Music up Close for everyone…

Music up Close for everyone…

By Sue Jane (CMNZ Education and Outreach Coordinator)

Last week I had the great privilege of attending a performance by Ensemble Paladino at Homai BLENNZ. The Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ (BLENNZ) is a school that is made up of a national network of educational services for children and young people who are blind, deafblind or have low vision in New Zealand.

The Homai campus has been situated at Manurewa in various guises since the early 1960s and has as their mission statement that every BLENNZ learner is well prepared to achieve in life.

Ensemble Paladino – Eric Lamb (flute), Martin Rummel (cello) and James Tibbles (harpsichord) – have just finished a tour with CMNZ, and were more than happy to add one more very special performance to their travels.

Ensemble Paladino 10.5.17 (34).JPG

So they duly arrived and unloaded the harpsichord in parts from the van and got it set up while students of the Kickstart Transitional Programme for 18 – 21 year olds put out the chairs under the watchful eye of their teacher and mentor, Jude Shelley.

“Is this the first time a harpsichord has been at Homai?”, I asked. “Yes it is!” replied Jude. “We’re all really excited to hear the group play for us. We very rarely get these opportunities.”

The performance took place as part of their Wednesday full-school assembly in their whanau space, and the ensemble didn’t disappoint as they played for over half an hour to around 40 students ranging in ages from 6 – 21, with their teachers and carers.

Hat’s off to Ensemble Paladino, I say! The Ensemble were fantastic with the students – there were many levels of ability and understanding there, and Eric, James and Martin all answered questions with humour, sincerity and candour.  They described their instruments well, and added little touches like explaining why they all played a single note together before starting the piece (tuning etc). Another example: Eric described Martin’s cello as “a big wooden box with strings attached”, then Martin played the lowest string long and loud so that they could feel the vibration going through them – one student laughed out loud at that! There were also many exclamations when James explained that modern harpsichord quills are made from the same hard but malleable plastic designed by NASA for space craft.

The harpsichord was definitely the ‘fly paper’ that attracted the students (and staff!) after the concert. “”I had no idea what to expect!” exclaimed one student as he felt the case. “It’s a lot bigger than I expected it to be.”

All too soon the harpsichord, flute and cello was stowed safely back into the van and the seats stacked against the walls of the whanau room, as the school bell rang for the end of the day.

But, probably for me, the biggest privilege of the day was to sit down with the four Kickstart students to talk to them about some of the challenges they’ve faced around accessing the arts.

This Kickstart programme sees students who have left school live together on the Homai campus in a flatting situation… once again, under the wing of Jude Shelley. They’re ‘on their own’ from 5pm weekdays and at the weekends. The programme helps to transition these blind and low vision young people into ‘how to adult’ in today’s society.

David was the only one of the four that loved classical music. As we pulled our chairs into a loose circle, one of his compatriots exclaimed “David, I can so see why you like this music now. I could’ve listened to that forever, it was so soothing! I loved the way the flute player moved – it was like he was part of the music!” (This young lady can still perceive movement and colour).

I thought about my own kids who are all at a similar age. These Kickstart students just want what any young person wants – independence and opportunities.  And why not!? They love going to gigs, but don’t want to always be reliant on others to take them, or to feel panicky when they get there because they don’t know where they’re sitting or who to ask.

They’re very groovy, intelligent and eloquent people with a lot to offer society, and I came away from my visit to Homai feeling very humbled and inspired … and determined to make CMNZ’s concert-going experiences ‘a breeze’ for people like David and his flatmates.

Students of the Homai BLENZZ Kickstart Programme will also be attending the touch tour and audio described Juilliard415 concert in Auckland on Friday 26 May.

For more details about this concert and audio description, go to: 


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