A music theatre project with composer Dr Deirdre Gribbin is giving young people with Down Syndrome increased confidence in expressing their feelings through composing and performing.
The RCM’s Knowledge Exchange Fund has supported Dr Gribbin in developing ‘We Compose’, a composition toolkit for individuals with cognitive challenges, which gives isolated people the opportunity to express themselves and develop through creative music and theatre making.
Dr Gribbin has her own lived experience as a mother of a young person with Down Syndrome, which was the motivation for her creating the Venus Blazing Music Theatre Trust with theatre director Lou Stein. Dr Gribbin said 'A significant number of young people I encounter with Down Syndrome have low self-esteem and are perceptive and aware of the limitations associated with their disability. Often this is a psychological perception and not based on actuality. Traditional teaching and mainstream education settings are good at including individuals but people with Down Syndrome are often all too aware of the gap between themselves and their peers.'
The RCM recognises the importance of working with under-represented communities to use the positive effects of music in real-world situations. Music can be a particularly powerful bridge for people who find the use of language and its meaning difficult. Dr Gribbin said 'Our work recognises the young people’s ability to communicate with real empathy in a way that we can all benefit from. We can all become better communicators.'
The monthly Venus Blazing sessions for young people with learning disabilities which are run alongside RCM student volunteers at The Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, London, have seen both the participants’ and the students’ personalities grow through friendship and mentoring. This creative music making process allows their confidence to grow in a non-judgemental, non-competitive way.
The 'We Compose' programme has helped the young people to overcome barriers to participating in group activities. One parent said their son '...has never been able to do an after-school club, play date or group work as he usually won't stay in the group, or we get asked to leave as he can’t or won't comply, it's just always been way too challenging. It has been a breath of fresh air to work with people that understand, don't judge and truly accept.'
The long-term aim of the programme is to build the participants’ skills at their own pace, which teaches a great sense of perseverance and of respecting people’s different learning styles, and to recruit more volunteers to support the participants.
Dr Gribbin is piloting aspects of the 'We Compose' toolkit in the monthly sessions with the aim of rolling it out to a wider community. The toolkit has the potential to be used as a flexible, good-practice guide for inclusive composition teaching. The RCM’s Knowledge Exchange Fund has supported Dr Gribbin in developing 'We Compose', a composition toolkit for individuals with cognitive challenges, which gives isolated people the opportunity to express themselves and develop through creative music and theatre making.