Sitting in the studio of Doug Bott, Musical Director of OpenUp Music, we are looking at an array of technical equipment in front of us but the questions posed are not standard ones. As Doug says: ‘A general issue that any musician is confronted with when working with music technology is ‘what does the instrument sound like?’. Our meeting this morning is one of several in preparation for the inaugural performance of the South-West Open Youth Orchestra, the UK’s first disabled-led regional orchestra. They will be performing with the University of the West of England Singers and Lydbrook Band, conductor Ian Holmes, in a new version of my composition ‘Silver Rose’ on 16 April 2016 at Bristol Cathedral. Commissioned by Bristol 2014, this will be the third performance, this time narrated by Barry Farrimond, Managing Director of OpenUp Music, with the re-write made possible by a UWE Faculty of Environment and Technology Public Engagement and Outreach Award.

Our question to be resolved in the forthcoming weeks – but perhaps not entirely solved – is ‘what could the instrument sound like?’   The Eyegaze and similar instruments successfully incorporated into OpenUp Music’s orchestras are created with the young person’s existing preferences as a starting point, or deduced by elimination, but they do not have a sound as such: ‘Is this a strength’, Doug muses, ‘or does it creatively present huge challenges?’

Neither he or I know exactly where we’re going with creating the sounds for this performance – it is after all a first, and a journey of discovery with the young musicians and their developing skills. Doug remarks that collaborating with the composer is a ‘fascinating process’ and I agree too that it is equally rewarding to work with OpenUp Music’s pioneering and innovative mission. As the composer, I have already defined SWOYO’s integral role in ‘Silver Rose’ but it is the timbres which will now evolve as rehearsals progress; and there is huge scope and exciting possibilities for the future.

Dr Liz Lane is Senior Lecturer in Composition and Performance at the University of the West of England and a freelance composer. The new version of ‘Silver Rose’ will be part of the UWE Centre for Performing Arts concert Sun, Moon and Stars at Bristol Cathedral on 16 April 2016.