The change maker

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) has become the world’s first symphony orchestra to have its own disabled-led ensemble. Here, its conductor James Rose shares his hopes for the group

Conducting has been done in the same way for hundreds of years and so it is often considered a very straight down the line thing. But through the Change Makers project with BSO, I want to show that conducting can be done in another way and challenge the commonly held perceptions about the nature of a conductor’s role.

It’s not just in conducting; the orchestral sector in general is enmeshed with tradition and fixed ideas about how musicians behave, their appearance, and background. It is these traditions and ideas that I want to challenge by showing that there is more than one way to conduct. For example, I am learning to conduct using non-traditional methods with my head baton, developing new ways of communicating with musicians.

BSO conductor James Rose
BSO conductor James Rose

Thanks to a bursary awarded by Arts Council England (ACE) and a significant sum from two private donors, I am undertaking an 18-month conducting traineeship at BSO. A core part of this project is the curation of a disabled-led ensemble, BSO Resound, which I will conduct and lead.

A call was sent out for musicians to join this new ensemble yielding an incredible response from people all over the world. Eleven musicians were shortlisted for audition. The audition process consisted of two contrasting pieces being played followed by a 10-minute informal discussion with a panel that included senior BSO staff and myself.

We were looking for a mix of personalities within the ensemble that would create a balanced group in terms of dynamic as well musical skill and passion. In the final selection meeting that followed on, we all agreed unanimously as to which musicians should join the ensemble, and so BSO Resound, the BSO’s disabled-led ensemble, was formed!

BSO is the first orchestra in the world to have a disabled-led ensemble as a core part of its activities. Due to the nature of the ensemble we are exploring new ways of working, such as utilising musicians who play instruments that are new to mainstream orchestral and chamber music.

I find the work really exciting: it is important to celebrate new ways of making music and to view them as an advantage because of how they encourage creativity. We live in such a strange world where we are surrounded by anger and negativity, but what we are doing is really positive as it shows what is possible.

The work of this ensemble isn’t just an important opportunity for its members – it’s also an opportunity for audiences. BSO Resound will be performing public concerts as well as touring around schools across Dorset to deliver interactive performances for students across the region. These will include performances in SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) schools, and we are also keen to perform in mainstream schools.

Through our various performances I hope that we will inspire people, with or without a disability, to follow a career in classical music. There are barriers facing disabled musicians and I also hope that our work will open up more opportunities for diversity and accessibility in the arts sector.

I have a habit of ignoring people whenever they say no and not accepting any barriers that are in my way. I hope that because of the work BSO Resound is doing people will not only see that we can break with the traditions and restrictions of the past, but also that opportunities are available for every kind of musician.

The message that I want to send out is that if you really want to do something and you’re committed to it then, no matter what people may say or think, you can achieve it.

James Rose is director of the BSO Resound ensemble. For more information on the Change Makers programme, head to ACE’s website