The Inclusive Orchestra - five years of making music accessible to everyone

  • A cooperative, multidisciplinary and cross-generational project for the city
  • Unlike other ensembles that only seek excellence, the Inclusive Orchestra is based on the principles of universal design and accessibility

The UVic Inclusive Orchestra has been making instrumental music accessible to anyone who wants to participate, either inside or outside the university community, with no prior musical knowledge required, for the last five years. It is a cooperative, multidisciplinary and cross-generational project for the city, which whatever terms are used to describe it, is exceptional because of the values of solidarity, effort and commitment it represents. It started with thirty people, and there are now around fifty. Its members include administrative and services staff, teaching staff, researchers, retired people, people with disabilities, and even children.

One of the driving forces behind the Inclusive Orchestra is undoubtedly the duo consisting of Lluís Solé and Mercè Carrera, the Orchestra's director and assistant director, who give it a very special character. According to Lluís Solé himself, the Inclusive Orchestra came about as the result of a 'rebound', when the then head of the Department of Expressions, Miquel Pérez, asked for ideas for subjects for University Activity Recognition credits. "I presented the idea for the orchestra, and before they gave me the final go-ahead the orchestra was already operating at full steam," says Solé.

"The only requirement for becoming a member is wanting to be one"

The reason why they chose to do this project rather than any other one is obvious. "We had three alternatives: the first was to create a conventional symphony orchestra, but the number of musicians at the University was very limited, and that would have meant having to hire professional musicians, pay them a fee, as other institutions do, and call them to perform every time the institution needed them. Another alternative would have been to establish small groups - a rock group, a jazz group, a chamber orchestra and a traditional music group, but they would have had to run themselves or I would have had to have been in four places at once to be able to coordinate them all, and that wasn't feasible. So creating an open and eclectic inclusive orchestra, for which the only requirement to be a member was to want to be in it, was the most feasible option," says the director.

When the Inclusive Orchestra was established, there was nothing like it. There were orchestras that included people with disabilities, as well as famous orchestras that took children from the street to give them a high-level musical training. "The difference," says Solé, "is that those orchestras aim at excellence, whereas we were trying to base ourselves on the principles of universal design and accessibility, which the Attention to Diversity research group led by the lecturer Robert Ruiz has been working on for a long time.

Universal design applied to music

In fact, at the same time as this project, Lluís Solé wrote his doctoral thesis on how to apply universal design to instrumental music in order to make it accessible to everyone. Universal design is based on creating products and environments that can be used by everyone as much as possible, and involves the principles of equality, flexibility, simplicity and intuition, perceptibility, tolerance of error, low levels of physical effort, and dimensions and spaces appropriate for use. These principles were initially applied to the design of buildings, but in this case they have been adapted to music. One of the important conclusions that they reached is that apart from universal design and methodologies, "what matters is people, or in other words, what makes things happen is people's attitudes and dreams, rather than just a methodology no matter how good and innovative it is."

"What makes things happen is people's attitudes and dreams, rather than just a methodology no matter how innovative it is"

One of the important challenges for the Inclusive Orchestra is for everyone to have their own role and for nobody to feel that they are there simply as a token gesture. "It's very easy for someone who has never played any instrument to like being in the middle of things, but it can be discouraging for someone who is more demanding. However, I think that everybody finds three very important things in it - being able to play without any pressure, being able to help others and adding value to the difficulty involved in a project like this one. All that means these musicians see it as something that is very exceptional."

A thrilling repertoire that involves a challenge

The repertoire is one of the key factors that make the mechanism work. "You need a well-known repertoire because it's more exciting, but it also has to have some degree of difficulty and challenge," says Solé, who adapts all the scores to each person's level so that everyone has a job to do and feels comfortable. "At first I started with very repetitive pieces, what I call 'stubborn' ones (with a simple and repetitive structure), but over time I have opened up to other types of pieces. It's important to find a repertoire that provides a question-answer dialogue, or tutti solo, for example." One of the problems the Orchestra faces is that the situation changes every year, although its members are increasingly stable. "One year you have a very good oboe, and you can think about doing one type of piece, and the next year you don't, and you have to do some others. Nevertheless, I've learned not to make anyone indispensable. When you have someone who plays very well who solves a problem for you, you're tempted to give them a more prominent role, but then they go off and do an internship for three months, and you can't do the piece."

Technology has also helped a lot in this regard, since it means he can be much more flexible and make changes in a short space of time. "When I wrote all the scores out by hand, every time there was a change, or whenever someone reconsidered, I had a terrible job. These days, everything can be changed with a click, thanks to online editing programs. That means I can do the arrangements easily, and take out parts (scores for each instrument) quickly and comfortably." Their repertoire currently features soundtracks from films including Pirates of the Caribbean, Bohemian Rhapsody, by Queen, and pieces by Beethoven and Bach. And for next season, they are preparing Star Wars and Ravel's Bolero.

"We're not an orchestra that needs to apologise for being out of tune any more"

This year the orchestra has celebrated its fifth anniversary with a Christmas concert featuring the top 10 hits in its repertoire. It was a great success, both in terms of the level of execution of the pieces and the size of the audience. Furthermore, as of this year it is no longer billed as the inclusive orchestra, but instead as the UVic Orchestra. "We're not an orchestra that needs to apologise for being out of tune any more. Things happen in our concerts, because we're not aiming for excellence. There are conventional orchestras for that."

As of this spring, the UVic Orchestra will be working on a project led by Dr Salvador Simó, who aims to make culture more accessible to people with Alzheimer's disease, and it will also include people suffering from the disease.

Montserrat Moncunill

Montserrat Moncunill (Piano)

Retired UVic lecturer

The Inclusive Orchestra has changed my life. I was going through a difficult time with my health that led to me becoming disabled, and the orchestra meant being able to make a fresh commitment, something new to get excited about, and a way to stay in touch with people at the University. I have some musical knowledge since I played the piano when I was a girl. Being able to be part of a group of people who make music is simply a wonderful feeling, a way of enjoying life."

Antoni Puigví

Antoni Puigví (Baritone saxophone)

Ex-bank manager, who took early retirement

"Being a member of the Inclusive Orchestra means entering an absolutely new and enchanting world. I started studying music and the saxophone just four years ago, and now I play the tenor, baritone and soprano saxophones. It makes me happy, it satisfies my curiosity, gives me peace and it's a fantastic way of keeping busy. I come out of rehearsals and hurry off to study to make sure everything turns out well. It's great fun! What's more, I was used to telling people what to do in my job and now I find that people are telling me. I feel like I'm just another person in the group."

Núria Serrallonga

Núria Serrallonga (bass metallophone)

Member of the ASS at the UVic's International Continuing Education Centre

"I've always felt that I had music inside me and I had never had the chance to play. As a child I went to the Music School, but I never really fitted in. When they said they needed people to join the orchestra, I didn't hesitate for a moment before signing up. It's helped me integrate at the University, and it puts my mind at rest and makes me feel at ease. And I've also learned to read scores, which I'm very happy about, and which makes me even more committed to studying and not getting left behind."