Musicians-in-Residence at The Seashell Trust

This year, Hallé musicians Chris Emerson and Christine Davey have been running a project at The Seashell Trust, through a programme supported by the Hallé’s Diamond Partners PZ Cussons.

The Seashell Trust runs a national centre of excellence in Cheadle Hulme providing education, care and support for children and young people with complex and severe learning disabilities which include little or no language abilities.

Chris Emerson 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, the charity’s 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.”

Supported by:

Able Orchestra

The Able Orchestra was a special project that enabled two groups of young people from Fountaindale School in Mansfield and Outwood Academy, Portland in Worksop to work alongside two of our brilliant Hallé musicians, Bea Schirmer and Chris Emerson, and professional artists from County Youth Arts, Si Tew, Ronnie Sampson and Bec Smith, to compose a piece of music and digital imagery inspired by the BBC Ten Pieces. Whilst the able bodied students from Outwood Academy used acoustic instruments, the disabled young people from Fountaindale School were able to make use of a variety of adaptive and assistive technology, including iPads, to create their music.

The project was produced by County Youth Arts, Orchestras Live and the Hallé, and funded through Nottinghamshire Music Hub, Orchestras Live and Arts Council England.

The students gave a public performance alongside 15 Hallé musicians at the Palace Theatre in Mansfield at the start of May 2016, and everyone involved in the project was delighted to be invited to perform as part of the Ten Pieces II Prom in July 2016.

The Able Orchestra – Performing at Fountaindale School 15th July 2017 (BBC Music Day) from Ian Dearman on Vimeo.

With Hallé musicians Bea Schirmer, Chris Emerson, Dave Petri and Anna Rosa Mari.

Contact us

If you would like to find out more about any of our projects and how to get involved, please contact the Education team on

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