I breezed into the Stanback Middle School auditorium last Wednesday to catch the Voices Together Spring Concert. The nonprofit music therapy program works with kids who are autistic, developmentally delayed or have other serious communication challenges. Through music and rhythm, the therapists help students interact with one another and to emerge from their own worlds to be part of a group.
The concert featured special needs students from elementary and middle schools in Orange County. Each group performed a song or two as an ensemble, with opportunities for each child to shine individually. What I saw moved me to tears — not the performances by the students, who expressed different levels of enthusiasm as the microphones approached, but by what I recognized in the parents, that pride and joy all of us take in our children’s accomplishments.
The last time I went to an elementary school concert was about a dozen years ago, when my daughter (and Sally Greene’s son) were in a talent show in a gifted program at Glenwood Elementary. The main difference between the Stanback and Glenwood audiences was that in the Glenwood gym, I’d bet that most of us parents expected our children would stand out; at the Voices Together concert, I sensed parents wanted their kids to join in.
Parenting a special needs child is infinitely more taxing than raising a child who can function normally in the world. And the parents in the Stanback audience had figured out, perhaps earlier than the rest of us, that what makes life worthwhile is interacting with one another and being part of something bigger than ourselves. Those were the messages they hoped their children would incorporate.
Parents at the Voices Together concert cheered the performances not because a child remembered all the words to a verse or hit the right notes. They celebrated the children wanting to participate and for being able to pay sufficient attention to repeat back sounds in the right sequence or know at what point in the song to make a sound. Not to show off individual gifts, but to engage with those around them.
The concert helped reorient me, just in time for a council meeting that night. We are meant to be part of a community. Our worth comes not in excelling as individuals, but in engaging with one another to make a strong community, to be sufficiently in tune with the greater good that we know at what point in the song to make our voices heard.
To find out more about the excellent Voices Together programs, go to: www.voicestogether.net.
– Nancy Oates