WAFTB News: World Access For The Blind student earns prestigious UK Literary and Music Honors. Image: Alexia Sloane holds her trophy for being named Cambridge Young Composer of the Year.

ALEXIA SLOANE: COMPOSER, LINGUIST, PERFORMER, POET, WRITER

Cambridge Young Composer Of The Year

We’re excited to share the news that WAFTB student Alexia Sloane has been named the Cambridge Young Composer of Year 2016/17.

The 16 year-old is the first girl to win the British competition since it began in 2006, and is also the first blind winner. Alexia also won her category in the 15-17 age group.

As Cambridge Youth Music writes: “Alexia, a student at Hills Road Sixth Form College, set Passiflora to the text of “Southampton Water”, a poem by RG Gregory. She dedicated the work to the victims of the shootings in Orlando on the 12th of June, and to the LGBTQIA community. Congratulations Alexia! All of us at World Access For The Blind are very proud of you!

Alexia Sloane - Cambridge Young Composer Of The Year 2016. Image: A montage of images includes Alexia standing with the other nominees, as well as Alexia accepting her trophy, set over the logo of Cambridge Youth Music.

The Winning Piece and The Process

Cambridge Youth Music continues: “Alexia has been blind since the age of two and composes using a braille keyboard. Composing involves her in an extremely lengthy process of dictating every note for someone else to write down.

Her winning composition, Passiflora, took eight hours to transcribe in this way.

Judge Ewan Campbell, himself a noted British composer, described Passiflora as “an ambitious piece that makes excellent use of the available instrumentation, with some very interesting harmonies and unusual melodic scales. The piece attains its timeless, dreamlike feel with a loose sense of rhythm and flexible approach to meter.”

Alexia Sloane's 'My Vision' for the Wildlife Trusts. Image: Alexia, dressed in a purple jumper, wraps her arms around a tree in the woods.
Alexia Sloane wins the 2014 SPender Prize. Image: ALexia accepts her prize at a podium under a video monitor showing an image of Prize's namesake with the text: The Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation 2014 in association with the Guardian.

ALEXIA SLOANE: An Extraordinary Talent 

To say that 16 year-old Alexia Sloane is quite a very accomplished teenager would be an understatement of the highest order.

Her challenges came early in life and could have resulted in a withdrawn existence of isolation and fear. However, her quiet, but strong, spirit and the guiding foundation of her family, teachers and mentors along the way would have none of that.

Alexia was born in 2000 and was diagnosed with neuro fibromatosis type 1, also called von Recklinghausen’s disease. One of the risks of this rare genetic disorder is that tumors may develop on the nerves of the eye (optic gliomas).

Sure enough, that’s what happened when Alexia was two years old.

Although, as she writes on her website, “I consequently underwent my first course of chemotherapy, (I had my second aged eight), I lost my sight completely.”

Despite the lingering shadow of other complications that can arise over many years from the condition, Alexia pressed-on. Born into a bilingual family – her Father English, her Mother French/Spanish – her love of languages would be the first talent to emerge, followed by a love of writing – be it poetry or prose, progressively succeeded in turn by music, both as a performer and a composer.

The photos that flank the editorial flow of text on this page capture the milestones of creative achievement in Alexia’s young life, such as her being awarded the 2014 Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation where translated a French poem by a Belgian poet into English. Alexia could combine her multi-lingual skills with her passion for poetry, and has even set a higher goal for herself of eventually further translating the piece into Chinese to “experience the beauty and musicality of the Chinese tones when reading it out loud”.

Dame Jacqueline Wilson presents Alexia with the Henrietta Branford Prize.
Alexia Sloane wins the 2013 Henrietta Branford Competition. Image: Cutting from a newspaper shows a photo of Alexia and her mother Isabelle leave 10 Downing Street. The article's headline reads: Young blind wordsmith earns award.
Alexia Sloane visits author and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz. Image. Photo Alexia play piano for Anthony Horowitz at his home.
Alexia receives a medal from Anthony Teasdale, Deputy Head of Cabinet of the President of the European Parliament following her interpreting experience.

NATIONAL LINGUISTIC FAME

Alexia’s love for, and diligence in, her language studies would soon bring her national acclaim in Great Britain.

At the age of 9, Alexia took the CGSEs (GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education. GCSE examinations are taken by most pupils at the end of compulsory school education (Grade 11) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) in French and Spanish achieving an A grade in both.

In the next two years she would accomplish the same in Chinese, Latin and Italian.

It’s no wonder that Alexia was awarded the Cambridge Young Achiever of the Year when she was just 10 because of her advanced test scores.

At the time, she was interested in pursuing a career as an interpreter for the European Union. She was able to get “a taste of the job”, as she put it, when she traveled to the European Parliament in Brussels that year with, then, UK MEP Robert Sturdy.

As you can see in the flanking photos, Alexia sat in during a full environmental committee meeting and interpreted an MEP speech, translating from French into English. She and her family were feted by EUP staff, and Alexia was even given a medal from Anthony Teasdale, then, Deputy Head of Cabinet of the President of the European Parliament.

The following year, Alexia had a big thrill when she got to meet British author and screenplay writer Anthony Horowitz at his house in London. His works include the Alex Rider teenage spy series, new novels for the James Bond (Trigger Mortis)  and Sherlock Holmes (House of Silk) series, and he was the originator of the TV series ‘Foyle’s War’.

Alexia had a great time playing Bach with him on the piano and said, “He gave me about ten CDs of some of his books since these do not exist in Braille and he was truly shocked when I told him only 7% of all print books exist in Braille or in audio format.”

Alexia interpreting at the EU Parliament in Brussels 2011. Image. Photo shows Alexia sitting at the desk in the interpreting booth with the seating area for Members of the European Parliament visible through the glass wall.
Alexia with MEP Robert Sturdy and her parents at the European Parliament in 2011.
10 year-old Alexia becomes the youngest interpreter to work at the EU Parliament. Image. A newspaper clipping headlined: She's just ten, but blind Alexia Sloane has already interpreted for MEPS. The language of genius. Photo in the article shows Alexia sitting in an outdoor gazebo working on her Braille computer at a table.
Alexia Sloane finds her greatest passion in composing. Image: Photo of 10 year old Alexia playing the piano.
Alexia Sloane, an extraordinary talent in whatever she chooses. Image shows Alexia reading a Braille book on a table next to her Braille computer.
Image. Alexia Sloane pictured with her mother Isabelle, father Richard and younger sister Melissa.
Alexia Sloane interviews Professor Stephen Hawking. Image: Alexia uses her braille computer during her interview in Professor Hawking's office.
Alexia meets (then) UK Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012. Image. Alexia, along with her mother Isabelle, chats with British Prime Minister David Cameron during a reception at number 10 Downing Street in London in 2012.

A PASSION FOR COMPOSING: Career Pivot

Despite her prize-winning accomplishments as a linguist and her opportunity to experience interpreting at the Parliament of the European Union, Alexia came to the realization that a career choice as an interpreter would mean she’d never be able to convey her own ideas.

She had also been amassing awards for her literary efforts in poetry and prose. And as part of those efforts and awards, Alexia got to ‘rub shoulders’ with some pretty famous people. In April 2014, as part of her secondary school’s BBC News Report project, she had the honor of interviewing Stephen Hawking at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge.

As Alexia put it, “This was an absolutely incredible and very humbling experience. At the end of the interview, I got to play the prologue of my novella to Professor Hawking via my Braille computer who has a very similar voice to his own computer!”

Her efforts also got her invited to Number 10 Downing Street to meet Prime Minister David Cameron and even his children when it was their bedtime.

Another famous person Alexia got to work with was World Access For The Blind (WAFTB) President Daniel Kish when he was on-assignment in the UK. She had become fascinated by human echolocation after hearing the BBC Radio 4 documentary ‘Batman and Ethan‘.  WAFTB will be mounting a fundraising campaign for Alexia to be able to do more training with Daniel, and also work on composing with another WAFTB student, Ethan David Loch.

As well as winning the 2016 Cambridge Young Composer of the Year Award, Alexia has also been successful in gaining a place as a Composer with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain while studying as a Principal Study Composer and Second Study Recorder player at the Royal College of Music.

You can learn much more about Alexia and watch videos and hear recordings of her work at her website.

Alexia with Professor Stephen Hawking at Cambridge. Image shows Alexia sitting next to Professor Hawking in his office at Cambridge.
Alexia Sloane at the Wicked Young Writers' Award 2012. Image. Alexia stands on the carpet in front of a backdrop with the competition's logo repeated in a pattern.
Alexia Sloane swims with dolphons on her 12th birthday family vacation in Portugal.

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