Bridging Generations with Arts Leadership

“Arts Leadership” is an important phrase at From the Top. But what does it mean, really? For 33 members of the Center for the Development of Arts Leadership (CDAL), it has meant a year of sharing music with different generations, and learning valuable lessons along the way. Through CDAL’s Community Performance Series, our young musicians/leaders have reached more than 1,400 people of all ages throughout the Greater Boston area.

18-year-old cellist and From the Top Arts Leader Lev Mamuya recently played at the Boston Children’s Museum. For many youngsters in this audience, Lev’s performance (or those of his fellow musicians) was their first encounter with live music.

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“It was really cool to see such little kids, of all backgrounds, totally engaged,” Lev said about his performance.

18-year-old pianist Phuong Nghi Pham had a similar experience.

“To be able to see in their eyes the joy and curiosity of learning about something really cool and interesting for the first time was absolutely amazing.”

In other parts of the community, CDAL musicians experienced a broader range and diversity of listeners, including cancer patients at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and senior citizens at the Goddard Assisted Living House in Brookline.

During 19-year-old Nick Tisherman’s recent oboe performance at the Goddard House, many of the listeners sang along. Afterwards, some of them even came up to play the piano. It was a powerful experience for young musicians to see how music transcends generations.

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As we watch the young arts leaders share their music through these community performances, it’s clear they benefit as much as their audience. Seeing the excitement of their audiences reminds them of why they play music in the first place.

“Music is so powerful,” said 16-year-old pianist Yoo Jin Ahn. “Music united us in that moment despite our differences of age and background.”

From the Top is now accepting applications for the 2014-2015 Arts Leadership Program. Click here to learn more.

In Brighton, MA, Teen Leaders Make Chamber Music Personal

For the past three years, From the Top has enjoyed a partnership with Conservatory Lab Charter School in Brighton, Massachusetts. Conservatory Lab is the only music-infused public elementary school in the state and provides all students free vocal and instrumental instruction. However, the students at Conservatory Lab don’t have access to playing in small ensembles, so for the past two years, young musicians from our Center for the Development of Arts Leaders (CDAL) have conducted chamber music residencies at Conservatory Lab. CDAL is From the Top’s arts leadership program in Boston, with trains young musicians to be active leaders in their communities.

The most recent week-long residency paired a CDAL arts leader with a Conservatory Lab student, with whom they worked exclusively. Aside from learning an entire piece — The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080, Contrapunctus I, by J. S. Bach — the CDAL arts leaders and Conservatory Lab students explored the unique lessons that chamber music can teach: leadership, teamwork, and focus. Gabriel, a young clarinetist, explains: “I learned that you don’t have to rely on a conductor, but that you have to listen to every one else when you are playing chamber music.”

While the lessons on dynamics and cueing were valuable, Kat Jara, the Conservatory Lab students’ teacher, says the one-on-one attention — having one mentor dedicated to each Conservatory Lab student, checking in on their bow holds and being a “musical friend” — makes all the difference. The effect on the Conservatory Lab students isn’t truly realized until a few weeks after the residency, she says, when their confidence grows and their self-esteem skyrockets.

 

 

The weeklong residency culminated in a side-by-side performance of their chamber work for their friends. After all their hard work, the students were all very nervous to perform, but they prevailed. Nora, a young cellist, said it best: “It was kind of scary, but in the end, when everybody clapped, it felt good!”

Congratulations to the performers from Conservatory Lab: 

Mira Mehta, violin — 6th grade

Gabriel Joachin, clarinet  — 4th grade

Nora Feeney, cello  — 6th grade

Tess Lepeska-True, cello — 4th grade

Antwanai Miller, viola — 6th grade

Angelo Beauvois, cello — 4th grade

And to their teachers from the CDAL Boston program: 

Lilia Chang, violin

Nicholas Gallitano, viola

Changyoung (Calvin) Kim, clarinet

Leland Ko, cello

Ju Hyun Lee, cello

Arts Leadership Plans from the Performers from Show 280, Wingate, North Carolina

Each of the performers on Show 280 attended an Arts Leadership Orientation Workshop, where they explored their own personal leadership pathways. Learn how they are taking their music beyond the concert hall in their own communities:

Hannah Wang is reigniting an idea that she tabled in the fall. She plans to bring together local musicians for a jam session and instrument petting zoo at a local park or school in the spring or summer.

Clara Gerdes wrote us an email about her plans to visit a local assisted living facility:

“For an arts outreach activity, I would like to organize some friends and acquaintances with whom I often sing and play instruments to do a few informal concerts at a nursing home early next month.  We would present a variety of different styles of music, from classical to folk, and include some familiar songs the residents could sing along to–this is something I’ve noticed elderly people often really respond to and enjoy.  Also, I would like to go in the weeks after Christmas and New Year’s; many places seem to get a lot of attention before but not right after the holidays. “

Qing Yu Chen will be organizing a visit to a retirement home in New York City in the springand she hopes to involve other From the Top Alumni. Currently in the initialn planning stages, she is thinking over the goals and gameplan for her project as well as brainstorming the resources she would need to make it happen.

Olivia Staton has jumped into her own arts leadership projects since the taping. Through the music honor society at her school, she began assisting with an after-school music program in a local elementary school. The program, called Bridges, provides group music lessons and ensemble rehearsals. Recently, she demonstrated flute and assisted with one of their band rehearsals, and she envisions extending the program to other area elementary schools.

She said of the experience: “Until From the Top I had not really realized the significance of promoting classical music, and I had not really thought about what I could do to help, but now I am so excited to be doing more arts leadership activities.  Especially since there are opportunities for me to do so in my neighborhood!”

Olivia also performed in a student recital at a retirement home and took the lead in initiating an engaging conversation after the performance when everyone was afraid to speak. Following the performance, she said, “the audience seemed very engaged and happy to speak with all of the musicians and then they asked if we would be able to come back to give another recital!”

Taking It From the Top at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy

It’s 7:30 AM on a Monday morning at the Columbia Campus of Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Kids grades K-8 have filed into the gymnasium for their usual morning meeting. Sitting in rows with backpacks and coats still on, they suddenly hear a saxophone above them play, “Oh When the Saints, Go Marching In…” The song continues with violin, melodica, cello, and voice as four teenagers come on stage to join the saxophonist above them in the crow’s nest.

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

Surprise concert at the Columbia Campus.  Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

This was the kick-off to From the Top’s residency at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, an elementary school located on multiple campuses in the Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods of the City of Boston. The residency was comprised of a series of assemblies and concerts at three of the school’s four campuses, bringing the power of music to 1,000 kids.

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

Chad Lilley kicks off the assembly. Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

Thanks to a grant provided by the Free for All Concert Fund, From the Top was thrilled to visit this school in our hometown, especially since the school is so committed to music education. 600 Pope John Paul II students participate in an after-school string program. From the Top’s visit with five performers from our October 6 radio taping at NEC’s Jordan Hall served to inspire this school full of budding musicians to embrace music and keep practicing.

Mary Swanton, Music Director at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, opened the assemblies by telling her students that the From the Top performers left her speechless!

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Performers following their radio show taping at NEC’s Jordan Hall on October 6.

The interactive assemblies drew inspiration from the stories and talents of our From the Top performers – 17-year-old saxophonist Chad Lilley from Olney, Maryland; 17-year-old cellist Lev Mamuya from Newton Highlands, Massachusetts; 16-year-old pianist Niu Niu from China but now living in Natick, Massachusetts; 17-year-old mezzo-soprano Olivia Cosio from San Francisco, California; and 16-year-old violinist Yuki Beppu from Lexington, Massachusetts.

Students imagined what colors and images they heard in Lev’s performance of a Debussy Cello Sonata – purple, black, red, and rainbows.

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

What do you imagine?  Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

They chose sound effects for Chad to play on the saxophone from a long striped hat – such as circular breathing, playing two notes at once, and slap tongue. Watch the game here:

Yuki shared her dream of making more kids listen to classical music and after an intense performance of Ysaÿe, she played her violin along with a track of Lady Gaga’s “Applause” to the delight of the dancing and cheering audience.

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham.

Singing along with Lady Gaga.  Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

Olivia joined a middle school chorus from Pope John Paul II’s Mattapan campus in a performance of Beyonce’s “Halo” and then led the entire audience in a round of vocal exercises.

Niu Niu shared how hard it was to move to the United States from China and then had jaws dropping as he played Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude.

Niu Niu commented that “Watching all these kids in schools laughing and screaming and their happy facial expressions when listening to the music was amazing.”

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham.

Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

Check out how some of the students got into the music here:

The day long residency was every bit a learning experience for our From the Top performers as it was for the students at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy and provided a very real set of challenges and opportunities for their Arts Leadership Orientation Workshop.

“One of our main goals at our experience at PJPII was to inspire the students with music and share our love for it. I think all of us were really looking forward to seeing how they would react to our assemblies, and what they took away from the whole experience,” says Yuki. “However, something I took away from the outreach was confidence and to embrace spontaneity. When we got there, we were all forced to be somewhat spontaneous and throw ourselves out there like a pebble into a pond, and just watch the ripples forming. This applied to both the musical portion and the speaking portion as well. But with the energy of the kids and their enthusiasm, my hesitation and worries completely disappeared. So all in all, I think not only did the kids benefit from what we did, but we as performers benefited greatly as well. This was a very mutual experience, and something I will never forget.”

You can hear Chad, Lev, Yuki, Niu Niu, and Olivia in their From the Top radio episode the week of November 18.

From the Top performers with PJPII leaders.

From the Top performers with PJPII leaders.

Learn more about the Free for All Concert Fund.

Check out our photo gallery.

Tatum Roberston Introduces Kids to Opera

“…being an arts leader means teaching some of what you have learned as an arts student, so that the passion for learning about the arts is ignited and to show that education in the arts has a reason to continue.”

After appearing on our now-famous Boston blizzard taping this past February, soprano and Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Tatum Robertson, 17, shared her passion for opera with kids in her hometown of New Orleans, LA. Read about her experience below:

Why did you choose this project?

For my outreach project I decided to teach solfege, and to show how the lyrics to opera are very similar to the lyrics of many popular songs. I presented my outreach project to the kids of Camp Impact, which is my church’s summer camp…because I wanted to introduce opera and aspects of classical music to children who never had the opportunity to learn about this.

What did you include in your presentation?

I presented my project in two 10-minute segments. The first segment, I introduced myself as Slide5a classical vocalist, and that I would be teaching them solfege. I taught them that solfege is used to help musicians sight read and that sight-reading helps musicians to be able to pick up any piece of music and play it rather quickly. Next, I went through the solfege syllables with them as they repeated after me. Then I showed them the hand signs that corresponded with the solfege syllables. To finish off the first segment we sung a  “D “major scale together.

Kids

For the second segment of the presentation, I talked to the older children of the group. I began that segment of my presentation by asking them what type of music they listened to, and what the music they listened to was about. They gave responses like gospel, R & B, Hip-Hop, and Pop.

I explained to them that I would be showing them a favorite Italian opera song called “Libiamo” from an opera called La Traviata. After showing them a video of Anna Netreko singing “Libiamo” I showed them the English translation to “Libiamo”. I then explained to the children that classical music talks about all the same things as the music they listen to – that opera has love songs and party songs.  And since some of them mentioned they liked Rihanna I told them that “Libiamo” is a party song like the party songs Rihanna makes. Lastly, I told them that now they can enjoy opera the way they enjoy their favorite music, and that all they have to do is look up the translation of the opera song they want to listen to

as they watch or listen to the song. To close the presentation, I asked if any of them had questions, and they asked to see a video of me singing. I showed them a video, but they wanted more and asked me to sing “in person”. Before I sang, “Give me Jesus,” I told them that there are songs about Jesus in classical music as well.

What impact do you think this had on the students? Tatum

After I finished my presentation the kids all returned to their classes separated by age. I was happy to hear the children excitedly departing trying to sing opera. As the parents started to come in to pick up the children many of the children kept pointing at me saying “Mommy she taught us opera today!” Also, the next day one of the teachers at the camp was teaching the children a gospel song, and the kids asked her if she could teach them opera. I was very pleased with the children’s responses and reception to my presentation as I got them excited to learn more about classical music -opera in particular.

What did you learn from this experience?

Through my presentation, I learned that children are extremely impressionable and that when you enthusiastically present something to them, they respond with enthusiasm. I also learned that if you relate something children enjoy to the information you are teaching, the children are more likely to pay attention and be captivated.

What does being an arts leader mean to you?

The children’s response to my presentation really showed me what it means to be an arts leader. They showed me that being an arts leader means sharing what you do with others in the community, and displaying what has inspired you to do what you do because the community cares and is excited by exposure and opportunities. Lastly, they showed me that being an arts leader means teaching some of what you have learned as an arts student, so that the passion for learning about the arts is ignited and to show that education in the arts has a reason to continue.

Kristina Zlatareva Sparks Students’ Imaginations

“As a young artist and leader, I firmly believe that it is my responsibility to inspire and connect with the public through classical music.” 

After appearing on Show 263 in Davis, California, with The Angeles Trio, 19-year-old violinist and Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Kristina Zlatereva created a powerful musical experience for students at the St. Anne Catholic School in Santa Monica, California. Read her beautifully written account of the experience below:

Kristina AL Photo 4

Music — the Gateway to Eternity

by Kristina Zlatareva

Albert Einstein once said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” As a young artist and leader, I firmly believe that it is my responsibility to inspire and connect with the public through classical music. Art is a universal language, whose impact endorses every individual’s ideas, regardless of their cultural background, socioeconomic status, age or personal beliefs. Art abolishes class and race, and in its essence is hidden the idea of universal validation of every human’s imagination, no matter how different and unconventional it may seem in the eyes of society. Inspired by Einstein’s words, I decided to dedicate my Arts Leadership Project to working with children, and that led me to the music students of the St. Anne Catholic School in Santa Monica, California.

A K-8 school, St. Anne consists of more than 200 students from which the majority come from low-income families, who cannot afford to make art their children’s priority. The 40 music students whom I met with are so-called “lucky,” because they are permitted by the school and their parents to participate in the music program. Although they have an advantage to have music classes at their school, I found out that for them sitting in a classroom with eight to ten other kids for one-hour music sessions deprives them of individual attention which is needed to unlock their talent and potential. For many of the St. Anne students, learning an instrument seems like another ordinary activity at school.

Witnessing this, I decided to organize an informal event, where the children did not have to feel obliged to sit quietly and listen to music which they cannot understand, but where they could have their voices heard and opinions valued. Together with three of my musician friends, I performed a concert, including pieces for violin, piano, and cello from different classical periods.

Kristina AL Photo 2Before each performance we talked about the different composers and history of every piece and at the end we opened a discussion, where the students had the opportunity to share their individual comments — what they liked or disliked about the music, how it made them feel or what it made them think about. Lupita, a violin student, shared her honest opinion about the beginning of Chopin’s Prelude No. 15, Op. 28: “It’s like I could see a million bubbles floating in the sky. However, I liked it only until the loud part started in the middle. It should have been quieter all the way through, don’t you think?” How funny, I thought, that Chopin gave “Raindrop” as the title to the Prelude and Lupita imagined flying bubbles; and it was not coincidental, because music inspired a connection between a child’s imagination and an adult’s artistic vision. Despite the different eras they lived in and the differences in age and knowledge, I think Lupita felt the music the same way Chopin did. So, here is a proof that art is timeless — be it a painting, a poem, or a musical piece, it carries an eternal message that never alters throughout the ages.

I learned from the St. Anne students more than I could have ever imagined. They inspired me to see music in a simpler way, in a purer form, based solely upon human feelings. They reminded me that music is not always meant to be theoretically analyzed and critically evaluated, but its main purpose is to bring joy and emotional freedom to people. The main idea behind my project was not to teach dates or facts about composers and pieces, but to show that music and its power to give freedom can be trusted. I hope that the children will use it in the future as a tool for discovering inspiration and expanding their imagination. I truly hope that they will use music as their ally where words are powerless to resist the circumstances.

I have learned that in this material world, so fragile and filled with uncertainties, there is nothing more comforting than to know that music exists for the purpose of giving abundance to one’s soul and lifting one’s spirit. I have learned that music gives wings to the human imagination, thus breaking the boundaries of reality and allowing one’s dreams and ideas to flourish and come to life.

Kristina AL Photo 3

From the Top Makes a Big Impact in Athens, Georgia

While taping in Athens, Georgia, From the Top performers visited with 25 students from Clarke Middle School to share what they love about music. The experience greatly affected one performer, who was deeply touched by the students’ excitement and curiosity.

“The school visit had an emotional effect on me, and I am so grateful for the opportunity,” remarked 17-year-old violinist Maria Ioudenitch. The reaction of the audience – such as one little boy saying to her, “Listening to you makes me wish I never gave up the violin” – was inspiring and moving.

Hearing the students describe (as one does in the video below) how they felt when she played also demonstrated to Maria how much her music affects her audience.

The presentation made a big impression on the kids from Clarke Middle School as well. Clarke teacher Eunice Kang said, “Having the chance to hear a live performance by such amazing young musicians is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the majority of our students and you all made it even more captivating by allowing the students to ask questions and interact with the performers. It was really awesome.”

As part of every radio show taping, From the Top is committed to bringing our performers into the community. The opportunities provide an outlet for the young musicians on our show to put into practice the training they receive in From the Top’s Arts Leadership Orientation Workshop. Past From the Top performers have visited elderly living centers, public and private schools, colleges, community music programs, and hospitals.

Making Peer Connections in Davis!

Annie Wu Davis High

(photo courtesy Ruth Rosenberg)

The day after From the Top’s taping at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis, CA, we traveled to Davis High School to meet with students involved in the school’s orchestra program. Performers Annie Wu (flute), Kristina Zlatareva (violin), JiSun Jung (cello), and JiaYing Dong (piano) joined us for the event. In addition to playing some of their favorite pieces of music, our performers also shared some of their own musical experiences and gave helpful advice for staying motivated.

Check out the video below to see some highlights!

Nikita Annenkov on Why Musicians Should be Flexible

I think it is very important for musicians these days to be flexible and able to do many types of jobs in the music world aside from playing an instrument. 

Cellist Nikita Annenkov (Show 238) had a really unique experience this past summer at the Chamber Music Connection’s (CMC) Summer Music Festival – he was a teacher, a mentor, and an arts administrator. Nikita reflects on his experience at the festival below…

I have been with Chamber Music Connection (CMC) since 2007, which was when I moved to Ohio from Uzbekistan. I was a recipient of the Chamber Music Columbus Scholarship and was also a part of the CMC Fellowship Program. My chamber music experience comes mostly from CMC – I grew to love the program as it guided me on the path to be a well-rounded musician over the years. I attended CMC’s 2012 Summer Festival as a returning alumnus, where I assisted with chamber ensemble coachings and helped advertise CMC to the community. I think it is very important for musicians these days to be flexible and able to do many types of jobs in the music world aside from playing an instrument. It is well known that times are tough for young musicians, so being a well-rounded musician with many skills, including administrative, will provide more opportunities to succeed in the field of music.

This summer I experienced what it can be like in the “real professional world”. As part of promoting CMC, for example, I had to contact local businesses and find advertising opportunities. At first I was very nervous, having not had much experience talking to business people – I was officially representing CMC and had to be professional. After the first few places I visited, it started to become much easier – by the end of an hour of meetings, I had talked to a number of business owners who were happy to host a chamber music group’s performance during the festival week. One business even offered to host a small fundraiser and donate a portion of the profits to support CMC. I learned that it is as important to be able to represent yourself and make a name for yourself as knowing how to play your instrument; talent and skills will not mean much when nobody knows about you. Being engaged with musicians but not actually performing made me think of other career choices I might like if it doesn’t work out with cello performance. I have thought about other career choices and I found that I would enjoy other subjects, such as teaching theory or becoming a music critic. When the festival started, I would take a group to downtown Worthington everyday at lunch to play in front of a local business. Of course, since the program was mostly made up of younger musicians, Graeter’s Ice Cream became the favorite place to play. This year CMC celebrated its 20th anniversary, but there were still people from the community who had never heard of the program – they quickly came to enjoy the “Classical Music – Ice Cream Afternoon Special”.  I also got a chance to coach a chamber music orchestra, which was very interesting. I haven’t had much experience coaching young musicians before, so I had to adjust and find ways to make the rehearsal interesting and productive.

The whole experience of being an alum, as well as being a part of CMC, but not as a performer, definitely made me feel more professional and responsible. My task of promoting CMC may not have been a difficult one, but it was very rewarding. I had to make decisions, take charge, and be on time – all tasks worth having as a performer. I am very happy that I had an opportunity to challenge myself this way and have such a productive summer.

Alex Nelson and the Gift of Music Therapy

[Music] is such an underrated resource, yet people use music every day. We have it in our cars, on our phones, in the grocery store – it is everywhere we go and it is used to alter or encourage our own moods. My hope is that people will be able to recognize music not only as an art form, but as a tool to help others overcome obstacles in their life.

Having seen music’s restorative power through her own experiences, bassoonist and Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Alexandra Nelson (Show 243) wanted to explore ways that music can inspire others beyond the concert hall setting. She decided to connect with several music therapists from her hometown, and wrote the following essay to share her experiences:

What Music Can Do 

It was once said that music is what feelings sound like. For the average person, we would all agree that music can transform our attitudes, change our perspectives, set a mood, help us from feeling alone… the list goes on. But how does music affect someone who has mental or physical disabilities?

This has been something that I have been more interested in as I have grown older. Given my own difficult family situation, I used music as an escape. Practicing became a way to disappear out of the discomfort in my household and focus on something beautiful. What about people who are uncomfortable in their own body or their own mind? I soon began to question if music would have the same effect on people other than me, other than just musicians.

Music therapy embodies this very idea. On the website for the American Music Therapists Association, it is defined as, “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” These goals can be anything from opening oneself up emotionally to distracting someone from intense pain to encouraging verbal communication. Therapeutically, the benefits are endless. I have quickly learned that, not only is music enjoyable and mood altering, but it is a growing resource for therapists dealing with people who suffer from any type of disability or disorder.

When I sought out the music therapist, Eve Montague, at the South Shore Conservatory in Duxbury, I was just looking to have her shed a little light on this topic. She was able to share many stories with me: a patient with serious physical problems regaining use of her fingers and toes, a premature infant’s heart and breathing rate stabilizing immediately after birth, a burn victim becoming seemingly immune to the pain while having his dead skin removed – all through music therapy. It seemed unreal. I knew that music was powerful, but could it really have that much of an effect on people? I’ve experienced it myself, but never to this degree.

In my excitement, I began to participate in an adult chorus with Eve at the Conservatory, working with mentally delayed adults to sing and make music once a week. It was a place where people could socialize, learn about music, and most importantly, grow as a person. There was a woman who was nonverbal but still able to make sounds. Throughout the year, I soon realized that she was mouthing the words and actually quietly singing along. A young boy who shyly kept to himself before chorus was a new person when it came time to sing – yelling the words, jumping for joy at the climax of a song. This was all through music.

Another therapist who works with Eve, named Kari O’Brient, travels to several locations offsite for her therapy sessions. When I asked to observe her at a local elementary school, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that I wanted to see music therapy first hand, in all of its glory, to better understand how it really works in an everyday setting.

I traveled to the Hatherly School, an elementary school in Scituate, one afternoon with Kari to work with two special education classes. We arrived, signed in at the office, and headed down the hall, our arms full of drums and scarves, with a guitar on Kari’s back and a bag filled with who-knows-what hanging off of my shoulder.

When Kari walked into the room ahead of me, the room erupted. The kids could no longer focus on their math or reading – it was music time! We headed into one corner of the small room with a bright colored rug, bulletin boards creating a space around us, and a chair for each of the students, Kari, and me. I sat down anxiously and waited for the therapy to begin.

Instead, Kari quietly took the guitar case from off of her back while asking the kids how their vacation was. However, after a soft bitter mumble from the few kids around us, Kari laughed off their negative reaction and started to strum. Soon, her chatty words turned to song, “Why hello there, you guys! I know I’m happy to be here. Hmm mmm, hello, hello!” The energy in the room suddenly shifted back to excitement. We all sang the hello song, each of us having a chance to say our own name and say hello to the rest of the class. Not only was this song encouraging friendly greetings, but it was teaching the kids to say their name and “hello” loudly and clearly. For anyone with a social disorder, such as autism, even saying hello to someone can be a challenge. Kari, though, with her bright smile and upbeat guitar playing, had everyone doing this with ease. The next song was a variation on “Head-Shoulders-Knees-and Toes,” with Kari’s own musical spin. The students stood, did the dance moves, and some even took a turn leading the song.

I really noticed at that point that, despite the necessary therapeutic value these songs had for these kids, they really enjoyed this! It was a break from their school day. Especially for someone with disabilities, even the simplest of tasks can seem daunting and overwhelming. Music therapy was a care free and light hearted time set aside where they could simply be themselves, but still be absorbing necessary lessons like verbal skills and physical coordination.

The lessons continued – more songs, more dancing, more swaying back and forth, more singing – the fun went on, and so did the therapy. The next class was more of the same – excited children, each eager to listen and play while still taking part in the therapy. I left the school feeling excited, rejuvenated, and encouraged at the idea that music had such an impact on these kids. Not only did they have a great time playing and singing with Kari, but they were reclaiming themselves as fun-loving children, able to let go of whatever troubles they were having in school earlier that day, and just enjoy the therapy for all that it was.

Despite all of my wonderful exposure to music therapy, there is just one problem that I always come across when I leave the conservatory atmosphere: no one I know seems to respect music as a valid source of therapy. I learned quickly that this was because they didn’t understand it, but that’s no reason to dismiss it.

This is why I am writing this piece today: through my own experiences, I have learned and will continue to learn more about music therapy so that I can share it with my peers. It is such an underrated resource, yet people use music every day. We have it in our cars, on our phones, in the grocery store – it is everywhere we go and it is used to alter or encourage our own moods. My hope is that people will be able to recognize music not only as an art form, but as a tool to help others overcome obstacles in their life. As the author Berthold Auerbach said, “music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” no matter what that dust may be.

Alex is currently pursuing a dual degree in Bassoon Performance and Music Education at Northwestern University.

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