Walled City Music

This case study is from our Sharing the stage initiative, which was part of the Foundation's Participatory Performing Arts strand (2014-18)
Walled City Music Inclusive Creativity

Inclusive Creativity

“(Inclusive Creativity) opens up new possibilities; it takes the creative process further than I’ve been able to take it before.” Participant

This case study looks at Inclusive Creativity, which brought together disabled and non-disabled musicians on the concert platform who toured to London and Dublin with a new 30-minute composition and hosted a conference programme within the annual Walled City Music Festival. Find out more about Inclusive Creativity by watching the film and reading the project summary below.

The UK Branch of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s Sharing the Stage initiative ran from 2014-2018. It supported arts projects in which vulnerable and under-served groups of people ‘share the stage’ with professional performers, and projects that are based on partnerships between arts organisations and social partners.

Phase One supported the research and development (R&D) stage of 14 consortia projects. Phase Two ran from 2016-18, supporting 10 consortia projects to full production of the work created through the participatory process. 

Derry-based Walled City Music (WCM)  seeks to create an accessible platform for classical music, by removing boundaries and broadening perceptions. Founded in 2008 by Cathal Breslin and Sabrina Hu, WCM now hosts the Walled City Music Festival which runs for four days each summer with a programme of recitals by leading artists, projects, workshops and gala concerts.

Through a series of participatory workshops, performances and a process of rigorous evaluation, Inclusive Creativity, a project initiated by Ulster University and produced for Sharing the Stage in partnership with Walled City Music, aimed to place creative artists with disabilities at the core of a programme which sought to define best practice in the following areas:

  • Formation and development of inclusive performing ensembles integrating disabled and non-disabled musicians
  • Bespoke design and development of new technology-based accessible creative musical tools
  • Specialised training for composers in writing for inclusive ensembles incorporating musicians who perform using the new technology-based accessible creative musical tools.

Inclusive Creativity culminated in three public performances by Acoustronic, who are a quintet of young musicians from Derry, each with a disability, who formed their own ensemble in 2015, with the aim of making music together.

Central to this phase of the project was the creation of a public performance programme based around the commission of a 30-minute new work from composer Professor Frank Lyons, entitled NonZeroSum, which was composed for Acoustronic and the Benyounes String Quartet. The work was ground-breaking in the complex interaction of the nine musicians, mediated through technology, that levelled the playing field for disabled and non-disabled performers to make music together.

The performance programme was completed with a number of shorter works written by three composers associated with the ensemble: Brendan McCloskey, Ryan Molloy and Lewis Smith.  The programme was performed in WCM’s home city, Derry, in June 2017, then toured to London and Dublin in September and December 2017:

  • In Derry, the Inclusive Creativity programme was the main strand of the outreach and community programme at the Walled City Music Festival. As well as the world premiere of NonZeroSum, there was a day of seminars and talks, public schools workshops demonstrating the Kellycaster instrument and a young composers’ workshop. 
  • In London, the programme was performed at the Rich Mix venue in Shoreditch with a reception for invited funders, music industry, practice and opinion formers.
  • In Dublin, the performance was part of the Visual Systems and Virtual Reality Conference at UCD, which introduced the Inclusive Creativity programme to an audience of influential researchers and industry professionals.

Inclusive Creativity was able to realise all the goals it had outlined, and achieved more besides, as can be seen in some of the legacy outcomes. Artistically, organisationally and across the sector, Inclusive Creativity achieved the following headline outcomes:

  • The creation of an inclusive quintet of young, emerging musicians – the Acoustronic group – has demonstrated that inclusive music-making can be integrated within mainstream, concert platform programming for the development of artistic talent and new music, is enjoyed and valued by audiences at a local and international level.
  • Three public concert performances by Acoustronic in Derry, London and Dublin have created new, high-profile opportunities for disabled and non-disabled performers to make music together.
  • A new commission for Acoustronic and Benyounes Quartet by Frank Lyons, NonZeroSum, along with a corpus of shorter pieces by three new composers, which has received two additional performances plus the world premiere at high profile, respected venues and festivals.
  • The professional performing musicians and composers are open to opportunities to work with technology developers to explore ideas and create repertoire, which is supported by the reflections and insights of the participating artists.

“We learned that there is a great willingness by the professional performing musicians and composers who have become involved with the group to go the extra mile” WCM

“This project required us to experiment with and develop new forms and codes of communication during the performance, in order to coordinate the improvised, notated and technological elements of the work and to function as one ensemble - string quartet and Acoustronic combined. This process and the solutions reached enriched my understanding of working in this particular environment.” Artist

  • The presentation of Acoustronic’s work in the performance context rather than at a seminar workshop or as part of the conference marked a major step forward for Inclusive Creativity, the ensemble and the visibility of the work
  • WCM commissioned Wildcat PR for the London and Dublin performances and this strategic move built on WCM’s networks, generated press interest, social media content and obtained a range of press coverage including national print media, in addition to hosting a reception at the London performance to connect with funders, partners, promoters and opinion formers. This investment has paid off, with continued interest and support from the British Council and ongoing activity.
  • Artists have developed their practice and networks, developing existing and new partnerships in the field of accessible musicmaking at an international level, and deepening existing ones with the university and music sector more broadly through the partnerships and opportunities to present and perform NonZeroSum.

“It has elevated my networks greatly, as through the concerts I am meeting new professionals each time.” Participant

  • Artists have been able to enhance their skills, having regular and frequent access to trying out new ideas as Inclusive Creativity took the form of an action research project.

“(Inclusive Creativity) opens up new possibilities; it takes the creative process further than I’ve been able to take it before.” Participant

“[I’ve benefited from] connecting with experienced practitioners from different backgrounds with a range of skillsets and the opportunity to develop the project into a performance which we have shared on an international platform.” Participant

  • Creative artists with disabilities have gained new skills, learned how to express their ideas in new ways and made a strong circle of friends as a result of Inclusive Creativity, demonstrated by positive progress in the feedback:

‘It makes me feel excited and happy.  I feel like I’m part of the team.  I feel like I am a professional musician.’

‘Performing in various venues – sharing accommodation – brought me closer to my friends.’

‘The audience members are an example of being brought closer to other people.’

  • WCM has been able to commission and showcase new work, as well as sharing new approaches to work with composers and emerging musical talent, extending its reach, visibility and opportunities to bring disabled and non-disabled musicians together to make music.
  • WCM has actively supported the development of new technology in the partnership with Drake Music. The Kellycaster is a genuinely innovative instrument. Inclusive Creativity has added to the sum of progress in the sector, both in terms of the development of inclusive instruments and technology.

Reaching over 375 people over the course of the project, audiences across all three performances responded enthusiastically to the concept, the music and the experience: out of 50 completed responses more than 30 people gave the programme the highest possible scores (nine or 10) for being different, well put together, absorbing and thought-provoking, suggesting that there is an appetite and willingness to engage with new music and new ways of presenting music.  This suggests that with effective interpretation to assist understanding of the levels of participation and creativity of the Acoustronic musicians, engagement with audiences need not be a barrier. 60% of respondents indicated that they were very or extremely likely to attend something like this again, with a range of positive comments:

‘The contemporary piece underlined the new energy in incorporating people from all backgrounds in the arts’

‘We are a community. Everyone can have their own voice.’

‘Good combination of live music and recordings, gives everyone a chance to be heard.’

There was a steep learning curve for the WCM team on the logistics of touring with an ensemble which required high levels of support for a wide range of disabilities and needs, all of which had been planned and accounted for, but which required more advance and detailed planning than for other projects, with obvious implications for the funding of future programmes like Inclusive Creativity.   Acoustronic became a team of 13:  5 musicians, plus carers, managers, the creative/technical team, plus the string quartet.

“a full recce of hotels, restaurants, performance venues and travel routes between the two, carried out by helpers and organisers fully familiar with the needs of the group was essential to ensure smooth running of the trip and preserve the energy of the musicians focusing on their performance.”

Partnerships can develop and change throughout the timeline of a project like this. Drake Music supported Inclusive Creativity in the R&D phase, and became an active collaborator with the development of the Kellycaster; this partnership with Drake Music also enabled Inclusive Creativity to have a much greater reach in terms of promotion and publicity, as they were able to tap into Drake Music’s extensive networks.

The partnership with St Magnus International Festival’s Composers’ Course has the potential to become a long-term, sustainable relationship which could significantly impact on the composition of new music, that is, contemporary music that can be performed by disabled and nondisabled musicians together.

Acoustronic and the Benyounes Quartet were invited to perform NonZeroSum at Calouste Gulbenkian Lisbon in January 2018, as part of the PARTIS conference, and Acoustronic has been invited to become Ensemble in Residence at the Royal Irish Academy of Music for twelve months, where the Principal wants to include concepts of Inclusive Creativity in the curriculum.  As well as working at the Conservatoire, Acoustronic will also support the creation of new ensembles in Cork, Dublin and Athlone, taking Inclusive Creativity to a national platform and offering opportunities to more creative artists with disabilities.

The project won the University of Ulster Research Impact Excellence Awards in May 2018 (Faculty of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences), whilst Acoustronic won the Derry Journal People of the Year Award 2018, for their contribution to Arts and Culture. 


View the other case studies Read the evaluation report
Updated on 05 june 2019

Cookies settings

Cookies Selection

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation uses cookies to improve your browsing experience, security, and its website performance. The Foundation may also use cookies to share information on social media and to display messages and advertisements personalised to your interests, both on our website and in others.