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C4DM Seminar: Gawain Hewitt - Breaking barriers to music making through accessible design

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Date and Time
Wednesday, 27th January, at 3:00pm

Room ENG209, Electronic Engineering building, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS. Information on how to access the school can be found at here.

Gawain Hewitt

Breaking barriers to music making through accessible design


Conventional instruments are designed with non-disabled people in mind. If a person’s impairment is such that they cannot play a musical instrument, then they face an access barrier to music making and they are disabled. Drake Music believe that good musical instrument design can remove this barrier, allowing disabled musicians to develop deep and lasting artistic practice and careers.

There are only six widely available solutions for accessible music-making. In contrast, an orchestra is made up of at least nineteen instrument types, rock and pop frequently uses four or more types and the instruments used in world, electronic, jazz and folk musics add up to a rich and diverse pallet of choice for most aspiring and professional musicians. This disparity needs to be bridged, in particular with the development of more expressive musical instruments for those facing barriers to music-making.

In this lecture I will talk about how good design can remove access barriers to music making for disabled people and level the playing field. I will demonstrate existing music technology that we use in schools, and demonstrate and give examples of successes from Drake Music’s DMLab programme, which supports innovation in accessible musical instrument design, and explore the barriers and opportunities we face in pushing this important area of research and community practice forward.

Music is a powerful storytelling medium, and if, as a culture, we are excluding one section of society from storytelling, we are not hearing the full artistic output of our society.

Historically, disabled musicians and artists have not been a part of the cultural mainstream. Our project seeks to increase the awareness and understanding of the quality of the creative practice of disabled musicians and create instruments that level the playing field for opportunity, aspiration, collaboration and audience development.

Gawain Hewitt is the National Manager for Research and Development for Drake Music, a national charity which works to make music making accessible for disabled people. A composer and music technologist, Gawain likes to work in the areas where technology and art meet. As an educator he specialises in working in non mainstream settings, including children expelled from school, young offenders, disabled children and those considered to have special educational needs (SEN). Gawain has worked in a wide variety of schools and educational settings including SEN schools, Pupil Referral Units, as a University Lecturer and as a tutor and leader of community projects. Seeking to share and develop practice throughout his career, Gawain has taught and supported new professionals into this work, as well as providing CPD within schools and at training courses in partnership with, among others, The Royal Academy of Music, Wigmore Hall, Drake Music, Sound Connections, Trinity Laban, Serious and Community Music. In 2013 Gawain was a contributing author to the Music Mark book ‘Reaching Out: Music education with ‘hard to reach’ children and young people.’

Gawain has passion for community music which is driven from a belief that all people should be making music, and a strong belief in the power of music to drive social change, both for the individual and the community as a whole.

Gawain has released music under his own name as well as working with Terje Isungset, Arve Hendriksen, Mary Wilson, TY and N Dubz among others. Gawain is also a practicing Sound Artist, with commissions including the Royal Brompton Hospital, City of London Festival, Spitalfields Festival and Ice Music Festival.

Gawain lives in south London with his wife Claire, daughters Ava and Niamh and a highly strung cat called Rudi.

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