Hallé viola player helps students communicate through music

Seashell Trust student Daniel Hall feeling the music through Royal College Manchester teacher Greg Davies' guitar watched by Halle's Chris Emerson

A symphony orchestra viola player is using the power of music to help our students with complex disabilities communicate.

Hallé Orchestra viola player Chris Emerson is leading seven 'natural world' themed music sessions at Seashell Trust this term, thanks to PZ Cussons’ sponsorship of the Hallé’s education programme.

Chris said: “The exploration of music with kids that have such profound disabilities is so important. It can find a way in to their world and produce radical results very quickly which is extremely moving and satisfying.”

Rachel Steadman and Ann Durnford, our musicians-in-residence, said: “Our students have multi-sensory impairments, each very different, some with no vision, some with limited aural facility, very few who can speak at all. Autism is common too.”

Music motivates the children who could be isolated as they have no speech to use other ways to communicate their feelings whether through signing or movement.

Rachel said: “The students have signs for 'more music' and they often request it when a player stops. One particular student loves to dance, and often this encourages others to move and express themselves.”

The children and young people with such a range of special needs and complex disabilities enjoy music by touch as well as listening.

Rachel explains: “Chris sits very close to each student, allowing them to feel the vibrations and experience 'live sound' which is so different to recorded and electronic music. He also does Mongolian throat singing which is very unusual and it has quite an effect - a new sound for the students to experience.”

“We use rainsticks, percussion instruments, ukulele and a resonance board, which allows rhythms to be tapped while the student lies on it.”

Chris added: “Music is a wonderful way to engage. We change musical styles and moods, creating rapport and involving students in a safe and fun environment. We encourage them to participate and are working out the different styles of music that they each respond to best. This has a calming effect on the students and, we are told, quite dramatic results.

“Every session there are real moments of wonder. It is amazing to be working at Seashell where all the staff are so dedicated and innovative and the music and art department have been so helpful and welcoming to us.”