The Ability To Share

Share Music pushes the boundaries of physicality and perception, writes James Gracey

Established over twenty years ago by Dr Michael Swallow, Share Music was set up to create opportunities for physically disabled people wishing to participate in high-quality creative activity in music and performing arts. Initially established in Derry, the organisation has since taken root further afield in Wales, England, the Republic of Ireland and Sweden. 

Engaging the public through their annual programme of weeklong residential courses, Share Music aim to push back the boundaries of physicality, perception and creativity. Jaci Wilde is Director of Share Music NI. 

‘During the residential we live together, we work together and we try to see past the disabilities and look into the creative spirit within everyone involved. We all have creative spirit. Sometimes people just don’t have the opportunity to dip into it and develop it. The realisation that people can do things that they haven’t done before is so inspiring.’

Inspired by principles of access and inclusiveness, Share Music provides opportunities for people with physical disabilities, alongside non-disabled participants, to develop skills and ambitions in music and related performing arts, regardless of their prior experience. Share Music also utilise practising professional artists, both disabled and non-disabled, to facilitate their courses.

Courses are envisioned to develop and enhance new experiences by drawing on the interests, experience and creativity of those taking part, whatever their physicality. At each residential, participants aim to create original compositions and performance pieces which culminate in an end-of-week showcase.

Wilde also believes that it’s important to challenge public perception and improve public access to the work of disabled artists.

‘Share Music doesn’t see boundaries. We don’t see physical boundaries OR creative boundaries. We push boundaries and we hopefully challenge people’s perception of what’s possible. The organisation is a balance between those with disabilities and those without.’

Share Music are keen to establish an ongoing performance company that isn’t limited to an annual residency, but will provide people with the opportunity to get involved with music, dance and theatre workshops on a year-round basis. They see this as a way to build new audiences for arts and disability events throughout Northern Ireland and increase and improve upon provision for disabled people living in NI.

While Wilde is keen to express that Share Music is not music therapy, the workshops and activities provided by the company do undoubtedly have a therapeutic effect on participants. ‘When I’m shy of saying we’re an arts and disabilities organisation,’ Wilde explains, ‘it’s because it doesn’t really project the sort of rich texture and fabric of everything that goes on and the connections that are made.’

Indeed the opportunities afforded to participants, disabled or not, are vast. Building on a burgeoning relationship with the University of Ulster, each year many creative arts students get involved, as well as professional artists and musicians, who take on roles of mentoring and companionship. ‘It builds confidence for those who have never experienced anything like it before,' Wilde says. 'It can inspire new work and ideas regardless of what background people have come to us from.’

Building bridges, professionally and personally, is also an emerging trait of Share Music. Friends are made for life and the gateways of communication between participants open wide and remain constant long after events take place. In the past people have come from near and far to take part in the residential gathering and an international community has subsequently come into fruition, with emails, letters, phone-calls and texts whizzing around the globe – all germinating from contact made through Share Music. 

In the future, Wilde makes it clear that she wants to continue creatively challenging perceptions and allowing those who usually don’t have a chance to express themselves artistically and in a dignified way the opportunity to do so. And to do so with merit. ‘Share Music was founded on the basis that the arts are a tool and that everyone has a right to access those tools, to participate in quality arts experiences. We still adhere to this.’