Written by our volunteer Mike W.

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In the recent past, I had the misfortune of working with someone whose personality, it seemed to me, comprised of little more than a series of fundamental flaws.

He could be charming on occasion, but that was a deliberate ruse I always thought – to butter one up for the snide comebacks and the temper tantrums. He had bad manners and lacked grace.

A bully, really, though I never felt bullied. Rather, it was like sitting alongside a small yapping dog for eight hours; if it yaps at you non-stop, you’re are least going to think about giving it a kick, right?

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Please dear reader, do not be mistaken – this isn’t a blog detailing how Orb will soon be offering training on how one should deal with irritating, out-of-their-depth line managers.

But I knew there might be trouble ahead when we were first thrown together and he made the following statement in an email:

“I don’t like music.”

He doesn’t like music. HE. DOESN’T. LIKE. MUSIC. I can’t remember the context in which he admitted not liking music – any music, all music – but really that’s beside the point.

‘Who would say such a thing?’ I asked myself, not unreasonably.

Personally, I reckon saying ‘I don’t like music’ is like saying ‘I don’t have a soul’. In my mind’s ear, an alarm bell started ringing.

The power of music to move, to stir, is potent. It grabs us and can uplift us like little else.

Be it a swooning Motown hook or the power and drama of a Wagner opera – whatever one’s taste, things can suddenly seem less bad when we shut the world out and turn our music on.

And as a means of self-expression, of course, there’s even more magic to behold: I, for one, can only dream of how the mastery of a musical instrument, and the connection with my fellow players, might feel.

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In the Orb’s music room, virtuosity features fairly low on the list of priorities. In fact, it’s not a priority at all. Freedom, fun and enjoyment are everything.

The music room is sort of how you might expect a music room to look: drum kit in the corner, guitars propped up on stands, amplifiers and wires trailing everywhere. An old Moog synthesizer sits on a shelf, looking a little forlorn.

Next door is the recording studio, where the Orb’s resident music genius Andy Fretwell describes what’s on offer and how service users can get involved – starting with a referral from either local Community Mental Health Teams or a GP.

“It’s very person-centred, we don’t have a course as such. People decide their own goals and we try our best to work around that,” Andy says.

“Some people come in and they’ll just want to sing over a backing track and record that and take it away on a CD.

“We do guitar lessons, bass lessons, DJ lessons, we’ve got a drum teacher on a Friday. We have had piano lessons in the past but that was dependent on a volunteer we don’t have at the moment.

“On the production side, we’ve got Cubase and Ableton – recording software – and can teach people the basics of using that kind of stuff.

“We can get involved in longer-term projects, like writing a song from the ground up and recording all the different parts.”

As for the benefits of playing – or rather the joy of playing – at Orb that might mean membership of the Jam Band, which finds its groove on a weekly basis.

“We’ve got some people who come in who are very proficient and they’re just looking for people to play music with. And then other people in the group may not be musicians, or they might have a basic level on their instrument, and it’s just about finding that balance.”

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Describing the Orb’s general aim, Andy adds: “For a lot of people, the real root of their problem might be social isolation. If you’re not meeting people and spending time with them, it’s easy to fall into those patterns of depression.

“You get more anxious about going outside. And if you’ve got mental health issues, that can exacerbate it.

“It’s about enabling people to have a creative outlet. For me, playing music is a very powerful thing. You get in a room playing music with a few other people and that’s a great feeling – it’s a connection.

“We’ve had people come in and say ‘I just want to learn to play the instrument a bit. I don’t want to play with other people, you’ll never get me on stage’.

“It’s about taking it step-by-step: as they get a little better, they might want to try playing with somebody else.

“I love trying to get different people on stage. People have said ‘You’ll never get me on stage’. But then a year, 18 months later they’ll be hiding at the back of the stage while we do a little bit of music. They grow in confidence.”

As you can see, at Orb we like music a lot.

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