An Introduction

Posted by Adrian Anantawan on Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Given my background as a musician with a disability, it has now become a mandate of my career to bridge a small niche of this divide: classical performance within a rehabilitative healthcare setting. This commitment in my life has evolved into several chamber music initiatives with the Bloorview Kids Rehab Centre in Toronto, Ontario, where I have joined a team of music therapists, educators, and researchers to allow children with disabilities to participate in classical music making using adaptive musical instruments and repertoire. I hope in the future to be involved with founding a chamber music society that would serve as a performance platform for such initiatives, and providing a legitimate medium by which talented children with disabilities can express their art.

When participating in classical musical activities within this setting, we are faced with a polarizing set of ideals that without mindfulness can pull performance apart by the thread. On one side, we have an art that relies heavily upon tradition and historical context, and on the other, a need for adaptation that for children with disabilities requires looking to new technologies and the future. On the grander scale, this is a dilemma that has seized the present world of classical music and its long-term survival, especially in light of recent economic turmoil. In a political world that increasingly attempts to siphon financial recourses to essential services, we are faced to confront the burgeoning questions as to the relevance of our craft.

In what may constitute a poetic irony, it is within the world of disability that we see the through a mirror into what currently ails classical music. What is the relevance of a child with a neuromuscular or orthopedic condition so severe that he is unable to manipulate the physical world around him (or traditional musical instrument) in a meaningful way? If we are to invest in our economy, is it in our best interests to focus on issues that directly affect commercial and industrial endeavors, rather than rehabilitation? Most people would challenge the validity of such rhetoric, though the same argument can be made on behalf of classical music. The mutuality of predicament between these two worlds can also engender mutuality of cause, but like all cross-collaborative efforts, both sides have to negotiate a common ground.

The Virtual Chamber Music Initiative is in the process of supporting arts education for kids with disabilities and advance the cause of classical music by developing Bloorview’s Virtual Music Instrument (VMI), an innovative tool for music therapy, into a musical instrument capable of being played by young person with disabilities within a chamber music setting.

This project will establish a dialogue between a young artist with disabilities and professional classical musicians in the community, culminating in a public, collaborative benefit concert. The Virtual Chamber Music Initiative will spotlight and raise awareness of issues in disability arts education and create a musical resource to be used by children with disabilities around the world.


The VMI Initiative

The VMI Initiative is an ongoing project, founded in 2009 through a grant from Yale University. The project is now in collaboration with Vigour Projects, an organization aimed at using research as a tool for social advocacy. In 2011, the VMI Initiative received a generous grant from the Holland Bloorview Foundation in Toronto, Canada.

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