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Serious Play

28th October 2020

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by National Lottery Good Causes

Joy of Sound (JOS) runs inclusive music sessions using an amazing array of bespoke instruments that can be played by people of all abilities.

Founded 20 years ago, the group works primarily with disabled, impaired, elderly, unemployed and marginalised people in the community.

Joy of Sound founder William Longden and the bench dedicated to him

Throughout this time, JOS has worked with well over 1,000 volunteers and involved many thousands of participants.

The team run an average of 140 sessions a year and their founding director, William Longden, says that each one is based around the “serious play” of improvisation, which allows everybody involved to participate as an active co-creator.

The group has three London workshop bases in Hackney, Kensington and Lambeth, and also works across London and internationally.

It is just one of the many charities supported by The National Lottery with players contributing around £30 million a week to good causes.

William, a sculptor, fine artist and musician who lives in Brixton, South London, says the JOS team were able to quickly make the transition to the digital world after lockdown.

“Within seven days we delivered our first session, a dance movement session that I co-hosted with a dance and movement practitioner.

Within a very short time, the JOS team was delivering a full programme five days a week and engaging with people who had never been involved with them before, along with their regular client base and, amazingly, participants from all over the world.

He says Joy of Sound is all about the ability to improvise to adapt and include, saying: “This situation proved we could improvise to make the best of any situation, even when using a very different technological medium for on-line workshop delivery.”

Joy of Sound was first set up after a life-changing moment when William met Derek, a man with profound and multiple learning access requirements.

Derek was trying to play a very battered and broken guitar, so William offered him his own guitar and then accompanied Derek on a wooden flute. The pair made what William describes as ‘an intense and joyful musical connection.’

It became obvious to William that Derek could play and share music if given appropriate equal opportunity. He just needed an instrument that suited his personal choice and needs.

He realised that by creating useable, adaptable instruments and accessible workshops everyone could participate and benefit from music-making as equals.

This experience prompted William to begin working with disabled people as co-designers to produce more than 30 specially designed bespoke instruments, and instruments access devices, including a bespoke zither and a marimba that can be played by wheelchair users.

This year his work was celebrated when he received a doctorate that focussed 20 years Joy of Sound's project delivery and practice-based research.

He describes this moment as the crowning of a beautiful process that has been totally inspired and driven by Joy of Sound participants.