The Drake Music Project helps young people with disabilities in accessing independent music-making workshops. We spoke with its NI CEO and tutor Michelle McCormack about the impact this funding will have on the work the charity does.
Can you explain how your charity helps young people?
The Drake Music Project exists to help musicians with various disabilities to compose and perform music. In order to do that we design, build and provide adapted musical instruments and also computer music interfaces in the studio.
The charity started in Northern Ireland 24 years ago and the good news is that, 24 years on, the technology is getting cheaper and much more easily accessed, as well as much more easily adapted for people.
The sky's the limit for anyone with creativity who needs assistance to express it. In our most recent season we worked with 212 students a week.
I’m a string player so I need the use of left hand fingers and the right hand for bowing. So for example, someone who wants to be able to play or produce sound of that nature but doesn't necessarily have that gestural control can instead access different switch pads or different controls based on the different parts of their body that they do have voluntary control over.
So we have people who will produce a string sound with feet, or they'll use switches on the side of their head, if they are wheelchair users we can have pressure switches on different parts of the wheelchair that they can switch on and off. Once they can get an on/off switch anything beyond that can be controlled by them through software.
How will this money help you further your work?
We have a studio in Belfast, a studio in Newry and a brand new facility opening up in Derry, which we’re delighted about. The funding is going to be channelled mainly towards the Derry workshops.
But people don't always have to come to us. Because of the size of the award we're going to go cross borders as well, we are going to move across to Letterkenny (Co Donegal) and talk to a lot of our associates across the Irish border who are interested in doing the same as us.
We plan to train people and give them the capabilities to help others. The more people who can get access this technology, the more people can benefit.
Is there anyone who sticks out in your mind as someone the charity has helped or who’ll directly benefit from your Coca-Cola Thank You Fund grant?
A lot of our work at the moment is based with young adults with acquired brain injury. One person in particular who sticks out is a young woman who just after finishing her degree at university unfortunately had a serious road traffic accident and now has a brain injury.
Prior to her accident she was a very accomplished pianist. But now she has quite a few problems with memory retention in regard to playing chords. One of the most successful single projects for me as a tutor is to work with this musician designing a chord sequencer with her – so now she can play music again.
What difference will it make to your charity?
This helps a lot. I would like to thank Coca-Cola very much for this – a grant like this will lever a lot more behind it as well. For us to be recognised by Coke is very positive. It's a brand that everybody knows, it's a brand that everybody is aware of. It gives a great deal of clout to a project like ours to be recognised by a brand like that who could spread the message.
This might catch the attention of some people who might have just flicked the page over and not read about us prior to this. I hope this will help us to reach new students and new communities. This could take it to another level.
How does it feel to have won?
It's lovely! Not only will this money make a huge difference, but the great thing about the awards event in Dublin was we were able to network with like-minded people, because obviously every single project there was a worthy winner. Everybody believes passionately in the projects they’re doing.
How can people get involved or help out with your charity?
People can volunteer with us. Musicians can come and help. We say to people, you don't have to be the most technical person in the world, all you need is to have a love of music and want to share that to inspire someone else. Please do get in touch if you think you could help! Even if we are not active in your area we certainly will be able to facilitate you getting some of our training materials and some of our equipment.
Most importantly we want to spread the word to musicians out there who are burning to play but who think that a violin or a keyboard or a guitar stops them from doing because of their disability.
Judge Deirdre Finlay explains why Drake Music Project stood out…
“I found this was a really moving project,” says Deidre. “It's very technical and what I think was really different and interesting about it was it's about people with quite severe disabilities finding a way to express themselves and express their feelings through music.
“It challenges the idea that just because someone is disabled they are not able to communicate effectively. They actually are able to communicate and really effectively through these machines – it’s like breaking down a barrier.”