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!