A ground-breaking project for LMN has been completed to great acclaim, in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Festival, 22 March to 2 April 2009. As a result, LMN will be returning to Abu Dhabi later this year with repeat residencies, and plans are underway to develop the programme to reach more special education centres in the UAE.
Pilot residencies took place in two centres: Mafraq Centre, run by the Zayed Higher Organisation, and the Future Centre, an independent special school. The musicians involved were:
Mafraq Centre: Sarah Field & Simon Lepper (saxophone and piano), Alba Brass – Bede Williams & Jonathan Gawn (trumpet and tuba)
Future Centre: Maelasta – Matthew McAllister & Feargus Hetherington (guitar and violin), Melissa Doecke and Paul Skinner (flutes).
Each project comprised a week of workshops leading up to a celebratory, public performance for children, families, centre supporters and VIP guests. The workshops were open to observers and a number of teachers attended to view the work.
The pilot projects established LMN's credentials for excellence in performance and workshop delivery and demonstrated the organisation's capacity to set up working relationships with education settings for children with special needs, wherever they may be.
Moreover, the impact of the projects on the children involved surpassed our expectations. Tangible improvements and achievements were witnessed during the course of each project, by teachers, parents and observers, resulting in a significant shift in the culture of the schools hosting the projects, where music has never been used as a way of interacting with children.
Anjum Jaffer, Head of the Department of Education, Future Centre for Special Needs, Abu Dhabi described their experience of this new way of working:
What surprised us was the ease with which the musicians won the trust of our students, the effortlessness with which they made them respond to their music and the bond they created with them in the short span of five days. We could see children, who are otherwise shy, reaching out to them and 'communicating' with them in their own individual ways and children displaying singing and dancing skills which were obviously not tapped earlier.
The older boys and girls even tried their hands at the violin and the guitar and two of them were able to play a couple of notes with encouragement from Feargus and Matthew. We saw a new side of our students unfold, a heartening revelation to all of us. It was clear that the musicians from LMN were experienced and trained in dealing with individuals with special needs and it made it easy for us to trust them with our students.
The concert that followed the workshops was just magical. Our students performed with aplomb, to beautiful live music played by the musicians; showing brilliant team-work, cooperation, coordination and communication. Struggling with a range of emotions, we proudly watched our students come alive on stage.
The musicians also gained a great deal from the experience of working in another culture, and through an intensive residency. Melissa Doecke said: "It was an amazing week and one of the most rewarding musical experiences I have had. I especially enjoyed the 'behind-the-scenes' events and progress made by some of the children … it is these seemingly small events that can have the most profound impact in a child's life and be some of the best results of a LMN workshop/event. "
Parents and families were able to share in the children's achievements at the final performances, and this helped to bring home to the whole school community the vital importance of live music in the lives of children with special needs:
I have seen musical shows through my whole life, but none of them have touched my heart in the way [this] did. The interaction between special needs students and professional musicians was something magical! Music is a fantastic way for these kids to express themselves and to experience contact with their own body, feelings and emotions.
Parent of participating student
The last word goes to the students themselves:
Hi i had real fun with you all and i realy want to know when you are coming back oh and bring that guitar of yours … see ya i will miss you
thanks for coming to the future centre. i was happy to be tango teacher. thanks for playing the music. it was very good.i wonder if you will come here some other time for more music. i like the flutes, the violin and the guitar.