Sunday was a special day. I provide respite care for Eddie (30, who has been staying with me for 25 years!) and Matthew (12), who both have Williams Syndrome, a blessing of a ‘condition’ as kids and adults with it are usually exceptionally sweet-natured, as indeed are my lads. Matthew was in concert on Sunday at the Royal Festival Hall with kids from his class and from two regular schools, accompanying the London Gay Men’s Chorus.
Matthew very much did his own thing, skillfully supported by a teacher whose main triumph was managing to keep Matthew from bolting off the stage. But Matthew pulled off a quick dazzling solo of spontaneous breakdancing, in the form of a little twizzle round while sitting. The irony is that Matthew has a very sweet, confident singing voice. Another irony is that Matthew has and uses very little spoken language. And yet on Sunday night, he decides to get all chatty with his teacher! He also finds it, or has til Sunday found it, impossible to shout. We practice when we’re taking Buddy for a walk but he can scarcely raise his voice to call out for her. And yet. Sunday night, during a charged moment of silence between pieces, the sound: “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!” rang out and hopped and skipped all round the RFH.
The brilliant thing was that the whole culture of the evening was so palpably inclusive and appreciative. It’s very very rare for kids or adults with learning disabilities to be somewhere funky, as audience let alone co-stars. It was something way beyond the rather awkward concept of ‘acceptance’. An egalitarian identification and inclusion. And if ever anyone needed a powerful example of difference being celebrated….
The choice of songs was interesting. Express Yourself, Born This Way, Our Time. Quite extraordinary when the choir consists of 100 gay men, a bunch of regular teenagers (who did brilliantly not being put off by the ‘different keys’ in which the disabled kids sang) and, the unequivocal stars of the show, the little mob from the Broadwater Farm special school.
On top of all this, it was a knock-out experience for me to watch Matthew walk (and then try to make a break for it) off the stage to huge, generous, loving applause. (I know there were probably other kids in the vicinity, but I can say without any bias, the audience were definitely all specifically clapping my Matthew. I’m Jewish. I know these things.)
Interestingly, as you’ll hear on the video, the LGMC got a grant from the Derek Butler Trust for their work with the schools. Independent foundations rock!
Here it is. You can be one of the first to see it before it goes globally viral.