If you ever get the chance, I urge you to watch a young volunteer supporting someone with special needs. Their insight, kindness and empathy defy their age, shaping their personality for the rest of their life. The individual they support gains a role model and friend. Sadly, the lack of formal arrangements between educational institutions and disability providers typically limits this opportunity to siblings and family friends.
5 years ago, in New Jersey, Dr Lyn Schraer-Joiner of Kean University and Marguerite Modero of Community Access Unlimited (CAU) formed a partnership to bring the benefits of music to adults with disabilities in their community. University professors and undergraduates help individuals perform rock music and explore music composition and theory. The arrangement enables disabled musicians to access university studios, instruments and equipment. The university provides a grant and hosts annual concerts. The regular rehearsals and performances on campus make the CAU musicians feel like real Kean students. For Kean, the project supports ongoing research into the impact of rock band activities and popular music instruction on the musical growth and quality of life of special-needs adults.
Of primary importance is the advancement of music reading skills. People with disabilities usually play accessible, percussion-based instruments from memory. At Kean/CAU they play keyboards and guitars from music thanks to a specially adapted notation system.
Composer, Professor Robert Rocco lifts the constraints of traditional performance by exploring improvisation and free composition techniques, such as STOMP-inspired rhythms, white-key pentatonic scales, loose timelines and sound effects. “They have been controlled and constrained all their lives. I want to set them free through music”, says Professor Rocco.
The level of funding, duration, commitment and direct teaching from faculty staff and students distinguishes the Kean/CAU collaboration as a world-leading example of the transformative potential of FE/SEN partnerships at an organisational level. In 2016 Dr Schraer-Joiner was honoured in a joint resolution by the Senate and General Assembly of New Jersey for her work in this field. She was also the recipient of the CAU Community Integration Award.
The impact on the Special Needs Educators of tomorrow is arguably the most important outcome of this collaboration. It is a chance for young people with no connection to the world of disability to give back to society and to improve themselves by helping others.
Third year Music Education Major student, Joseph Laurino said, “It brings a whole new perspective to my music and teaching. I love it!”
I know how he feels. In the late 1990s I was introduced to a young man called Tony Pheasant through a Shared Leisure befriending scheme. He asked me to play the 12 Days of Christmas
The rest is history!
Read the final Churchill Fellowship report here.