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Take a LEAP

Wow! What a week! 8 musicians from completely different musical worlds thrown together in a huge converted barn called Cats Abbey in Oxfordshire. What could be discovered in 4 days!?

We were about to find out!

We were all chosen to attend this LEAP residency which is an exciting new Talent Development programme funded by Paul Hamlyn Foundation which supports 8 outstanding artists from around the UK who wish to develop their Learning & Participation skills, ideas and practice broadly.

The adventure started for me on Monday morning lugging my cajon, multiple egg shakers and rucksack to Central Station in Newcastle to catch my first of multiple trains.

As we approached York a guy got on and sat next to me, I happened to glance his name on his notebook. It was one of the other musicians attending the residency! We started talking for the rest of the journey and time started to fly by! We found out about each other and our areas of work - completely different, he composes Operas!

We made it to Oxford to find out that our next train was cancelled, we spoke to a train guard who kindly booked us a taxi to our station we were headed to, there happened to be another person heading the same way as us. Yep, another participant attending the residency! A games composer, arranager, conductor and arts producer

There were now three musicians from Edinburgh, York and Gateshead piling into a taxi heading to Charlbury Station. Usually in settings where I don't know people I don't tend to say much for a while but something was created in that setting where it felt like we'd known each other for ever! We chatted the entire way to the station.

We arrived at the station and swapped into another taxi which took us to Cats Abbey. None of us knew what to expect on arrival but it was definitely not what we expected!

This was our home for the week! Incredible! We were greeted on arrival but the three main organisers of the residential, we were then allocated our own rooms with ensuites. We unpacked, settled in and had a drink whilst we waited for the 5 other participants;

A jazz vocalist, a guitarist and music tech maestro, a singer/songwriter , an indie rock artist, and a North Indian classical singer! who were all stuck in London as the trains were cancelled and then delayed. This seemed to be a repeating occurrence over the week!

When the other musicians arrived they were shown their rooms before we were all whisked off to the seating area to listen to our first of many guest speakers of the week. Due to the train delays we didn't have time to do introductions. It was all done in reverse!

We had dinner all together. Again nothing like what we were expecting! We were catered for the whole week with incredible food! I have not eaten so well in so long. After dinner it was back into presentations, this one being on musicians' wellbeing. We managed to fit in introductions within this session to get to know each other properly! We finished sessions at 10pm. So...

Off to bed as it was an early start the next morning planning for our workshops. We were all put into pairs and designated a different setting we would be working in the next day. I was with a guitarist and music tech genius and we were heading into a hospital! We didn't know exactly who our participants were so we planned a rough session and rehearsed a load of songs we could sing and teach with everyone. We planned to incorporate ipads and other music tech devices in our session too.

After planning it was straight back to the seating area, by this time I'd found a perfect spot on the gigantic sofa, directly in the middle. It ate me up every session and I was exceptionally comfy splayed out on it! I claimed that as my space every day and everyone knew it was my 'spot'.

We were back into hearing different presentations including quality and success in learning and participation practice, mass participation and safe guarding. Our brains were slowly starting to fill up with amazing and useful knowledge and insights.

Again it was a well catered dinner where we stuffed our faces, well I did... before our final session of the day - Communication Skills. Uh Oh!

If you're not aware this is something that would have terrified me before. Having Cerebral Palsy which affects my left side and speech is not usually a great mix with public speaking and communicating. However, I felt so at ease with everyone that I volunteered myself to do a mini presentation where I'd get feedback from everyone else. The feedback was so positive, it gave me so much confidence to start believing in myself. We had one more session that evening before heading off to bed again! This bed was amazing!

Day 3 we awoke and there was a slight apprehension in the air as today was 'placement day'. We'd had an hour and a half to plan a session with someone we'd only just met! It wasn't going to be plain sailing. Before we set off to workshops we had more presentations where we learnt about festivals and support for musicians., - Musicians Union.

By this point I was exhausted so I opted to miss the next session on delivery in specific settings and have a nap ready for our workshop! When I awoke ready for lunch there were numerous people now congregating in the main space. I was introducing myself bleary eyed to all these amazing practitioners, directors and organisations. I hope I did a good job!

After lunch it was workshop time, so we all gathered our instruments, repertoire and went off to different settings. Just to add to the slight pressure each pair had multiple observers in the settings watching our every move!

We arrived at the hospital, found the space and saw some of our participants, within 30 seconds of being there we knew our plan would not be accessible for this session so we scrapped it and just went with the flow! We ended up having a massive sing along with the elderly patients, from The Beatles to war time classics, some songs I didn't know at all! I think the term for how we led our session was called 'Winging It.' We finished our session and returned back to the barn eager to hear how everyone's went. We all shared our experiences and there was a real sense of triumph amongst us all!

For me I came away with a true sense of who I am as a person. I decided not to introduce the fact that I have a disability as my speech was not an issue that day (thanks to speech therapy!) For the first time in a session in 7 years, no-one mentioned my disability. I was seen as simply a musician, doing what I love. It was amazing and another boost in my confidence!

After dinner it was off to my 'spot' on the sofa for another presentation. This time from a Brazilian percussionist who works with Early Years. It was so inspiring! Despite it being 8pm at night I was so engaged and learnt so much!

After this there was a hint throughout the day that we hadn't made music altogether so I decided to facilitate a session with everyone. I taught body percussion, boomwhackers and a song which was so much fun. There's something so fulfilling about hitting a plastic tube which creates a musical masterpiece all together! This was then followed by a chill out evening sharing music and using ipads to have a jam. It was a perfect end to a perfect day!

It was now our last day. We started with our usual congregation at breakfast with a check in, everyone was getting up later and later by this point! I think I came into breakfast at 8:55, sessions started at 9!

We did a residency evaluation and then the majority of us went for a walk. The surroundings were beautiful and it was lovely to get outside in the fresh air!

We returned for our next session which was about our online presence and funding applications. I found this soooooo helpful as I'm currently writing a funding bid to develop my show Twitch into a tour.

We had lunch, packed and then it was back to the seating area; my favourite 'spot', and a final discussion about next steps for all our projects.

In the space of 4 days, I've found many new friends, we've become one dysfunctional family and plan to support and meet up as much as possible in the future. I was inspired by everyone's story and have come away with so much knowledge and inspiration I cannot wait to implement it all in my practice. I went into this residential as a musician with a disability. I've come away as a musician, and facilitator, simply doing what I love everyday. Oh... and I happen to have Cerebral Palsy too!

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