Thursday, June 2, 2011

SoundReach Choir

Well, after finals, graduating and moving to a new city, here is the latest blog all about an amazing program in Iowa City: SoundReach Choir 

            Music has been used to assist persons with developmental disabilities gain necessary skills for daily living.  Music can be used to increase focus of attention, as well as improve academic, emotional, physical and social skills.  SoundReach choir of West Music Company is a large ensemble of adolescents and adults with various intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Kim Nelson started the program in 1995; at the time there were not any recreational music programs in the area for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. SoundReach choir has grown exponentially since its origin sixteen years ago.  They currently have 46 members at the location in Corralville alone.  There are also choirs at West Music in the Quad Cities and Cedar Rapids Iowa,  as well as a choir for pre-teen and teenage individuals of various ability levels.  Steve West, owner of West Music, has taken a special interest in the program, and West Music now offers several other adaptive music programs such as adaptive music lessons and a hand bell choir. 
SoundReach choir meets once a week for about 12-13 rehearsals per semester, all culminating in a performance in the community.   Many of the participants have been choir members for several years, and many of them also receive music therapy services and/or take adaptive music lessons.   Any one can be a part of the ensemble, no matter their functioning level.  The requirements include: one must be at least 17 years of age and pay a small registration fee (the fee, which, does not even cover the cost of putting on the program). They have participants of various ability and functioning level, from those who are non-verbal and will play instruments to those who are very high functioning and may have a solo vocal line.  The choir is lead by a board music therapist(s). The music therapists lead the group using adaptive teaching strategies and conducting strategies.  Teaching the music and conducting in such a way that promotes client success.  They also adapt the music, changing keys or rhythms if necessary.  The adaptations provide the members with more opportunities for success, which in turn supports their self-esteem.  Sound reach choir provide the participants with a sense of self-confidence and independence. 
The choir also provides music therapy interns and students a chance to observe and learn.  Not only do students learn skills regarding leading a large music group, but it also expands students’ knowledge about this community of adolescents and adults of varying ability levels.  The students get to know them as people and see what great things they are capable of.  Learning about different client populations is an invaluable skill for future therapists.  People in the community mention what a joy it is to see SoundReach perform: the choir is really changing how people view people with disabilities.  Lindsey Wilhelm, director of the Iowa City SoundReach said:
“Everybody loves the SoundReach concerts! Last spring they made the evening news and other people were very excited about it.  The family members are very excited to see them perform.”

SoundReach choir rehearsals are always buzzing.   Each rehearsal begins with a hello song, and all the members sing hello to each even if they have forgotten each other’s names.  They are a talented group of music lovers, and the excitement in the room is almost tangible.  A few members were more than happy to share their thoughts about the choir:
“We are a community and love to stand up and sing.” 

“I like choir because, because I like music…and friends.”
  Community Music Programs are touching people's lives in big ways!  In many cases, these programs don't even realize the amazing positive affects.  I am not going to let them forget how amazing they are!    These programs are truly re-defining the term ‘community music and community musician.’  Community music programs empower people through music, promoting their quality of life and encouraging an enriching musical experience in an empowering, empathetic and accessible environment.
     As a side note: I have just moved to Indianapolis for an internship, I am excited to discover the programs in this city! If you know of any, or are involved with any programs please comment! 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Community Music Highlight: New Horizons Band

New Horizons Band!
Upcoming concert May 12th@ The Senior Center Iowa City, Iowa.

New Horizons Band started in 1991, when Dr. Roy Ernst had envisioned that many adults, as they approached and entered retirement, would be interested in making music in a group setting, but might not have the skills or confidence to get started.
 Dr. Don Coffman started new Horizons Band in Iowa City about 10 years ago.  NHB provides entry points to music making for adults-even if they have no musical background. The experience level of the members varies.  Some members have been playing for years, some just started playing music when they joined the band, others have a large musical back ground but picked up a new instrument, and some are retired music professionals. The population of the group is largely affected by the requirements for membership in New Horizons Band.  To be a member of the band, you must be a member of the Senior Center in Iowa City and be at least 55 years of age.  NHB in Iowa City has 65 members. Some of those members have also started their own bands!  They travel all around Iowa playing for various occasions.  Most either don’t get paid (because they don’t want to get paid) or, if they do get paid, they donate the money back to NHB. Over the past 10 years New Horizons Band has gotten to be so big, they had to add another band: The Linn street band.
The main goal of NHB is to enjoy music making in a safe environment.  The volunteers’ role is to empower, encourage and empathize with the members.  Another goal is for the members to learn music and perform in public. The main difference between NHB and a typical band is that they focus on really enjoying the process of getting better.  Dr. Coffman’s philosophy is to create enjoyable social, music, and learning experiences. He strives to create an environment of mutual respect and enjoyment.
I got a chance to observe one of the rehearsals and it was so much fun! They were practicing hard, and the atmosphere was super inviting and supportive. There truly was a sense of community-this word community is continually being transformed for me, it has gone through many definitions in my mind, but when I was sitting in that rehearsal the idea of community could only be described as a feeling.  I felt connected to these people even though I was merely observing.
The director of NHB in Iowa City is Dr. Don Coffman.  Dr. Coffman is a professor of music education at the University of Iowa.  One of his main areas of research focuses on community music programs, and the positive effects of music in seniors.  During an interview Dr. Coffman had the following to say about the program:
“New Horizons Band Rehearsals are the highlight of my job at the University.  Even if I am having a bad morning, or feeling tired, I always feel better after attending rehearsal.  Being part of NHB has made me feel much more connected to the Iowa City community.”
The assistant director of NHB is a senior music education student at the University of Iowa.  Each section also has a student conductor.  Dr. Coffman selects the music education students each year.  This year the assistant director is Pam Schroeder.  As a music education student Pam took many techniques of conducting courses through her junior year of college, then there were no more classes offered. She said being a part of NHB has been Extremely Beneficial for her and the other students. Coming up with a lesson plan, as well as a conducting and teaching strategy gives the students great experience and practice for their future.  Pam thinks NHB is something all students should get a chance to do. Learning from, and working with senior citizens is a great experience for life as well as for becoming a future music director.
I also got to chat with some of the members and see one of the small group rehearsals. 3 lovely ladies, very excited about their time making music together were sitting in a circle working through a tricky jazz piece.  They provided each other support while working the rhythm. One of the women happened to be a music therapist in town who actually got her degree at the University of Iowa, another woman started the saxophone when she joined the band having had no previous experience, and another played the cello for years and picked up the sax when she started NHB-she plays a mean sax-and she’s 79!  She shared a story from her childhood about when she sang and danced to the same song as a 5 year old in a talent show.  They worked out the beat and one says to the other  “I’m glad I have you here-this is a tricky song.” New Horizons Band is providing amazing music opportunities not only to the members, but to the directors and student directors as well!  Many times society puts limits on people who are older-this band is showing us all that they can still rock!
New Horizons Band is an international program.  You can find out more about NHB and how/where you can join at 

Also: look up these great articles by Dr. Coffman for even more information!
Community and School Music Wind Bands:
Making and Maintaining Effective,
Complementary, Rewarding Relationships
Don D. Coffman, University of Iowa, USA
Monte H. Mumford, University of Tasmania, Australia
Music and the Quality of Life in Older Adults
Don D. Coffman, The University of Iowa
Published in: Psychomusicology, 18. (2002)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What is Community Music?


Community music programs are essential parts of any culture. The focus of this blog is to show why these programs are so important.  The purpose of this blog is also to describe the benefits of community music programs and the implications they have for music therapists. Music therapist?! Now you may be wondering what a music therapist is and what they do.  Music therapy is the use of music to work towards non musical goals.   A music therapist is board certified and works in many different areas from hospitals, to schools to private practices.  To find more information visit
         As the music therapy world continues to evolve, the role of music therapists continues to expand. And since there is still a lot of research being done, there are new techniques and ideas popping up all the time.  Community music programs have many benefits not only for the persons involved in the programs but also for the professionals, volunteers and students involved.  These groups promote quality of life, socialization and wellness-and the participants receive an abundance of other benefits as bi-products.  In many cases, board certified music therapists and or music educators supervise the programs as well as train the volunteers.
      Social psychologists as well as many other professionals believe that learning should ultimately be understood within the context of the individual’s social environment.  This is one thing we strive for as music therapists…to work towards goals that can transfer to the clients’ daily life. Even when making music alone, there are motivations and internal dialougues that are shaped and influenced by social conditions and circumstances. Although, there is something to be said about making music with a group of your peers. A great value of music is how it bonds people together. 
   A great aspect of some programs is that they bring together dissimilar people, providing oppurtunities for cultural exchange-broading the idea of community.  Because our world is quickly becoming more and more accessible, the idea of community is changing and expanding.  There are far more communities now-especially with the new age of technology and the world wide web.  So why is having and being part of a community so important? The social environment in which we are in impacts our learning and development in a large way.  In order for an area to thrive, a community must be established-a community is a very valuable support system as well as safe environment.  Not only that, but they  also play a vital role in the preservation of cultures.  
       What is community music? What does it mean to be a ‘community musician? There are many definitions and gray areas, but in this day and age it is time that the expounding benefits of community music programs be brought to the fore front-and a be seen in a more positive light. Community music is a community that plays music together, Community music happens in the area in which the person lives-their social environment. We can not deny that leading a fulling and healthy life is important-and for many people music is what helps them achieve that. Community music programs are affordable and accessible. We should give them way more credit. 
   I have begun to try to give these programs a new name.  The way I see it-and will show you each week-is that these programs are not strictly music therapy because music is not the tool being used to achieve the goals.  Nor are they solely music education, because learning musical skills is not the priority ( although it certainly happens). And they are so much more than just a recreational music experience.  They are community music programs. To me a community musician is someone who empowers people through music, promoting their quality of life and encouraging an enriching musical experience in a welcoming and accessible environment. 
   Each week I will be profiling a different community music program. I will provide links and information about how to get involved with the different programs! Please comment if you are involved already, want to be involved or have more questions.