I am delighted to announce that my company, Audiovisability has been awarded charity status by the Charity Commission. The process has been a hard one, and one that has taken many, many months to complete – but we’ve done it!
Charity registration is very important not only to me but for the future of all deaf people who enjoy music and for their careers. It gives us an opportunity to show that music is important to deaf people and that we can listen to, play, and compose music.
We are a deaf-led organisation and my drive comes from my own personal experience. I’m from a musical family which means the foundations were already in place but being a deaf person meant my journey wasn’t as straightforward as it is for a hearing person. I often struggled. There were ups and downs and times where I considered giving up.
I have loved the flute ever since I was a 12 year-old girl and the first time I picked one up I knew it was the instrument for me. I progressed well in my education, but with hindsight I realise this was because of the one-to-one lessons I had and the school I went to. At my deaf school I had an excellent music teacher who saw my potential and encouraged me to continue with my studies. They even formed a band where all of the deaf students could come together to play our instruments. I also did performance related competitions outside school too. These opportunities helped me.
At home I witnessed the world of music first-hand. My parents would take my brothers and me to concerts which meant I was fully exposed to the world of music. I could see myself having a career as a musician.
After finishing school and auditioning for music college I realised it was actually going to be more challenging than I had anticipated. Auditions were tough – I would be asked ‘how do you expect to study for a music degree if you are deaf?’. This was back in 2000 when we didn’t have the legislation we have now and disability awareness wasn’t what it is today. I felt I had to prove myself and to work hard. I quickly realised that the music colleges didn’t have any understanding at all of what it meant to be a deaf musician, or even deafness! My auditions were always without an interpreter and I would have to interview by myself. I have a vivid memory of one particular interview where I was trying to say the word ‘association’ without success and having to think of an alternate word.
I was rejected many times before finally securing a place at the Royal Welsh College of Music, in Cardiff. I think the experience of having so many failed auditions taught me how to improve my interview technique. I would offer suggestions for adaptations to allay their fears – perhaps I couldn’t do the listening exam but I could instead do music theory test papers. I tried to instill an sense of confidence in me as a musician and to show that I was already a performing flautist, and with small modifications to the course I could complete it.
The four years it took to complete my course were tough, but incredible. I was very happy at the RWCMD. I had a full time British Sign Language interpreter which made the world of difference. I had full access and I thrived.
Post-graduation I came back to earth with a bump. It quickly became apparent that the opportunities for a deaf music teacher teaching deaf children were just not there. So instead I joined the Essex Music Service where I was employed for 13 wonderful years. I enjoyed my time immensely and learned so much from the hearing students – how they responded to my teaching helped me to further develop as a music teacher. My favourite part was seeing their progression. I loved to see them pass their exams and to secure a place in a music college. I regularly would attend their concerts and to see them in an orchestra was incredible. Some went on to complete their diplomas, and flute performance, music degrees. I consider myself fortunate to have been with them from the very start.
My mother established a music group for babies and I have worked with her since 2006. I loved to see how babies enjoyed music and when I became a mother myself I would always take my boys to class.
One of my sons is deaf and I would take him to class with his brother. I established music groups for deaf babies too which meant I could take my boys to work with me!
As time progressed I would run more and more workshops, but this were always one offs. Music education for deaf children hasn’t really progressed. Schools do provide music education for deaf children but it strikes me that there is something missing, and like a bolt of lightning I realised
what this was. Many deaf children and young people are incredibly skilled in music – I’ve seen them become fluent in playing an instrument, become singers, and to become proficient at writing and reading music – but there are very few opportunities out there. There simply is not really a career there for them and the ones that do have a professional career often work in isolation. This is why I formed Audiovisability; to bring people together.
My plan is simple, I want to shake the norm. I want to revolutionise the education of deaf musicians and to see music as a visual art too. It’s time society knows that we are here and we can enjoy music.
I joined the Clore Fellowship where I learned leadership skills, organisational structure and how to fundraise. That was an amazing experience and one that made me realise that if you have vision you can create something. It gave me confidence in my ability.
The name Audiovisability is an amalgamation of audio and visibility, as well as ‘audio-disability’. As deaf people we often need to be able to ‘see’ music to help us to understand. Our eyes do the hearing our ears do not.
I am so excited about this next chapter and our vision is to grow, not only as an organisation but the opportunities for deaf musicians. I want to open doors, to forge career paths and to see deaf people succeed. I feel I have a lot to contribute and am putting my music privilege to use. I will draw on my networks to further the success of deaf people and to host events that showcase the talent that is there in the community.
This isn’t simply about what I want and what I think we should do. You, as members of the community and as professionals, have an important voice and I hope that if you have ideas you will share them with me. I believe in partnerships and collaborative working and I truly want to hear from you. Please get in touch.