RNCM announces first winner of new award to support disabled and neurodiverse students

02 February 2024
By Ellie Palmer
The new award is named The Lucy Hale Award, which honours the talented composer who died aged just 26.

The inaugural Lucy Hale Award set up by the Royal Northern College of Music, has been presented to Spanish pianist Gema Lu Cai – a fourth-year student specialising in music education who was diagnosed with a learning difficulty and ADHD during her time at the RNCM.

The new award has been set up by the institution to champion and support disabled and neurodiverse students.

Winner Gema Lu Cai will receive £5,000 as part of the award, which she says she will use to purchase her first piano.

Alongside her RNCM studies, Gema teaches piano. Having her own piano at home for her lessons will reduce her travel hours, creating more time for her to practise and study - both of which are more challenging for her as she requires additional time to absorb information and take breaks.


Gema will use the £5,000 award to fund her first ever piano

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She comments, "This award means I can finally call an instrument 'my piano'. Not rented, nor borrowed. This is a guarantee that I will be able to practice and teach. Whenever I am feeling down, teaching makes me feel better."

The Lucy Hale Award was established to honour the composer's incredible achievements. Lucy, who was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disability at a young age, was the inaugural associate composer with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s disabled-led ensemble Resound project, and had been a composer in residence at the National Orchestra for All. She sadly passed away in 2021.

Speaking about the impact of the award, Gema added: "I thought nothing good could come from my disability. But the Lucy Hale Award has given me hope that I am seen and understood. It has made me feel like I am not always at a disadvantage, and I will always be grateful for that."