Special education and music combine in these programs
Recently, I have had the honor to visit two music programs for students with special needs. One is the Berkshire Hills Music Academy (BHMA) and the other is the program for students on the autism spectrum at Boston Conservatory. Each school attracts students who love music and who benefit from a somewhat specialized environment for their disabilities.
Boston Conservatory’s website states that it offers
a number of educational programs and opportunities for individuals of all ages with autism spectrum disorders. These programs, which range from private music lessons to Autism-Friendly Performances of the school’s mainstage productions, are designed to provide a safe, welcoming environment in which participants can nurture a life-long involvement in the arts—as creators or audience members.
Berkshire Hills Music Academy’s website states that it offers
a post-secondary transition program as well as a long-term graduate program for young adults with intellectual disabilities…BHMA offers a music-infused, college-like experience via the Two Year Certificate Program for young adults between the ages of 18-30…Many of our graduates choose to remain within our community as members of the LIVE (Long-term Independent Vocational Experience) program. We also offer a Summer Program for ages 16-25. All of our programming is complemented by daily music offerings that engage and motivate our students.
Each program is fairly new. BHMA’s first students arrived in 2001. Boston Conservatory offered private lessons to students on the autism spectrum in 2007.
To visit these programs is to witness idiosynchratic introverted students choosing to participate in groups. This is quite a feat for some kids with disabilities. A young child plays repetitively with a window shade, then notices and joins a circle of children singing a fun nonsense song. A young adult utters one-word answers in conversation, then strides onstage to belt out a classic popular tune with his band. Like centuries of performers, these unique kids have glints of stardom in their eyes.
Also, like all musicians, they bring their shortcomings to the studio, along with their strengths. The young child might boom a note too loudly for the small group. She might use vibrato like an opera singer, just to hear and feel the sound. The young man might not quite make eye contact with his duet partner as they coo a love song together.
It is clear that these students love music. Their teachers want more, though. Kids in chorus are taught note syllables do-re-mi to help them sing on pitch and to understand the structure of their songs. Instrumentalists are expected to play scales, arpeggios, and to practice each technique hundreds of times – like all musicians.
They get the full package – individual expression, group performance, creativity and disciplined practice.
These music programs challenge students with disabilities while celebrating their unique and shared characteristics. We are all fortunate to have schools like these.
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