Music / Barry Farrimond

Profile: OpenUp Music

By steve wright, Tuesday Jul 25, 2017

Bristol’s OpenUp Music were one of the major winners in this year’s Arts Council England funding round. And they’ve got big plans…

The recent funding announcements from Arts Council England (ACE) featured good news for a host of local organisations – among them Southmead charity OpenUp Music, which empowers young disabled musicians to build inclusive youth orchestras and which received an impressive £640,000 from the ACE funding round. Here’s CEO Barry Farrimond to tell us more.

Tell us a little about OpenUp Music: what do you do, and how long you have been doing it for?
OpenUp Music is a charity with a very simple mission – to make orchestras accessible to young disabled musicians. In 2014 we launched the UK’s first three special school orchestras through our Open Orchestras programme. There are now 28 Open Orchestras all across the UK.
In 2015 we launched the award-winning South-West Open Youth Orchestra (SWOYO), the UK’s only disabled-led regional youth orchestra. Existing orchestra members include musicians with autism, cerebral palsy and a range of other physical impairments. Through ‘reverse-inclusion’, the orchestra also attracts non-disabled young musicians seeking innovative and ambitious musical opportunities.

Our work draws on years of research and development to create cutting-edge, accessible musical instruments, playable using any part of the body, including eye movement. SWOYO member Bradley Warwick plays a musical instrument called the Clarion with his eyes: you can watch him talking about it here.

You also develop new music, as well as instruments. Why is this important?
Over the past year, composers Dr Liz Lane and Liam Taylor-West have been working in partnership with SWOYO members to create new, challenging repertoire that responds to the orchestra’s unique instruments and musical abilities. The creation of new musical repertoire is incredibly important if we truly want to make orchestras accessible to young disabled people. The vast majority of music played by orchestras today has been created for instruments that require two hands and ten very dextrous fingers. If you can’t use your hands, how can you play that music? If you play a musical instrument with your eyes, should the music be written in the same way as music that is played by fingers?

This pic: OpenUp Music CEO Barry Farrimond with a South West Open Youth Orchestra (SWOYO) musician at the RPS Music Award for Learning and Participation.
Other pics: scenes from SWOYO rehearsals. Credit: Paul Blakemore

What is the key role that music plays in what you do, and in the lives of the young people you work with?
At its most fundamental, music is about communication. Through music, humans are able to connect with one another, across the multiple divides present in our everyday lives, to express something that so often can’t be put into words. It is part of our shared human heritage, a human activity that is present in every corner of the globe, a so-called universal language – and if that is the case, we can’t afford to have a single voice left out of the conversation!
Music has a positive impact on so many areas of our lives: evidence suggests that children who experience musical training have advantages across all school subjects except sport. Music is potent stuff.

How will this Arts Council funding change your plans and aspirations over the next few years?
It will be transformative for our work – and for the musical lives of young disabled people across England. Over the next four years, we will expand our Open Orchestras programme to many more special schools across the country, bringing the joy of first-access ensemble music-making into the lives of hundreds of young people.
This funding will also enable us to make our most ambitious programme to date a reality. In September 2018, thanks to this ACE support and in partnership with several regional art organisations across England, OpenUp Music will launch the National Open Youth Orchestra: the world’s first disabled-led national youth orchestra.

Where can we next get a taste of what you do?
Over the summer we will be launching two new websites, releasing several short films to showcase the music of the young musicians we are working with, and working towards a SWOYO gig in September: so we’re very busy at the moment! Stay in touch via our website – just scroll to the bottom of the page to sign up!

Find out more at

Read more: A pioneering orchestra for disabled musicians

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