Staff writer Diya Nadeem interviews David Stanley, a former student at King’s College London, who has gone on to create a charity providing music education to people with learning disabilities.
David Stanley BEM has achieved much since leaving King’s College London. Inspired by his passion for music and a touching story surrounding a young adult with Down’s Syndrome, Stanley has had a great impact on the music education sector, as well as supporting people with learning disabilities.
Read on to learn more about Stanley’s story, shared in an exclusive interview with Roar.
Roar: Can you tell us a bit about your current job and position?
Stanley: I’m the CEO and Founder of “The Music Man Project” charity, an award-winning specialist music education and performance service for people with learning disabilities. I’m also the UK Government’s Disability and Ambassador for Arts and Culture. “The Music Man Project” is a global beacon of accessible Arts and Culture. Our musicians with learning disabilities are role models for their community, capable of entertaining audiences in their thousands at the world’s most prestigious performance venues. They herald a step change from consumers of accessible culture to talented creative artists in their own right who show what they can do rather than what they need. I established regional “Music Man” Projects across the UK and travelled to South Africa, India, Nepal, the Philippines, and the USA to help other communities start their own versions of my service. I provide original music, teaching resources, and performance opportunities for free. My aim is to join this remarkable community together through song, country by country.
R: What inspired you to create “The Music Man Project”?
S: Twenty-two years ago, I met a young adult with Down’s Syndrome called Tony. As a musician who had studied at Junior Guildhall, King’s College London, and the Royal Academy of Music, it seemed logical that I should explore how Tony might respond to my music. I started with “I Am The Music Man”, but Tony soon requested I played his favourite Christmas song, “The 12 Days of Christmas”. 14 renditions later, we both collapsed in fits of laughter, it was the middle of July after all! His reaction changed my life forever. The transformative effect of my music on Tony led me to teach a small group of people with learning disabilities, arranged by a local charity, Southend Mencap. I promised my students that, one day, they would play the Royal Albert Hall. It was a joke, that became a dream, that became an ambition, and then my obsession. 20 years later, I presented 200 children and adults with learning disabilities from across the UK in a ground-breaking concert at the Royal Albert Hall. I taught the students, produced the show, and composed the music. It was the UK’s largest-ever celebration of accessible music-making and was supported by a symphony orchestra, massed choirs, and celebrity guests. We performed to an audience of over 3000 people. It took two decades to fulfil my promise and I battled prejudice, ignorance, and barriers to opportunity on behalf of this once-forgotten society. It all came from that one moment of joy with Tony.
R: How did it feel to have received the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and how has it impacted your life?
S: I was thrilled to receive the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s 2021 New Year’s Honours List. For two decades I campaigned for opportunities for musicians with learning disabilities. During this time, my students broke a world record, performed twice at the London Palladium, entertained Royalty, appeared on national TV and radio, opened a primetime TV advert, and played the Royal Albert Hall. Since my award, they have appeared on Britain’s Got Talent, recorded a top 10 Christmas single with His Majesty’s Band of The Royal Marines, and toured San Diego, California. These are their achievements and I share my award with all my students and the organisations who helped us. My honour attracted more interest in my work and, as a result, I have become an ambassador for people who need advocacy and representation in order to improve their lives. I’m an ambassador for more accessible and diverse arts and culture in this country and a proud promoter of the UK as a beacon of accessible music around the world.
R: How did your degree at King’s help you with your career and journey, post-graduation?
S: King’s gave me the most amazing platform to succeed in my career. I learnt from the best professors in the world and the experience instilled in me a level of confidence that I rely on to this day. I try to instil the same high expectations, the same determination to succeed and the same creativity, imagination, and resourcefulness that underpinned my experience at King’s for my musicians with learning disabilities at “The Music Man Project”. King’s helped me fulfil my potential and now I help my remarkable students fulfil theirs.
R: What is your fondest memory of your time at King’s College London?
S: I loved the feeling that I was learning from the best professors at the best university in the best city in the world, it was highly motivating. I discovered my particular specialism in Musical Analysis, which I went on to study in greater depth at Master’s level. I learned how to take music apart and put it back together again. This really helped me compose for my students, which has to be accessible for people with learning disabilities to learn but engaging enough for a symphony orchestra to perform to thousands at the Royal Albert Hall. Most of all, I remember the sense of belonging at King’s, a feeling I retain to this day.
R: How do you think university affected who you are today?
S: University gave me my foundation. It was a challenging and steep learning curve but full of opportunity and inspiration. I met amazing people who taught me life lessons that were the making of me. King’s set me on a path to success and its global reputation for excellence continues to open doors for me today.
Find David Stanley on LinkedIn.
Explore the website for “The Music Man Project” to find out more.