In a world of practice, prodigies and pressure, it is so easy to forget what music really is. Simply put, music is just pitched sound. In 14 years of studying piano, last autumn was my first experience of connecting with and considering music in this way. It was the epitome of uncomfortable growth. I spent 10 weeks participating in Ambient Jam, a community project which aims to stimulate the senses of people with severe learning difficulties using light, sound and movement. It broadened my mind far beyond my expectations and really shifted my perspective on my own personal definition of music. It is not about the dots and lines on the page, right notes, wrong notes or articulation, it is about conjuring an atmosphere and forging a connection with the listener.
When I first entered the space, I’m not sure that I have ever felt so uncomfortable in a new environment as I did then. I wasn't a duck out of water, more a duck on the moon. The atmosphere really is unexplainable to anyone who has never experienced it. Everyone expresses themselves freely guided by the journey of the music. It ebbs and flows, and dips and swells with a mind of its own, worlds away from the unending void of sheet music that dictates every note, accent and emotion.
But with familiarity grew confidence, and during the placement the human connections which I experienced and witnessed were some of the most profound of my entire life. Connections were catalysed by music, and by music I mean drones held by taping down the notes on a battered keyboard and improvised bongo rhythms. There were no brazen trumpets competing for the goldest gold or velvet pianos competing for the grandest grand. It was just pitched sound, but somehow this has the ability to access the untouchable realms of these misunderstood minds. Seeing their world widen stripped back my complicated definition of music and allowed me to explore the concept at its core.
It's easy to forget that people with such severe difficulties exist when they are so often hidden from society, and yet they have taught me things I could never have learned from anyone else. These are people who cannot see, speak, control their movements or walk, but the authenticity of their relationship with music is something to be admired.