5 March 2018back

Drake Music Scotland & PreSonus Audio Electronics Inc

The Digital Orchestra

Equality, diversity & inclusion | Health & wellbeing | People with disabilities | Young people

Breaking down barriers with inspired music making

The project

The Digital Orchestra is Scotland’s first disabled youth orchestra and provides a much-needed platform for young musicians and composers with disabilities in Scotland to showcase their talents to the public. Playing a range of digital technologies, especially developed for musicians with severe physical disabilities, the ensemble has quickly gained an international reputation.

The Digital Orchestra

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This project involved the delivery of 10 rehearsal sessions in Drake Music’s dedicated Craigmillar studio, allowing 12 disabled young musicians to work with guest professional musician, Aidan O’Rourke, followed by the performance of a new work, Skein, and the UK premiere of a piece written collectively by the orchestra, called Flame. The Edinburgh performance was part of a 20th anniversary concert, Centre Stage, which took place at The Queen’s Hall on Saturday 5th May 2018. It was made possible through an inspirational partnership between Drake Music Scotland – Scotland’s leading disability music organisation – and US-based leading audio electronic company, PreSonus Audio Electronics Inc, with match funding provided through CBFS.

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The partnership

Edinburgh-based Drake Music had been using musical notation software called ‘Notion’ for a number of years, adapting this mainstream composing product for profoundly physically disabled young music makers. They had discovered that a composition could be played back live using a laptop and accessible computer mouse connected to a high quality audio interface, thus enabling an audience to hear a performance in real time – a big breakthrough for disabled musicians. When PreSonus bought over the Notion product they were delighted to learn how it was being used and took a keen interest in developing it further for disabled musicians.

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It was a natural step for PreSonus to offer in-kind support in the form of further electronic musical resources and, with financial match funding made available through CBFS, an ambitious public performance by the orchestra in one of the capital’s leading concert halls was planned. As well as upgrading existing software and supplying a new digital audio interface, PreSonus provided technical help to maximise the benefits of their in-kind support.

Both partners share a passion for bold innovation. Drake Music Scotland is known for embracing cutting edge digital music technologies to enable everyone, no matter how physically challenged, to participate in the joy of making music while business supporter, PreSonus, champion live musical performance and education alongside their globally successful commercial operation.

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The Impact

In-kind support from PreSonus, matched by a cash award from CBFS, meant a much-improved rehearsal and performance experience for the young disabled musicians who make up The Digital Orchestra. The software upgrade refined the range and quality of the sampled sounds and, crucially for the standard of the performance itself, enhanced the overall quality of sound filtered through the PA system. The matched CBFS funding enabled the musicians to work with the inspiring and internationally acclaimed fiddle player and composer, Aidan O’Rourke, who coached them in new ensemble playing techniques and improvisation in traditional and folk music.

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With the added boost of PreSonus and CBFS’s involvement, the Digital Orchestra concert itself made the headlines, with a BBC Reporting Scotland item featuring an interview with Digital Orchestra member Rhona Smith, who talked about Notion and how it enabled her to become a ‘proper musician’. The performance at Edinburgh’s Queens Hall took place before an audience of 600 people to rapturous applause and a plethora of positive comments. This overwhelming response hugely increased the confidence of the young musicians and spurred them on to get involved in the preparation of a bid to participate in the next True Colours Festival in Japan which will be part of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic celebrations.

Feedback from the concert audience, families, carers and friends suggests that the performance helped to transform perceptions about people with disabilities. Teachers from schools for children and young people with complex additional support needs stated that The Queen’s Hall event has succeeded in raising their expectations for pupils playing music independently through the use of inclusive technologies.

The partnership included an invitation to demonstrate PreSonus’s products at Drake Music Scotland’s International Symposium on 4 May 2019. The audience included disabled musicians, music teachers and educators from across the UK and Europe. The opportunity to present at the Arts & Business Scotland Year of Young People event at The Traverse Theatre significantly raised the profiles of both Drake Music Scotland and The Digital Orchestra among the arts fraternity, and further strengthened the sponsor partnership which has now attracted the attention of PreSonus HQ in Louisiana, where a video of musicians using Notion made a profound impression.

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“Having a partnership with a leading innovative digital audio specialist such as PreSonus has been so valuable to us on many levels. Their software and digital audio interface has given our disabled musicians the high quality professional rehearsal and performance experience they deserve.”

Susan McNaught, Drake Music Scotland

“Our partnership with Drake Music Scotland has meant a great deal to us at PreSonus. Their talented musicians have used our specialist notation software to both write and perform live on stage and they have done so in ways we could never have imagined. They are a constant inspiration to us and to our other users, and they have been a great partner in exploring the technology, even informing some of our key product decisions.”

Chris Swaffer, PreSonus Audio Electronics Inc.