Those taking part in the orchestra include musicians with Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy.
And today, the 20-member orchestra will perform at the Athlone Institute of Technology for the first time.
Conductor Shaun Healy, 24, from Derry, says being part of the ensemble has allowed him to forget about his disability.
He said: “Music is so great for someone who has special needs. It gives them freedom to achieve a lot and to get themselves heard.
“It really helped me because I used to have anxiety. It was a saviour, it brought me out of my dark tunnel that I was in, it helped me to shine and grow.
“It helps me to believe in myself more, I’m not a person that has an anxiety monster anymore, I am a human being and I can achieve a lot.”
INTRO TO MUSIC
Shaun was born with Global Development Delay — which is usually defined as a person being diagnosed with having a lower intellectual functioning than what is perceived as ‘normal.’
Before he was introduced to music, Shaun says he had no other hobbies but when he met Dr Denise White, a pioneering music educator from Ulster University, everything changed.
He said: “Denise got me into music and now it’s a big part of my life. I didn’t have any hobbies before — music gave me a boost I never felt before.
“Now, I’m always trying to encourage more people to get into music — it can help people with all kinds of problems.”
Shaun has been working with Dr White to create a system called ‘Conductology’, which acts like sheet music for typical orchestras so that if musicians are rehearsing individually, the method acts as a playing prompt.
Since the OYOI is made up of musicians from all four provinces, the system allows them to collaborate together despite not being able to practise together at once.
Dr White said: “Conductology enables everyone to truly participate in high-quality music-making and enables us to work with musicians who were previously prevented from creativity and expression.
“Music performance has not been as open and inclusive as it should be over the years and now that we are in a position to change that, we can watch as the OYOI smashes barriers.”
The OYOI was created by the Royal Irish Academy of Music after the organisation realised that disabled musicians did not have a platform to show off their talent.
Given that one in seven people in Ireland have a disability, RIAM Director Deborah Kelleher said she worried that disabled musicians were missing out on the chance to show off their creative skills.
She said: “This led us to wonder how many people are prevented from making music, sharing music and expressing their art.
“Music is so inclusive and modern technology so enabling that it made us determined to break down this frontier — effectively helping to democratise creativity.
“The response has been both affirming and inspiring and the musicians have created some beautiful work.”
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