Interview with Alison Holmes - BSO Participate Coordinator

Published 17th September 2020



Alison Holmes is BSO Participate Coordinator at Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. She is responsible for the management of a number of the BSO’s smaller ensembles, including the disabled-led group BSO Resound. We are proud sponsors of BSO Resound. We spoke to Alison about her role in bringing their performances to a new generation of disabled talent.

No two days are ever the same! I look after our smaller ensembles, including BSO Resound — the disabled-led ensemble which is pushing the boundaries of performance practice — Resonate Strings, the BSO Trio, and a new String Trio. I work with our rural touring partners to take these groups into community venues across the South West. A lot of my work involves planning logistics — such as booking venues, musicians, or hotels — and keeping in touch with organisations that we are working with. Recently, we had some last-minute venue changes for BSO Resound, and this can present a challenge in finding another suitable venue that meets our requirements and budget in the time available. I also work with our Rising Talent schemes, from placements for postgraduate performers to our partnership with the National Open Youth Orchestra.
I think it’s got to be that moment at the end of a project where you see the effect the work has had on the audience and participants. Some events are really challenging to put together but when it comes to a close, all of a sudden it doesn’t matter anymore. Often at the end of a schools event a child will come up and say ‘I really liked that’ or ‘I want to play trumpet in the BSO when I’m older now’. One boy at a SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) school came up to me after an event and gave me a big hug; it might have been hard for him to express himself verbally but that felt like a way of him saying thank you.
No matter how difficult an event has been or how much of a rollercoaster, all of that goes away at that moment and you think that was worth it! It is the knowledge that you have got through to people and potentially made a positive difference to someone’s life. This group is doing so much to inspire people of all ages, but seeing them act as role models to the next generation of musicians is really special.

Each event requires slightly different planning: we perform schools’ visits and workshops, give concerts, and there are many rehearsals too. Sometimes, BSO Resound performs within the full Orchestra as well. When we’ve found a date that works for both the players, venue, and partner organisation, I first sort out access requirements; this includes wheelchair access, parking facilities and transport links.

If BSO Resound is being integrated in to the full orchestra for a concert it is necessary to look at the repertoire that the Orchestra will be playing and adapt the music accordingly, if needed. It is my responsibility, for example, to adapt the music for the LinnStrument. We also have a player who uses Braille notation, so time needs to be factored in for that to be transcribed and memorised. Before the day of the event, I make sure that we have the right equipment, including music stands, music and any other necessary equipment.

Learning about accessibility and inclusion, and what that actually means in the reality of planning events has been a real eye-opener. It wasn’t until I had to check if you could get from the door to the concert hall as a wheelchair user that it really hit home, and it’s amazing how inaccessible some places are. Now I find it is at the forefront of my mind; it has become second nature to me.
My awareness has also increased around hidden disabilities. As I have one myself I had a level of understanding around it, but learning how to interact with other people with hidden disabilities and the right language to use regarding it was really important. I’ve learnt not to be afraid to ask questions. For example saying ‘I’m not sure if this scenario will work for you? Could you tell me if it would?’ After all, each individual knows their own disability best. As a team we have learnt that we aren’t going to be right every time.

I think we have already seen this sector develop so much in the way that musicians with disabilities are perceived through BSO Resound and other projects and initiatives out there like the National Open Youth Orchestra. In my opinion the ball is well and truly rolling. However, there is still so much work to be done with inclusion and diversity as a whole. We recently won the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society Impact Award and it felt like a really big step in ensuring the conversation remains far from over.


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