If there is one thing that music can do, it can bridge all divides. It does not recognize age or gender, race or social class. Music does not recognize disability. Music does not discriminate. It finds and nourishes the good in everyone, and every person has the ability to experience and make some kind of music. If we cannot find a way together, or if we reach an impasse, music can always open a door, or be the door to understanding.
Inclusion in music is about ways to open doors for everyone—to include everyone regardless of circumstances and allow them the opportunity to study and enjoy music. Inclusion in music means traditional study, but also music therapy, music for people with special needs, music and medicine, music study for the disadvantaged, music study as a form of cultural awareness and celebration, and music as a form of social justice.
This series of articles highlights just a few of the programs that have been created and are providing inclusion in music study for differing populations. I am truly proud to be part of such a remarkably dedicated profession that believes so strongly in the ability of music to bring joy and to empower people in all communities and throughout their lives.
The Carolina LifeSong Initiative at the University of South Carolina School of Music is a program designed to provide piano lessons and music experiences to students with autism and other special needs including, but not limited to, Down syndrome, visual and hearing impairments, and developmental delays of all types. Students have weekly lessons (30, 45, or 60 minutes), and each lesson includes instruction in improvisation. Music composition is included for students as possible. They perform on a recital each semester and are required to improvise for the audience in addition to performances of their repertoire. Some students also perform their own compositions.
The students with special needs also contributed to the creation of some graduate piano pedagogy seminars at The University of South Carolina. Carolina LifeSong Initiative students were crucial to the development and content of the course "MUSC 776 Teaching Students with Special Needs," where graduate students receive instruction on adaptive pedagogy, policy and regulation, and related subjects. They observe lessons, and later assist in teaching students in the program.
The Carolina LifeSong Initiative students' work with improvisation resulted in the development of the course "MUSC 776 Pedagogy of Improvisation." They contributed to the creation of an improvisation curriculum for beginning to intermediate students. This curriculum is designed to foster creativity and is used to help students experience and understand musical concepts before they encounter them on the printed page. The graduate students then move into learning how to improvise in musical styles from the Medieval to contemporary periods. We would not have these courses without the inclusion and contribution of our students with special needs. Their presence showed us how to be better teachers and better musicians.
What should never be left out of the inclusion equation for students with special needs are their parents, families, and friends. Simply having an opportunity to be included can be meaningful. For many parents, this may be the only time they can see their child or family member as not being different, being able to participate in and do something that every other person can do. The simple act of being involved sends the message that they and their loved ones are "part of" and not "less than."
A growing number of organizations are sponsoring "Sensory-friendly" events for the community. Many of our friends and family members with special needs often experience hypersensitivity regarding new locations, lighting, sound, etc., and may have behavioral needs that require an adaptive setting. The event location is modified to make the experience more tolerable for persons with sensitivity concerns. All of our student recitals in the Carolina LifeSong Initiative are sensory-friendly, and our graduate students apply to perform on one sensory-friendly concert that is held each semester free of charge for the general public. I have made my faculty piano recitals sensory-friendly as well.
Considerations for sensory-friendly events include the following:
• Handicapped parking;
• Accessibility in the venue including entrance, elevators, seating, signage, and restroom access;
• Keeping lighting at a normal level;
• Avoiding use of amplified sound;
• Avoiding heavy perfumes or colognes;
• Publicizing the event as sensory-friendly and including welcoming language using person-first language;
• Welcoming and explanatory statements in all publicity and spoken introduction;
• Assistance for audience members;
• Orientations for performers as to what they may expect from patrons, and expectations for appropriate behavior and responses from performers;
• Obtaining of all necessary permits, etc.; and
• Bringing the concert to those with special needs, or arranging to have them brought to the venue.
Dr. Scott Price works with one of his students from the Carolina LifeSong Initiative.
Inclusion may also mean making events accessible to people with very busy lives and schedules who wish to attend concerts but may not feel they have time. I have started advertising my faculty piano recitals as "Piano Evenings." The concert design is to play music by one composer and have it last for two hours or more. Our most recent piano evening included a performance of the complete Nocturnes by Frédéric Chopin. These concerts do not have to be performed by one person—they could be performed by two or more people, or by a group of students. The idea is that they are advertised as "informal," and audience members are told that they are welcome at any time. They should feel free to make the concert fit their schedule and come early and leave as needed or come late and leave as needed. They should make the program fit their needs and enjoy the event as their schedule permits without feeling pressured by time or other constraints.
The Carolina LifeSong Initiative has also partnered at times with organizations in the Columbia, South Carolina, metro area to bring music experiences to their residents. These have included day facilities for adults with special needs, as well as schools and programs for children with special needs. Not to be left out are assisted living centers and dementia and Alzheimer's care units. Our collegiate chapter of MTNA has run a program providing concerts of their own performances for residents at these facilities and bringing their students to perform solo and in duets. One series of programs was designed by students with music therapy and music in early childhood training to create programs of music from different decades, complete with chances for residents to be involved in the music making as part of their therapy. The students were later asked by the medical staff at one facility to develop a therapeutic recorder study program to help residents improve their breathing ability.
These examples are just a few of the ways that music study and enjoyment may be expanded to include persons who might not otherwise have the chance to participate. Later in this magazine issue, you will read about some other programs meeting the needs of disadvantaged students, students with special needs who are striving to continue their education at the collegiate level, and persons who are able to participate and find value and empowerment in their lives through music study in a correctional institution. Music can be everywhere, and music is for everyone.