The Music Man Project was established to meet demand for a permanent specialist music service that caters specifically for people with a learning disability. David Stanley would often hear parents exclaim “my child struggles to engage with most things but absolutely loves music”. He set up a weekly music school in 2001 and discovered that his students possessed the same musical instinct and same desire to entertain as he did, a classically trained musician. He learnt that special schools had to provide a varied music curriculum, complete lesson observations and meet OFSTED requirements for creativity, communication and even ‘awe and wonder’. The schools valued music but either employed Special Educational Needs teachers with little musical expertise or music teachers with little Special Needs expertise. David and Marc (General Manager of Southend Mencap) set about helping the child with special needs to become the star of the family, the star of the school and even the star of the West End. They wanted to provide opportunity, break down barriers and educate the wider society.
We are run by local charity Southend Mencap and funded through student and Special School fees, grants, fundraising, donations and sponsorship. We don’t receive any ongoing funding from state education, the arts, health sectors, national charities, corporations or philanthropic giving. Despite today’s challenging economic circumstances, The Music Man Project has expanded to 4 counties in the UK and is already spreading to three more countries. This is due to the generosity of local charities in South Essex and the immense hard work of our students, staff, volunteers and parents who have raised over £100,000 over the past 5 years.
We cater for anyone with any kind of learning or physical disability. Our youngest student is 3 and our oldest is 75. We teach children in schools, colleges and at our Saturday music schools. We teach adults at care-homes, music schools and our daily 5 ½ hour music sessions in the community. Across all regional centres and special schools, The Music Man Project UK impacts approximately 500 people with a learning disability every week. The total number that have benefitted from David’s teaching since he started his weekly Music School has surpassed 1000. This figure will increase rapidly as more teaching centres are established across the UK and abroad.
Our guiding principles are enjoyment, education and performance. We teach traditional music-making with authentic musical instruments where students are treated as musicians in vocal and instrumental ensembles. They learn technical skills, expression, musical language and performance etiquette through rehearsing and performing specially composed repertoire. They are respected as musicians with a sense of purpose, pride, meaning and identity within their community.
Our musicians have performed in hundreds of concerts, ranging from small solo recitals to large-scale events and fundraisers. Performances show the public what our musicians can achieve rather than focusing on what they need. They reverse perceptions by educating and inspiring the ‘mainstream’, teaching them rather than receiving their help. David is a campaigner for performance opportunities for people with learning disabilities. He believes barriers to opportunity remain a real problem in the Arts, falling far behind what has been achieved by the Paralympic movement in Sport. He believes barriers to opportunity to be as limiting as lack of wheelchair access and that exceptions should be made for people living in exceptional circumstances if they are truly going to enjoy the equal opportunities they so richly deserve. Who doesn’t want to watch an entertaining and uplifting performance featuring people who have overcome incredible challenges just to be there? For many parents, the chance to see and hear their children perform live on stage alongside fellow musicians with learning disabilities and supported by industry professionals holds incredible value. It gives them hope.