Drake Music Project Scotland to pioneer Desktop Soundbeam for big band bash

The Drake Music Project Scotland is part of the UK-wide network founded by Adele Drake in 1988. They specialise in utilising music technology to create opportunities for disabled people to play, learn and compose music independently. Drake Scotland’s Artistic Director, Brian Cope spoke to us about their project and how the Soundbeam has become their “adopted musical instrument for disabled musicians”.

Since we became a registered company with charitable status in 1997, we have established ourselves as a centre of expertise in the field of music technology and disability. We strongly believe that everyone has the ability to participate in music making and that every effort should be made to ensure that our disabled community have equal access to music services.

Over the past 3 years, we have been working to bring about change in levels of provision in special music education in Scotland. Currently, there are only 12 full-time and 10 part-time (FTE) music teachers in Scotland’s 230 ASN (Additional Support Needs) schools and units. Building skills and resources in the sector requires long-term commitment from both Drake Scotland and our partners. In partnership with local authorities, we work in schools for a whole year, delivering high quality music projects and providing training for teachers in the creative application of music technology. For the past two years, some schools that we have worked in have been represented at North Lanarkshire schools’ annual spring concert held at the Glasgow Concert Hall. By the end of each project, the schools are equipped with the skills and resources necessary to provide a high quality sustainable music service.

At present, we are working in 8 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities. Although most of our education work takes place in ASN schools, we do some work in mainstream settings. We are currently working with a teenage boy with cerebral palsy who attends a mainstream school. Up until now, he has been unable to play music or to be integrated into the mainstream music department. Through Drake Scotland’s input and with the help of Soundbeam, he now has weekly music sessions in which he is exploring the sound of one of Logic Pro’s electric guitars. We are hoping that once he has become more familiar with his new instrument, he will be able to join other musically like-minded youngsters in making music together.

Our musicians come from a wide range of interesting musical backgrounds. Some are composers, community musicians and performers and all share an enthusiasm for enabling people to make music. Each musician is equipped with a traveling kit that consists of a Soundbeam 2 (and switchbox), an Apple laptop running Logic Pro software with a variety of sample libraries and a pair of powered monitors. They all receive training in Soundbeam 2 and Apple’s Logic Pro. The Soundbeam has become our adopted choice of musical instrument and one that we recommend to schools and centres when they purchase their equipment resource. It provides our users with easy access and a great deal of control in their music making. It is also very compatible and easy to use with all the new computer software packages.

We are currently testing the Desktop Soundbeam as part of our collaborative project with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Big Band and Antonine Court Day Centre in Drumchapel, Glasgow. We have employed a musician who will be resident in the centre for 18 months. During this time our musician-in-residence will work with a group of adults with various disabilities to compose and learn to play a piece of big band music using the Soundbeam and a new Jazz and Big Band sample library. The project will culminate in a live performance of the work being performed by the group and the RSNO Big Band. We believe that during the performance, you will not be able to distinguish who is playing the conventional trumpet and who is playing the Soundbeam trumpet.

Initial work with the Desktop Soundbeam has presented some very interesting new features. Of most interest to us is the way in which you can now assign Pitch Sequences to switches that can be played through successively note by note. This means that our switch users who possess the rhythmic ability to tap out phrases can now play melodic sequences rather than have to repeat the same one or two notes. Musically, it opens up the possibility for us to work with tonal systems that are based around chord progressions rather than being rooted in the same tonal or modal area. This will be most useful in our big band project, as it will enable our horn section to move progressively through sequences of chords without having to configure an entire set-up for each chord or mode.

It is a such a pleasure to use a piece of equipment that develops in accordance with its users’ access and creative needs and which continually responds to developments in music software and computer technology. At Drake Scotland, we are looking forward to an exciting future in this pioneering world of disability and accessible music technology.

To find out more about Drake Scotland, please visit our website at:www.drakemusicscotland.co.uk
or call us on 0131 444 2608.