The lockdown continues. I've been job-hunting; binge-watching the Outlander TV series; and searching online for amusing memes about the coronavirus. It's even got to the point where I've stopped reading and started listening to as many ridiculously long audiobooks as I can find. Whoever came up with the idea of Kindles and audiobooks, thank you – they are a godsend.
Paper books can be cumbersome to manoeuvre with one hand, especially the large ones. Hence, I tend to buy ebooks or audiobooks. As a result, I do miss out on the joy of seeing a full bookshelf, visually tracking my progress and that unmistakeable book smell. However, I have resigned myself to this as I would much rather read the story than spend my time sniffing pages!
All this reading (or instead, listening) has got me into something of a philosophical mood, especially on those uniquely human aspects of life. Story-telling is an innate part of human nature, as is music-making. David Nabb, Professor of Music at the University of Nebraska Kearney, said: "I believe that music-making is a fundamental part of the human experience. Music-making is as human as chatting with a friend or falling in love."
And this significant part of our psyche can be traced back to the Stone Age. The earliest confirmed homo sapiens-made musical instrument is a bone flute discovered in Germany, dating from 35,000-40,000 BP (before present). It is even possible that Neanderthals made music. In the nineties, archaeologists discovered what appeared to be a bone flute at a Neanderthal site in Slovenia, dating approximately 43,100 BP. If true, this artefact is the oldest known musical instrument in the world.
Does this mean that the disabled among us have been missing out on an essential part of human existence? To quote David again: "Research tells us that students with disabilities have the same interests in music as their able-bodied peers."
That someone needs to state this outright is poignant, particularly since music is fluid, adaptable and accessible to everyone. Apart from the necessity of playing the right notes at the right time, there is no hard and fast way in which you must make music - David himself plays the saxophone with one hand. "There are people all over the world who are just doing it their own way, in spite of the obstacles - nevertheless it's still music," he said.
From personal experience, and from speaking with other disabled people, I know that some people question why we want to do something we cannot do. To me, this seems obvious: why would we not? That is, I admit, not much of an answer, so instead, I shall quote David's brilliantly simple reply: "Because I'm human."
To me, these three words encapsulate the whole issue. Our bodies may not work in the same way as the majority of the human population, but we are still the same species, with the same instincts and the same history.
Strange times, indeed. The UK has ground to a halt, and toilet paper could become our new currency. I've moved back in with my parents as isolation in the Somerset countryside with our crazy labradoodle seemed preferable to my tiny house. The lease on the house had also just ended, which was another incentive.
And, it is enjoyable waking up to birdsong, watching the lambs in the neighbouring field, and getting my hour's exercise with the dog. Nutritious "Mum food" has been a bonus, and I'm losing weight. To put it mildly, cooking for myself is frustrating with the use of only one-hand and my partner has no culinary expertise, so I'm afraid to say that my diet of takeaway pizza was beginning to show.
However, I have lost my job and found a lack of routine, stressed atmosphere, and separation from my partner deeply unsettling. The result has been stomach aches, itchy skin, and cloistering myself in the sanctuary of the bedroom.
Yet, these feelings gave me the idea for this month's OHMI blog post; the effects of the coronavirus on OHMI's work and music industry.
With the closure of theatres, concert halls and other non-essential spaces where large crowds might congregate, staff, musicians and actors must be worried about money and fearing for their jobs. Large organisations are streaming performances, and individual musicians are posting online, yet, many of these artists are not being paid for their work. I wonder whether these organisations and individuals can overcome such financial loss.
No doubt to the disappointment of many, pop concerts such as Glastonbury, have also been cancelled. I have never been to one myself. The thought of being welly deep in mud, of camping and dodgy showers, has no appeal. I used to be an archaeologist where such amenities were standard, so I have no wish to experience it in my free time. Luckily for me, those days are long gone as I am now a fully qualified, working journalist.
OHMI has suffered its share of difficulties too. Now schools and other music hubs have shut, music lessons have all but stopped. Those that are continuing are done via Skype. And speaking of Skype, all our meetings are now conducted online. As you might imagine, this causes its own problems - broadband speed, video, and audio quality will affect the call. Besides, as any journalist will tell you, there is no replacement for a face-to-face meeting!
But to end on a positive note, we are all well, still here and busy planning for the future.
Welcome readers to the first-ever OHMI blog post and to what I hope will be a long-running and enjoyable blog. I shall admit straight off the bat that I have never written a blog before, and am no expert in the subject of music-making. So, this blog will be as informative to me as it is to you.
The best place to start is, probably, by introducing myself. I am THE Amy who inspired my father, Stephen Hetherington, to form the OHMI Trust. My inability to play a musical instrument at school, due to hemiplegia (cerebral palsy affecting one side of the body), prompted my dad to set up a charity which would create one-handed musical instruments so that other disabled people could enjoy making music.
The charity has been running for nine years now, and we have, indeed, inspired many to create such instruments, including a one-handed recorder, clarinet and even bagpipes through the OHMI Competition. Now, OHMI has set up a teaching programme, called the OHMI Music-Makers, for children to learn these instruments. Now in my twenties, I'm afraid I've missed the boat for this particular programme, but I am so pleased that disabled children are now able to do something I never could. With this in mind, I decided to ask some of these kids (and their parents) about their music-making experiences. I met up with Colin and his son, Sean, who is learning to play the one-handed recorder. Sean has right-sided hemiplegia and has been learning the recorder since he was five. By all accounts, he is pretty good having played in several school concerts and even in a Christmas concert at the village hall where he played the Harry Potter theme tune, one of his favourite pieces. As a fellow Potterhead, I’m impressed!
“Sean has always enjoyed music and he’s actually able to play an instrument where he can get 100% involved. He’s really enjoying playing pieces with other children now too,” said dad, Colin. “So now, playing with the school recorder group where they have to stand on stage in front of a crowd of people – it’s been great for his confidence.”
It would seem that this recorder group is pretty popular too. In Sean’s own words, there are “too many [members] to count,” though this has not put Sean off. He has recorder group friends, who he would not otherwise hang out with.
And this, to me, is what OHMI is all about - not just making music, but making friends and gaining confidence. If anything summed this up for me, it was the smile on Sean’s face along with his assurance that he will continue to play and possibly learn the trumpet one day.
I am the daughter of Stephen Hetherington, founder of the OHMI Trust, and suffer from left hemiplegia (cerebral palsy affecting the left side of the body). I am a professional journalist but have also worked as an archaeologist. In my free time, I enjoy reading, writing and walking the dog.