Established in September 2015, the South-West Open Youth Orchestra (#SWOYO) is the UK’s first disabled-led regional youth orchestra. #SWOYO is currently led by six young musicians who have severely impaired mobility, challenges regarding gross and fine motor control, visual impairments, speech difficulties and cognitive impairments like autistic spectrum condition. Support from the DM Thomas Foundation for Young People has been essential in enabling OpenUp Music to launch this iconic musical initiative.
In this photograph, two #SWOYO musicians, Bradley (left) and George (right), play musical instruments that have been created specifically for them by OpenUp Music. Bradley has cerebral palsy and plays his instrument with his eyes controlling which note he plays and changing the quality of the sound by where he looks on his computer screen.
Bradley says “I get a buzz playing music in front of people. I love being part of the South West Open Youth Orchestra. I feel a kind of freedom and belonging. I meet lots of new people. Disability should never be a barrier to enjoying music and getting involved.”
George also has cerebral palsy and plays a similar instrument to Bradley. George’s instrument is controlled by his head movements. George says “I always liked music, this is my first chance to be in an orchestra. Everyone makes music in their own way.”
#SWOYO performed to approximately 500 live audience members during BBC Music Day on 3rd June 2016 – part of Colston Hall’s Fast Forward Music Festival. This event was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’, presented by Sean Rafferty, to thousands of people across the country.
All three #SWOYO pieces were filmed by the BBC and posted online among the ‘best bits of BBC Music Day 2016’.