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March 2008

Sign to Sing

Young people from the Cedar Special School in Doncaster are to set up their very own singing and signing choir with the help of Live Music Now (LMN) and members of Accessible Arts’ inspirational Hands and Voices Choir (the first ever singing and signing choir).

With generous funding from Youth Music and the Mayfield Valley Arts Trust, the ‘singing and signing’ project allows young people who have limited language and communication skills to reap the emotional & creative benefits that arise through the fusion of singing and signing. Signing only/hearing-impaired choirs are a well-known phenomena, however the inclusion of singing provides a truly unique experience for performers and audiences alike.

The project will give 30 young people with a wide range of communication needs the opportunity to work alongside LMN musicians Debbie Bennett and Elizabeth Keetley (soprano and piano), Martin Hodgson (a learning disabled apprentice workshop leader from the internationally renown Hands & Voices choir) and Mollie Taylor, his mentor. The young people will perform their own compositions alongside works by professional composers at a public performance on 19 March 2008, featuring a performance by the full Hands and Voices choir.

The repertoire will be extremely diverse and representative of the type of music that LMN artists and Hands & Voices would use in a typical special school performance. The choir will be taught Western Classical, Spirituals, Gospel, Folk and pop songs as well as writing the music and lyrics for their own original compositions.

Lucy Galliard, Live Music Now, said:

“The point of the singing and signing choir is for everybody, regardless of their ability, to take part at their own level. Some might sing, some will only be signing, while others will be able to join in with every element.”

LMN is so confident of the outcome that it is basing its 30th Anniversary celebrations around the choir with a grand performance at 1.30 p.m. on Wednesday 19 March, attended by key figures in the arts and music, as well as pupils from other special schools to be held at St. Peter’s Church, Warmsworth Road, Doncaster.

Martin Hodgson from Hands & Voices said:

“I am really enjoying having an opportunity to teach signing to the young people and I’m learning lots from the Live Music Now musicians.”

The Singing and Signing Project is supported by Youth Music and Mayfield Arts Trust.

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Further information from:

Rita Vail/Annette Maylam
Vail & Associates
T: 020 7738 0722
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About Live Music Now

The conductor and violinist, Yehudi Menuhin was convinced of Live Music Now’s potential, having experienced the power of music to touch the lives of people suffering during the Second World War. Research has demonstrated the therapeutic value of music for people with disabilities or illness, and those who are marginalised by society. Thanks to LMN’s pioneering efforts, such work has now become a feature of this country’s musical life.

Live Music Now has developed and adapted over thirty years, so that it is as relevant today as it was innovative at the outset, 30 years ago. Around 3,000 performances and workshops are now given each year, reaching some 200,000 people in venues such as schools for children with special needs, centres for adults with physical and mental disabilities, residential homes for older people, community centres, hospices and prisons.

Every LMN session is based around participation and interaction, and most take place as part of larger projects, avoiding one-off sessions and enabling participants to have greater musical involvement. Increasingly, LMN offers training opportunities for venue staff, so that they can enlarge their understanding of the role music can play and ways in which to incorporate simple musical activities on a daily basis. Young musicians receive training to support their presentation and leadership skills. Whilst on the scheme they gain invaluable experience and a helpful source of income as well as increasing their understanding and ability as performers.

The organisation is indebted to His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales, for his Patronage of the scheme.

About the Hands & Voices Choir

Hands & Voices (the first ever signing and signing choir) was set up by York based charity Accessible Arts in 1997, to aid communication between learning disabled performers and their audience. They have been heralded as one of the most exciting choirs to emerge from Yorkshire in recent years and are renown for their forays into every genre of music from tribal to opera, dabbling with a bit of jazz and hip-hop along the way.

About Signing

Signing is an integral aspect of the Hands & Voices choir, as the majority of Hands & Voices comprises of adults with learning difficulties and associated disabilities.
The Vocalise project will primarily use signs taken from Makaton (an internationally recognised communication programme, used in more than 40 countries worldwide) and was developed through a research project which identified the words that we all use most frequently and need in everyday conversation. Then signs from British Sign Language, used by the deaf community in this country, were matched to these words, so that as you speak you sign and speak at the same time. Signs are often pictorial and convey the meaning more easily than words, which are more abstract.

Makaton users are first encouraged to communicate using signs, then gradually, as a link is made between the word and the sign, the signs are dropped and speech takes over.

It is often thought that signing would prevent speech developing. But research suggests very strongly that this is not the case. In fact the opposite occurs, as signing seems to positively encourage speech development. Many hundreds of thousands of children and adults have been helped significantly in this manner.

Furthermore for some children and adults, combining symbols, signs and speech together is proving to be an effective way of developing literacy skills.

About Youth Music

Youth Music works alongside the formal and community-based sectors to support music-making and training. Its funding complements music in the national curriculum by supporting activities held mainly outside of school hours and delivered by non-profit making organisations.

Youth Music also aims to support wider aspects of music-making through funding training for music leaders, as well as working strategically to bring together partnership organisations from across the music, education and social sectors.
In its advocacy role, Youth Music encourages debate about music education and the provision of music-making activities for young people.
Youth Music receives National Lottery funding through Arts Council England. This money can only support projects in England, but strategic alliances are being established with the Arts Councils of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to enable Youth Music programmes to take place throughout the UK in the future.

About Mayfield Valley Arts Trust

Established in 1987, the objects of this trust are the advancement of education by the encouragement of art and artistic activities of a charitable nature, especially music and the promotion and preservation of concerts and other musical activities and events.

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