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Breaking Ground 91 Arts - Tunes and Teens

Bridging Disability and Music Appreciation - by Lili Lyne
a group of boys, each holding a different instrument, with a female and male instructor kneeling on the ground in front of them
Tunes and Teens participants pose week 3 with instruments from Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra

Think back to a time when music moved you. A time when your favorite song, or a catchy beat physically moved you to sway or tap your toes and fingers. In these moments, time slows down and all that matters is the way you feel. I believe in music. I believe in the magical properties of music with an ability to bring people together with feeling, regardless of their similarities or differences.

This summer I interned with Chattanooga Therapeutic Recreation Services for 14 weeks. It was during my time at this wonderful agency that I was given the opportunity of a lifetime: to create a 4-week community program. I chose to serve the population of teens (13-19) with intellectual and developmental disabilities through an inclusive music appreciation program, Tunes and Teens.

It is a well-known fact in the recreation industry that teens are a very difficult demographic to market towards, with even less opportunities for teens with disabilities. However, I believe that music can accomplish anything. With strong support and guidance from my supervisors Michelle Brickey and Elaine Adams, I was able to catapult myself from the drawing board to a successful and unique program.

Tunes and Teens had four major components: icebreakers/introductions of musical guests, music theory games, everyday instrument crafts, and epic jam sessions involving guests and participants. It was important to me to have each session be both fun and educational. Through the music theory game High-Middle-Low, attendees differentiated high to low pitches while interacting with the musical guests. Then we crafted instruments from everyday household items. This not only kept our costs low, but simultaneously taught our participants how to make an instrument at home to enjoy with their family. Lastly, we put our instruments into “play” each week by creating live music in jam sessions with our volunteer guests who contributed their time and energy to help provide a memorable experience.

Our first week our musical guests were Drew Streip and Konstantine Vlasis of Caney Creek Company, a local bluegrass band. During their visit we crafted box guitars and learned basic strumming patterns. Our second week we partnered with Jen Cooke and the lovely women of Scenic City Chorus. We learned about the history of barbershop quartet music along with the practice of “rounding”, where a song is repeated by each vocal group at different  times. To bring it all together, we made kazoos out of hair combs and wax paper to transform our voices into instruments.

The third week was a full-on instrumental theme. The Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra graciously donated 11 instruments for an evening along with educational handouts. This week was special in a number of ways. First, our participants were able to take their own recorder instrument home as a complimentary gift for attending the program. We were also able to attend Songbirds Guitar museum to learn the history behind a variety of guitars and the legends who used them. The museum's staff went above and beyond to make our attendees feel special and important by having this hands-on experience.

In our final week, brothers duo Matt and Lewis Omhag brought it all home by sharing their background in music, assisting us in making egg-shaker maracas, and helping facilitate a fun and experimental session with plenty of Michael Jackson’s classic songs.

The program’s success was validated by our feedback from participants, their family members and our musical guests. All parties wanted to know when Tunes and Teens would be offered next year. Though I will not be present for year two, I hope that other community members can use the framework I designed to continue the legacy of an inclusive music appreciation experience for teens with disabilities.

I want to thank my supervisors, musical guests, community members and all participants who helped make this program possible. The help and support from these inspiring people enabled me to reach the goal of creating a space for these wonderful young people to appreciate and express themselves through music. It was an unforgettable experience that I am sure to cherish the rest of my life.

In the words of the great Stevie Wonder, “Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand”.

a female instructor leading youth participants and volunteers in a game
Lili Lyne (TR Intern) instructing a music theory game called High-Middle-Low.