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How you can get involved in a new orchestra for young disabled people – Disability Horizons

The National Open Youth Orchestra, an orchestra for young disabled people, is currently looking for new members (deadline Sunday 8th April). Read about the experiences of one member, Benedict, and find out how you too could join and gain musical training with the organisation.

My name is Benedict Pollard. I am 25 years old and am a current member of the South West Open Youth Orchestra (SWOYO) – the regional pilot for the National Open Youth Orchestra (NOYO) where it all began. I was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus (essentially fluid on the brain) and also have Asperger’s syndrome.

I have always been interested in music from an early age. At 12 years old I decided to teach myself to play the keyboard after being inspired by my old music teacher. For many years, I mostly played at home to on my own, apart from a few occasions where I played for family members and friends.

The only public performances I did at the time were for my school’s Harvest Festival musical. But to be honest, they were nothing compared to what I’m have now done with the SWOYO.

In 2011, I moved to the National Star College in Gloucestershire, where it has a music program called OrcheStar. I joined the program as a student in my last year (2013-2014), which is where I met Doug Bott and Barry Farrimond, Musical Director and CEO of the NOYO. We spent that year devising a special piece ready for a performance at the Colston Hall in Bristol in July 2014.

In 2015, one of my tutors at National Star recommended that I put my name forward for the new upcoming SWOYO course. Happily, I was one of the five successful members of the orchestra. In our first year, we enjoyed some fantastic performances at wonderful venues, such as Bristol Cathedral (which you can see in the image at the top) and Wiltshire Music Centre.

Initially, I was one of three keyboardists in the orchestra. But after a few months, I was told about an instrument called the Linnstrument, which works like a keyboard crossed with a touchpad. It has lots of colourful lights and is a truly amazing piece of equipment. I believe it has been used by famous artists, such as Pink Floyd.

It took a few months to find my feet with it, but I have been able to not only learn new skills that allow me to add that little extra bit of magic to what we play.

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