Sunday, September 16, 2012

Paralympics 2012: Meet the British Paraorchestra

 The Paralympics have, above all, shown the rest of us that there should no longer be any no-go areas for  those with disabilities, so it was entirely fitting that the climax of closing ceremony saw a newly-formed orchestra of 17 disabled musicians playing out the games as the flag was lowered over east London. So fitting, indeed, that it is hard to credit how hard conductor Charles Hazlewood had to fight to make sure it happened. But he did. “I was jumping up and down, shouting, knocking on doors, like crazy, but once
people started to listen to the idea, they got it immediately”.

Our first goal,” he continues,is to use the global platform of this event to create respect for disabled
,to put a good idea out there to a world audience. I want every major city around the world to
look on and ask why it doesn’t have something similar. And then after that, through education, information and technology, I want to see every big orchestra in the world including performers with disabilities.”

The British Paraorchestra, then, is the first step on a journey that Hazlewood already has mapped out.
“I am not interested in creating a ghetto for disabled performers, but using this opportunity to lift
them up, enable them to take their rightful place.” And that is side-by-side with non-disabled musicians,
on equal terms.

The current almost complete absence of people with disabilities from orchestral ranks only really began
 to rankle with Hazlewood when he had a daughter, Eliza, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. It is not that he feels she is a precocious prodigy being held back from a dazzling career as a musician. “She’s only six,” he protests, “so I’m not making any extravagant claims”, though he does then add with a fatherly pride that Eliza “has a strong connection with music”.

Why can't musicians with disabilities compete at the highest levels, as we have seen sportsmen and women do? “Nobody with any intelligence,” he continues, “would now argue that there aren’t sportsmen and women with disabilities who can compete at the highest level. So why not musicians? Clearly they exist, but where are the platforms for them?

Link to the performance

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