On this page I share my experiences of developing as a composer on piano and how this has allowed me to establish an identity as a pianist in my career.
Piano playing originally started as a form of physiotherapy for my cerebral palsy. Cerebral Palsy (CP) is 'a non-progressive neurological disorder that affects body movement and muscle co-ordination' (Chandler, 2010). CP is caused, before, during or after birth. My CP was caused during birth due to the umbilical cord being tight around my neck which starved my brain of oxygen resulting in damage to my brain and to the left side of my body.
Due to the effects of my cerebral palsy and the damage to the left side of my body it has led me to develop a unique way of playing instruments, particularly piano. When playing piano I use three fingers on my left hand as it is stiff and bends into different positions compared to a more traditional way of playing.
Joseph Straus states that 'the critical response to composers with disabilities would focus less on what they did in spite of their disability and more on what their disability enabled them to do' (Straus, 2011). This is viewed through the sociocultural model of disability. He goes on to state that 'it would be about understanding the composers as living with disability and creating through disability in a larger context provided by the history of disability: not an affliction to be suffered, not a mark of divine inspiration, not an obstacle to be overcome (and thus ignored), but a source of creative identity' (Straus, 2011).This concept is an approach which I now value in my work. Growing up I use to see my disability as a hindrance and how it stopped me being able to portray what I wanted to express musically. As I matured, I began to understand how my disability was actually in fact a way to develop new creative ideas allowing me to develop my musicianship.
My compositions are predominantly based around my experience of living with my disabilities, which also gives my compositions a more personal reflection. When performing I explain the reasons behind my composition, for example, how it relates to the change I've noticed since starting medication and wearing splints for my CP. This is followed by me playing my composition. Feedback from previous performances has informed me that doing this allows the audience to understand the music better. Therefore I intend to do this throughout my set at Much Taboo About Nothing.
For the show I composed a new piece called Time Lapse which is about an upcoming brain operation I am having in 2020. I began composing the new piece in May 2019. Below are snippets of the piece and how it developed in both tempo and structure.
Time Lapse performance at Much Taboo About Nothi
Much Taboo About Nothing was a chance to perform my own repertoire again and use it as another platform to develop my career as a performer. With this in mind, I released my new single the same day as the show. This was done with the intention to show some of the other acts that a professional career in the music industry is possible too and that they can record their music to release too. With the promotion of both Much Taboo About Nothing and Time Lapse I was able to connect the two together and benefit both my performance side as well as online identity as it is available on all mainstream music platforms.
When I was nineteen I developed another disability in my left side which makes it twitch uncontrollably. This developed due to medication changes and the release of my previously stiff muscles. During the three years it took to get a final diagnosis of the involuntary movement – a mixed hyperkinetic movement disorder, consisting of chorea, dystonia and a hemiballismus – I developed my own coping mechanism for dealing with the involuntary movements. When playing music; both drum kit and piano, I was able to stop my movements from appearing. This change of state is similar to entering the flow state where; ‘a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 1991, p. 1). During the flow state, ‘a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else’ (p.2). When playing instruments I focus on the music, and not my disability, and I am then able to achieve what I set out to do musically without my disability being a big hindrance.
Video of composition - Memories - performed at Much Taboo About Nothing.