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The British Paraorchestra: Meet the Musicians

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James Risdon

Where does your love of music stem from and how did you come to be part of the Paraorchestra?

"I cannot remember a time when music was not a major part of my life. My parents are not musicians though they both love music and kindled in us all a love of music in particular. Being blind meant that I was less drawn to playing football or watching television or riding my bike through the fields. I loved music and it seemed to make sense to me in a way that not much of the rest of the world always did. I didn't need to be able to see to appreciate all that music had to offer.

I came to be in the Paraorchestra through a chance email at RNIB where I am the Music Officer. A colleague forwarded an enquiry from a production company looking for people to feature in a film about a new project to create an orchestra of disabled people. I don't even think it had a name back then. Some enquiries like this fizzle out for many reasons and I wasn't sure where this one might lead, but it was clear that the man behind it, Charles Hazlewood, meant serious business. Within a few months, four of us were appearing at the TED conference in Brussels performing a remix and revamp of Greensleeves, complete with tabla, electronics and recorder, following one of Charles' great rallying speeches. The rest is history, and has been tremendously rewarding, both artistically and professionally."

What is your fondest musical memory?

"I remember a beautiful Summer's evening in Exeter cathedral hearing a young Nigel Kennedy playing the Four Seasons which was exquisite and thrilling. I then remember seeing him on evening television the week after playing jazz on an electric violin which blew me away.

As far as the recorder is concerned, I was lucky enough to hear both Piers Adams and Michala Petri while I was still at primary school and their virtuosity and daring in doing things I considered impossible has stayed with me. I think I knew then that I would never move far away from the recorder, and apart from a prolonged affair with the clarinet, this has proved true thirty years on."

What/who inspires you and your music?

"I am inspired by music that has a pulse, that has a heart, that breathes and reflects something of what it is to be human. Music is usually something to do with others and it is the shared act of making music, collaborating, refining, and performing that makes me excited. Doing this with the British Paraorchestra is a huge privilege and a great joy."

Tell us a bit about your upcoming performance at Symphony Hall on the 18th February.

"Our debut in Birmingham in the fantastic acoustics of the Symphony Hall is set to be an amazing evening. Making music on stage with one of the world's great orchestras, the CBSO, is not only a thrilling prospect musically, but marks a symbolic point in the development of the British Paraorchestra. This is not a guest appearance, a token gesture or a conclusion to a disability arts project, this is a full-blooded gig where both ensembles are on stage on an equal footing with equal roles to play."

If you were introducing someone to classical music, which piece of music/composer would you encourage them to listen to?

"I would have to pick a piece for recorder: Lux Aeterna by Markus Zahnhausen. This piece combines fragments of plainsong, the most fragile harmonics, whistle tones and quarter tones to produce a piece of music that is etherial, calm yet distinctly uplifting and hauntingly beautiful. It is a piece of music that transcends the instrument for which it was written and deserves wider recognition."

Baluji Shinny Red Suite Sitar High

Baluji Shrivastav

Where does your love of music stem from and how did you come to be part of the Paraorchestra?

"I am one of the founder members of the orchestra and our first gig was in Brussels at TEDX which was a fantastic experience with James and Clarence. Hearing Charles speak so inspiringly really made me proud to be part of this."

What is your fondest musical memory?

"Music is everything to me, it is in the air, the earth, the water. Music gives meaning to my life. I used to imitate the street hawkers in India when I was 2yrs old. That was music to me, and I used to make music from all the plates and bowls and cups!"

Music is everything to me, it is in the air, the earth, the water

What/who inspires you and your music

"The late Pandit Ravi Shankar"

Tell us a bit about your upcoming performance at Symphony Hall on the 18thFebruary.

"I love being surrounded by the sea of sounds from the Paraorchestra, and of course it is wonderful to have the opportunity to perform on such a prestigious stage."

If you were introducing someone to classical music, which piece of music/composer would you encourage them to listen to?

"Bach!"

Tom Doughty 8096 Credit Ashleymaile

Tom Doughty

Where does your love of music stem from and how did you come to be part of the Paraorchestra?

"I think I was born with a love of music"

I think I was born with a love of music

What/who inspires you and your music?

"Life and good music of all genres, inspires me"

Tell us a bit about your upcoming performance at Symphony Hall on the 18thFebruary.

"Don’t know what to expect, looking forward to it"

If you were introducing someone to classical music, which piece of music/composer would you encourage them to listen to?

"Debussy, (but I don’t know a lot about Classical music)"


Oliver Cross

Where does your love of music stem from and how did you come to be part of the Paraorchestra?

"We always listened to a lot of music at home. My parents used to sing to me a lot when I was small and encouraged me to try music lessons to find 'my instrument' which turned out to be the harmonica. When I was 16 I saw the British Paraorchestra on TV in 2012 and asked for an audition. I went to London to meet them and auditioned with them and got in.

I always struggled to do music at school for a variety of reasons. When I met the Paraorchestra, and experienced a Paraorchestra improvisation session, I felt at home. Improvisation on a theme is I think one of the Paraorchestra's greatest strengths and this has strengthened my own creative approach."

What/who inspires you and your music?

"My harmonica teacher is Steve Lockwood who can it is fair to say play anything on a harmonica. He introduced me to the instrument by way of the blues masters: Howling Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Sonny Terry, and Little Walter to name a few. More modern harmonica players such as Philip Henry and Will Pound have also been influential to me. I like to use my harmonica to tell a story and feel music should connect us to the times we have lived through and help us to comment/ make sense of it. Some examples of songs I like are Sonny Terry's 'Cornbread, Peas & Black Molasses', and also Philip Henry and Hannah Martin's interpretation of 'The Nailmakers' Strike', which has encouraged me to use beatbox techniques in some of my own repertoire. I also love The Old Crow Medicine Show, 'Wagonwheel' was one of the first songs I learned to perform with my brother who is a very good musician. Lately I've been listening to Parker Millsap. I first saw him supporting OCMS at the Roundhouse, Camden and 'Truckstop Gospel' is a favourite. I love that I get to stretch myself playing classical music amongst other things with the British Paraorchestra."


I like to use my harmonica to tell a story and feel music should connect us to the times we have lived through and help us to comment/ make sense of it.

Tell us a bit about your upcoming performance at Symphony Hall on the 18thFebruary.

"One thing I love about the Paraorchestra is that I find myself doing things I never would have expected. In 'Towards Harmony' I have a duet with James Risdon, recorder player. I never would have thought of putting harmonica and recorder together but our arrangement in 'Towards Harmony' is very beautiful."

If you were introducing someone to classical music, which piece of music/composer would you encourage them to listen to?

"If I was introducing someone to classical music I would encourage them to listen to 'Va Pensiero - The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves' from Verdi's Nabucco. To be honest I'm a bit torn between that and Bach's 'Brandenburg Concerto', movement 1 in G."


Don't miss The British Paraorchestra for their Birmingham debut, headed by a genuine innovator in the world of classical music, their inspirational conductor Charles Hazlewood - Saturday 18th February

Get your tickets here