Able Orchestra

From its origins as an “iPad orchestra” for profoundly disabled students in North Nottinghamshire, Able Orchestra has expanded to bring together diverse young musicians and emerging music leaders with world-class professional artists from a range of music and digital genres.

What we wanted to achieve

The vision of Able Orchestra is to create a totally inclusive ensemble of disabled and non-disabled musicians. It is an evolving project based on the principle of enabling people to create and perform music on equal terms, regardless of their physical dexterity or musical experience.

What's happened so far

Young musicians using technology join young acoustic instrumentalists, professional sound and digital artists, and orchestral players to create new work in a ground-breaking ensemble that has become a beacon for artistic inclusion that celebrates the creativity of diverse people.

Co-produced with Inspire Youth Arts, projects have included appearances at the Hockley Hustle and Soundstage festivals and cross-genre collaborations with Big Fish Little Fish, Next Door Dance and champion beatboxer THePETEBOX. In 2016, Able Orchestra was invited to perform at the BBC Ten Pieces Proms at the Royal Albert Hall

Going up on the stage with over 5,500 people in the Royal Albert Hall of all places is just out of this world. Being up on the stage is just amazing and you get such a rush of excitement whilst you are up there. You don’t really realise what you have just done until you have already done and think back on it. This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it is such an honour to have played with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. Thanks so much for this awesome experience, I will never forget it.

~ Able Orchestra participant

In January 2020 Able Orchestra gave its Manchester debut performance, with an expanded number of diverse young musicians and players from the Hallé and BBC Philharmonic. The performance included the premiere of a piece commissioned from Oliver Vibrans, the first time an external composer had written for the ensemble. Held at the iconic BBC Philharmonic Studio, the event was attended by a large audience including international delegates from Association of British Orchestras annual conference.

Outcomes

Able Orchestra has a long standing partnership with the Hallé, having also collaborated with the BBC Philharmonic and BBC Concert Orchestra, and is gaining recognition across the orchestral sector and beyond for their artistic ingenuity.

Control One
is an innovative MIDI controller based on the joystick of an electric wheelchair and allows physically disabled people to create music without having to learn an entirely new physical skill. It was developed through Able Orchestra project activity by lead artist Si Tew of Digit Music in response to the need for more flexible and sophisticated digital instruments for disabled musicians. It won the Accessibility Award in the 2019 Tech4Good Awards. Find out more on the Digit Music website.

Able Orchestra artist Jess Fisher was the first musician to use Control One and her performances have led to her being awarded an Emerging Artist award from The Mighty Creatives and a Creativity and Innovation Award in the Inspire Awards, hosted by Nottinghamshire Inspire: Culture, Learning and Libraries.

When I was younger, if someone had asked me if I’d do something in music I’d have given them a no. Now it’s a definite yes.

~ Jess Fisher, Able Orchestra artist

Future plans

It is hoped to maintain some creative work through online collaboration until the time when it is possible for the ensemble to rehearse and perform live again.

Partners

The Able Orchestra project is produced by Inspire Youth Arts and Orchestras Live in partnership with The Hallé, Nottinghamshire Music Hub and Inspire Culture.