High-School Band:Involving A Pupil With Special Needs

One of the most rewarding of my recent online activities must be an exchange of emails with an American high-schooler.This wonderful child was looking for a way to share the joy she experienced as a member of her school band with one of the school’s special needs pupils. She had some excellent ideas of her own and sought advice as to whether she was on the right track. She explained that the challenge was to find a way to involve him in the band without detriment to the performance of this competetive and advanced ensemble. A few weeks later, I was thrilled to hear that the school had put my suggestions into effect, to the general delight of pupils and staff. I thought I’d share these ideas here, as they may be relevant to other schools:

“It really brightened my day to hear from a young musician who has given so much thought to sharing the wonderful gift of music!

Providing a suitable instrument for a disabled player is a very individual thing but I can make some suggestions that have proved useful in similar situations. As you have worked out, any electronic instrument could be used with headphones, so that the band’s performance is not disrupted. I believe, though, that a more truly inclusive solution is to feed the sound output into a small keyboard amp, the volume of which can be controlled by the conductor or by the special needs teacher/facilitator. It may not be the case with this young man, but the contribution of people with severe disabilities is often surprisingly musical and appropriate. Even if this boy’s performance leaves much to be desired, he could have the satisfaction of joining in ‘live’ when the band’s going at ‘full throttle’ and could be easily silenced when his contribution is inappropriate. This would be educational for everyone. :>)

An electronic keyboard is an extremely versatile bit of kit for a lifeskills program and, if one is available, it could be used in the manner suggested. For the more physical experience that you are exploring for your friend, Yamaha drum pads are worth considering. Higher specification sets, like the DD35 and the DD55, are touch-sensitive and have a hand-percussion mode. The DD55 has two foot-switch inputs built in. Any kind of switch can be attached. This could be useful if the conductor wanted, for instance, for the pupil to use a single sound and he was unable to confine himself to one pad.  A MIDI facility makes it possible to attach a switch box, enabling several switch-users to play a variety of percussion ‘instruments’ through the drum machine.

Thank you for exploring this issue. I hope my reply will be useful to you and that you will let me know how you get on. Do get back to me if you have any further questions.

Happy music-making, everyone!

Best wishes,

The True Story of a Magic Flute

This is a happy story about the kind of magic that can happen when the worldwide web is used in the way the early developers envisaged – a great antidote to all those poisons injected into the system by spammers, hackers and crooks! It is a story of love, creativity, generosity and determination facilitated by the internet.

A little over a year ago, Ruud van der Wel, a musician and therapist from Holland, set up a website, “mybreathmymusic.com” to showcase the music made by disabled children at the rehabilitation centre in which he was working, to create a dialogue with like-minded musicians and to attract sponsorship to develop the centre’s music resources.

One of the first people to contact Ruud online was David Whalen, a quadriplegic living in New York. David was looking for a way to play a wind controller that didn’t involve finger movements. Working together by means of email, internet phone and e-conferencing, they drew up ideas for a simple slide-flute that would change pitch with head movements.

Their search for a developer led them to Brian Dillon of Unique Perspectives, an imaginative Irish firm, manufacturing technological aids for disabled people and providing a prototyping design service. Now there were three ‘dreamers’ in three different lands inspiring and encouraging one another and, in no time at all, Brian had created an instrument that went beyond their dreams!

It certainly added ‘magic’ to my Christmas, 2006, when Karin wished me a “Merry Christmas!” with her video of “Jingle Bells” performed on the new instrument! You can watch this and lots of other clips of Ruud’s young musicians in action on The Magic Flute User Pages. For full details of the instrument , see The Magic Flute Homepage.

The Magic Flute goes on sale this year and will, no doubt, be the magic password opening the door to music for many would-be instrumentalists. Today, my love-hate relationship with technology is in love mode!