disabled pupils from Treloar School near Alton, Hampshire and local Basingstoke schoolchildren, performing a unique concerto “Anvil Rings” on BBC Radio 4’s ‘You and Yours’ programme.

Treloar’s students were using “invisible instruments” — Soundbeam and Jellybean Eye — in the concerto specially commissioned by The Anvil theatre in Basingstoke and composed by inventive musician David Jackson.

Combined with hand-bells, the invisible instruments produce a dramatically different form of music. Larry Westland was determined to give Treloar’s ‘virtuosos of the virtual’ further opportunities to be heard.

Larry already knew of the prowess of the ground-breaking Orpheus Centre in Godstone, Surrey, founded by renowned musician Richard Stilgoe. The Orpheus Centre is a residential centre that works inclusively with young disabled and non-disabled people to enable them to develop their talents in music and the performing arts. A performance link-up between Orpheus and the students at Treloar’s had obvious attractions.

After Larry managed to arrange a concert venue at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, event-planning and rehearsals began in earnest.

The result was electric ... in more ways than one.

One of the key features of the Beams, Bells & Beyond concert was the use of modern high-tech electronic music combined with one of the oldest and most traditional instruments – the hand-bell.

Award-winning handbell ringers Ballard School from New Milton, Hampshire more than lived up to their international reputation. But it was the disabled students from Treloar’s — combining their talent with the non-disabled Ballard players, enthusiastically led by concerto composer David Jackson assisted by music animateur Andy Baker from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra — who stole the show with the “Anvil Rings” concerto.

This is an edited version of an article which was originally published in Special Children magazine.