An Interview with Steve Varden – Accessibility Strategy
Posted by More Music on 21 February 2023
This term we had the chance to chat to Steve Varden – a musician and member of the Lancashire Music Hub accessibility strategy.
Steve Varden is a multi-talented and multi-disciplined performer. Amongst other abilities, he is a writer, actor, digital musician and traditional percussionist. Often delivering the unexpected, Steve is not afraid to go off script in order to make the best of any performance situation.
One of the main objectives of Steve Varden’s one man band electric wheelchair project is to demonstrate that a musician with significant physical disabilities can perform independently within the mainstream event and festival scene.
Having often felt isolated and ignored in social and entertainment environments, over the years Steve has developed and refined a form of social interaction performance that motivates and encourages people from all walks of life and ages to interact and communicate with him in a creative and friendly way.
Steve is passionate about his real life and everyday disability awareness training skills, which he interweaves into his life and into his interactions with people. Often on the edge of his own comfort zone, Steve will make an effort to interact and connect with people who would not necessarily normally or voluntarily interact with someone with severe physical disabilities.
Steve could you tell us a bit about your career?
I started out as a surdo drummer in a community samba band and then became a traditional percussionist with a community jazz / latin / funk / world music big band. I then began to mix traditional percussion with electric percussion and sound effects using two Korg Kaossilator synthesisers and most recently I have added a Boss RC-505 loop machine to that setup.
As a solo performer, I have designed and constructed a solar powered electric wheelchair one man band act which has been based around a Yamaha DJX II keyboard and with support from Drake Music, I have recently developed “The Steve Varden Cloud-Looping Commusication Experience” act which features the looper and synth’ desk.
I suppose, as a musician, I am at my happiest when I have some scope to explore and improvise around any particular piece of music or the likes of theatrical direction.
And here’s an invite to the documentation of my Portable Index Finger or Two project
What is your involvement the accessibility strategy?
As an independent consultant, I guess that I offer the strategy group my wealth of real life experiences of someone with significant disabilities who has become a self taught professional standard musician, without any formal music education. While this has not really been by choice, I think that I am reasonably well placed to highlight the shortcomings of my own formal music education and to suggest and promote the kind of music education opportunities that I should have had and that are easily achievable with modest amounts of common sense and resources.
Asking questions is often the key to learning and the catalyst for change and thus I am known for posing both enquiring and challenging questions to the Strategy Group.
What changes would you like to see in the future in music education?
In the autumn of 2021, my colleagues at Drake Music got wind that accessibility, inclusion and SEND provision were largely missing from the soon to be published New National Plan for Music Education; so we sort to change that and had to move very quickly!
We produced some recommendations that we gracefully welcomed by the DfE and that led to some panel briefings by civil servants prior to a round table meeting / discussion with the actual DfE personnel who were responsible for writing the plan.
What positive development have you seen in the music education?
We have been impressed as to the extent that the DfE has taken on board our recommendations and have both highlighted and embedded them in the whole plan.
On publication of the plan, we met again with DfE to comment and feedback on the new plan and will continue to do so every six months in relation to its implementation and continued development.