“I had to stand in front of 100 bankers and speak for six minutes about why they should give us money. It’s so not my bag though, I mean. I was so uncomfortable.”
For his six-minute live pitch, Steve Fisher won funding from Hackney Giving Live this summer to fund another term of KimNara Music, a music programme for teenagers with learning disabilities, autism and complex emotional needs.
But Fisher and his wife Tina Pinder, who founded the charity, are no strangers to discomfort. KimNara itself started with an unfortunate accident.
“We were both professional musicians, and then she (Pinder) got run over by a motor bike.” The accident destroyed the nerves that lift her right hand. Pinder, who trained as a classical pianist from the age of five, was told she’d never play again.
But one enterprising doctor at Homerton Hospital, in his spare time, built Tina a mechanical contraption using Meccano parts and elastic bands to spring her fingers back up when she pressed them down, allowing her to play music once again. In the process, her priorities had shifted a bit:
“After that, rather than being an egotistic musician — because all musicians are — she came out of that wanting to give everything back.” That was 2006.
Eight years later, Pinder and Fisher, who left a fifteen-year career as an “acoustician to the stars” to join the project, are still throwing everything into the programme. Pinder has taken on a master’s degree in music therapy, and lectures on the subject at universities around the country.
When they join the programme the young musicians generally have “no social skills to speak of”, says Fisher. The aim is to inspire self-confidence through creativity and teamwork, using original songwriting, performance, and an extensive kit including electric guitars, fuzz boxes, drum kits and violins.
On evenings during the school term, the musicians work from the Huddleston Centre youth club in in Clapton, writing, composing and performing original tunes like ‘Internet Killed the Video Star’, the enigmatic ‘I’ve Got a Saucepan, I Want to Cook for You,’ and a song about the Scottish referendum, ‘Let’s Be United’. “We have one student in particular who’s very adamant about that,” says Fisher.
Recordings of the group’s songs on Soundcloud display no shortage of confidence. “I can rock the world, yeah yeah” is the hook on the energetic ‘I Can Feel the Music’; “It’s so hot you’ll probably melt” another track warns, of itself.
KimNara takes on 7-9 young people per term, supervised by three musicians and a youth worker. The young musicians are well-behaved, but excitable, explains Fisher: “It’s like when a footballer scores a goal and rips his shirt off. They’ll get that from just hearing the right chord.”
Most of the musicians have been with the programme for several years, providing an alternative to conventional therapies that “haven’t really got them anywhere”, says Fisher.
If funding allows, the musicians put on an end-of-term show, which starts with raucous live performances and ends in a Q&A and jam session with the audience. Put simply, Fisher says: “Everyone that comes thinks it’s the best thing they’ve ever seen.”
According to Fisher, the unique benefits of making music has to do with connecting both sides of the brain.
“There’s one lad, probably the shyest one we’ve ever had. He stutters. And he just didn’t want to know… It got to be two weeks before the show and he came in and said, I’ve written a song. So we bashed the song together and did it for the show. And a week before the show he said, again stuttering, I’m gonna be the MC! We said, okay, you want to be the MC, you’re the MC. We got to the show, he got the microphone — didn’t stutter once.”
Finding money, finding venues and finding time are constant struggles for KimNara music, but in the rehearsal room they keep things simple with two rules for the workshops: don’t hurt anyone, and try to keep your clothes on.