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Growing Community Music

Music Making with Diverse Abilities

Project Proposal

Lyndal Chambers and Jane Coker, Feb 2020



The following is a proposal to help grow music making in the Diverse Abilities sector. In particular, it hopes to address Music Leadership Skills Development for people with diverse abilities or people employed in a paid or unpaid capacity in the Diverse Abilities sector, for families of people with diverse abilities and other community music activists who strive to be inclusive with their community music making. It aims to include those people in planning and development of leadership programs.  It also aims to advocate and raise awareness of the importance of music making to all people, particularly those with diverse abilities.

‘Diverse abilities’ refer to physical, cognitive, developmental, learning, and/or neurological differences, or diversity, in ability levels. We recognise that within this term there is a huge range of people with very different and unique needs. The proposal springs from the ‘Growing Community Music’ (GCM) Regional Gatherings and Diversity Consultations (a summary of the GCM project can be found in Appendix A: GCM Overview)

We know that participatory music experiences are beneficial to people with diverse abilities in a wide range of ways. They help to develop language, listening skills, physical coordination, identity, memory, social, cultural, cognitive skills and emotional intelligence. They provide ways of being in a social group and can utilize alternative skills in an individual, to the conventional language and cognitive skills. They are enjoyable, making education and care settings more attractive places to be.

Music offers joy, beauty, connection and community. Musical participation can be an equalizer. When people with diverse abilities are able to connect with communities, they give as well as receive. Our whole community is strengthened.

Perceived Need

From the GCM regional consultations, community music participants observed the lack of people present with diverse abilities and the obstacles to participation for those people. Participants also expressed the importance of ‘inclusion’ as an underpinning value for the work. We learnt that ‘access’ is often poor.

From the GCM ‘Diversity’ consultations, we learnt that people with diverse abilities are not included and not represented in the community music making landscape. People with diverse abilities are excluded from community music activities. Existing leaders would benefit from learning how to include diverse ability people by going to a series of workshops. ‘Their hearts might be in the right place but they feel uncomfortable about trying to do things differently ‘(Catherine Threllfell, Music Therapist, Mildura)

There are additional barriers to participation including transport, additional expense and timetabling issues. People become institutionalized in what they can attend – being unable to physically get to things.

We also learnt that an existing organization working in this field, ‘Wild At Heart’, while providing support for people who experience disability, mental illness or other disadvantage to find their own “voice” through music and art making, are largely unsuccessful at embedding leadership development into their programs.

(Full details of the perceived needs can be found in Appendix B: Perceived Needs in Detail)


There are other organizations actively working in this area. It would be essential for any project that CMVic might develop in this area, to be partnering with organizations with established networks and extensive knowledge. Potential partners might include ‘Wild at Heart’, Self-Advocacy Resource Unit (SARU), Kodaly Australia and others. A number of Special Developmental Schools in regional communities could be targeted partners, as well as community health services, and local councils.

What CMVic Can Bring

  • CMVic brings knowledge and experience of sharing non-virtuosic music leadership skills. It has strong values of social justice and an understanding of the range of possible activities and repertoire, as well as the capacity to develop new material. It brings a well-established state-wide network of community music activists and participants. 
  • CMVic combats isolation and brings people together in a world where care funding is increasingly individualized (e.g. My Aged Care, NDIS)
  • CMVic knows that you do not have to be a musical expert or have formal music qualifications to engage in beneficial music making.
  • CMVic brings expertise from experienced music leaders in working with people with diverse abilities and in facilitating the development of leadership skills.


  • Working in partnership with individuals with diverse abilities and with other organizations, to develop a series of music leadership Professional Development workshops for diverse abilities care and cultural workers, available at low cost in regional areas.
  • To develop a series of music leadership workshops for ‘mainstream’ leaders and groups to be able to include people with diverse abilities in their groups.
  • To develop resources and repertoire for use with groups that want to include people with diverse abilities incorporating values of equity and respect.
  • To find strategies to help groups develop their own new music, repertoire, resources and activities
  • To develop cross arts initiatives that are inclusive of people with diverse abilities
  • To advocate and raise awareness of the importance of music making for people with diverse abilities with local government, service providers and the community at large, bringing to the surface the additional barriers that need to be overcome.
  • For any project that is developed, to build the cost of participant transport and appropriate venues into the budgeting.

Ideas Around Leadership Skills Development

  • Make sure it’s safe and fun!
  • Confidence building, getting away from the ‘expert’ model, start from your own point of strength
  • Any music is better than no music
  • Repertoire – awareness of mixed ability and exclusive activities
  • Flexibility – hand over ownership, devolve leadership, make new music, listen and be responsive
  • Get Rhythm!

Evaluation Strategies

  • What is the social impact of the project? Who are we reaching? How are they changed?
  • Collect anonymous demographic data from each participant
  • Before and After’ All participants could be asked to complete a short survey at the outset of the project e.g.: Why did you come? What are you hoping for? A year later, a second short survey - e.g.: What have been the positive aspects of being part of this collaboration? Have there been any negative aspects?

Appendix A: GCM Overview

The following is a Victoria-wide proposal that aims to:

  • Help to widen the communities involved in group music-making
  • Increase the numbers of networks, leaders, groups and participants
  • Help develop leadership skills and groups among diverse communities.
  • Connect the networks so that existing groups feel included, supported and nurtured and that they are part of something bigger, something universal.
  • Acknowledge the strength of existing groups, genres and cultures and encourage them to share and exchange with others.
  • Seed new groups and cross-arts activities, taking it to the people more broadly in more diverse forms.
  • Have programs designed and led by the diverse parts of society we want to see included in community music practice.
  • Facilitate leadership exchange through collaborative examination of community arts leadership practice. What does good leadership look like? Why? Test the theory.
  • Undertake advocacy and education to raise public awareness of the importance of community music-making to individual wellbeing and community-strengthening
  • Seek partnerships for joint projects with other NGOs and government agencies.
  • Seek funding, support and partnerships - particularly from local government - for networking events, projects, parades and parties. Fund locally embedded change-makers who gather a team about them.
  • Devise strategies to effect changes in attitude in decision makers so that societal leaders support the flourishing of community music and arts.

The proposal springs from the views expressed by participants in 8 ‘Growing Community Music’ (GCM) Regionally located Group Consultations, 11 Diversity Consultations and a consultation with 18 widely experienced community music leaders. (See Appendix A: What we did) Direct quotes from participants are in italics throughout this proposal.

For the purposes of this proposal, the term ‘music-making’ includes singing, playing instruments, doing both together, creating original music, improvising and combining music with other disciplines. The initials ‘CM’ stand for Community Music.

Appendix B: Perceived Needs in Detail

  • An overarching view among the CM activists we have spoken with is that to achieve success, community music-making must embody values of inclusion (true access, welcoming, non-elitism, fun, comfort, generating confidence, intellectual inclusion, age inclusion, diversity inclusion, geographical access, supportiveness, commitment, flexibility, safety, responsiveness, empowerment, connectedness) and take the approach that diversity needs to be celebrated and can be beneficial to all members of community. “It’s a hard thing to bring different cultural backgrounds together but there is a real need for it. What’s going to happen in the future if there is no communication between the different groups?”
  • We need to meet more than halfway with excluded groups, bringing our skills and reaching out to embrace the diversity of our communities.
  • We need to develop different pitches to generate interest such as promoting and modelling inter-generational, cross-cultural, inter-arts activities, making them as diverse as possible. We need to encourage others to do the same.
  • The people who are designing the programs need to be the ones engaging in them; what is fun for some people, might not be fun for others.
  • Obstacles to participation in music-making for people who are traditionally excluded from mainstream activities were described as many and various depending on a lot of factors including which particular excluded group or groups people belong to. We have written separately about a number of these groups (see Appendices for these proposals) but some obstacles were seen to be common across many excluded people and groups:
  • Lack of representation among planners, funders, program designers, and group leaders and members
  • Practical obstacles such as cost, transport options, distance, times of day, disconnection, lack of nurturing 
  • People often have institutionalized routines, limiting when and where they can attend
  • Physical obstacles.
  • Cultural and language differences
  • Lack of advocacy, subsidy, venues and practical support from councils
  • Lack of skills/experience in engaging with excluded groups among existing music-makers.
  • Many leaders would benefit from learning how to include diverse (ability) people
  • Young people were referred to most frequently as being a demographic that is missing out on music-making. Music-making is seen to have the potential to engage young people and keep them in regional areas: 
    • Once kids start school little music is available. Singing in primary school settings is a huge gap.
    • Support primary school communities to start choirs as they provide wonderful opportunities to enhance learning and wellbeing! “Many of my friends who are teachers have told me that their schools would be responsive to this idea”.
    • Emphasise fun in music for school aged kids. They can feel judged at an early age.
    • Community music experiences for children at school (let’s sing model ABC), in nursing homes etc
    • Make it a cool culture for kids
    • Funded “introduction to music” sessions for kids
    • Reframe the role of children in community
    • Many (EAL) teachers find that when secondary students say that they find ‘creative’ approaches “boring” it triggers their own insecurities about leadership, so they tend not to do anything they are not 100% confident about. 
    • Projects are needed which address young people in rural areas. 
    • There is a demand among young people for access to musical opportunities eg playing instruments, accessing classes, singing, getting together
    • Create opportunities to engage teenagers to gather in facilitated band type settings.
    • Link with youth workers, council officers
    • Working with youth in community music group: building skills, sharing knowledge
    • Run a pilot to see what sort of community music activities turn young people on –
    • Music as therapy 
    • Hip hop workshops
    • Skill up younger tutors – succession plan
    • In the disability sector 
    • Leaders need more mentorship and skills development opportunities
    • Transport, routines and admin (i.e. risk assessment, permission forms etc) were all issues to be addressed
    • Council’s advocacy around disability access is poor
    • Take advantage of current opportunities within NDIS
    • Need ensembles where music leaders can make it accessible – e.g. couldn’t join a brass band. Choirs are generally ok but not all.
    • In rural communities there are particular issues and constraints including lack of opportunity, distance, poverty, lack of diversity.
    • With Indigenous people we need to:
    • Recognise the local indigenous culture, music and languages 
    • Nurture indigenous musicians 
    • Bring indigenous and other musos together 
    • Embed indigenous perspectives in early years learning
    • This requires extensive research, building on existing links and, above all, interaction.
    • Older People
    • Support is needed from local councils or other supportive organizations through aged care packages e.g. transport (very big issue), social support activities, lunch etc
    • In-house community music groups are needed in aged care facilities
    • Intergenerational music-making is essential
    • Culturally and linguistically diverse people
    • Increase opportunities for participation, cultural development, cross arts activities and inter-cultural exchange.
    • Raise awareness of the importance of the flow of cross arts exchange between CALD groups and ‘mainstream’ society where all circles gain greater understanding and are strengthened.
    • Advocacy to government at all levels, but particularly local government, of the value of supporting and enabling self-determined arts activities within CALD communities is important.
    • "The CMVic Grantville camp is middle class white people – conservative. Like churchgoers – with a creative edge. Samoans, Punjabis, Congolese back away; they wouldn’t go to that. And the children’s program has to be inclusive of the different cultures"