please, nobody rob me.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I just realized that when you add in the flip cams from The Autism Project (I have them so I can download all of the clips of last weekend's Journeys in Music) to my MacBook and iPhone... I've got a couple thousand dollars in technology in my school bag.  Eeek!  I'm keeping this thing so close to me.

But!  I've got those videos and photos uploading onto my computer and there are some cute things on there.  Amber came and took pictures for me, so I'll wait until I have some pretty ones to show you.  (Thanks, Amby!)

Now, to answer everyone's questions about what it is that I've actually been doing... Last semester, I volunteered with a professor of mine, Pam Buchanan, at an event called a Super Sleeper, with her program, The Autism Project.  I was paired up with an amazing kid and the two of us discovered a mutual love of music and performing.  He decided that we needed to start a band (fortuitously, there was a grand piano in one of the gyms) and  we spent the weekend preparing for a big concert.  The same weekend, a local musician volunteered to play for the participants and what was supposed to be her concert turned into these hours of audience participation.  The kids loved singing along with her, writing songs and singing into the microphone.  My kid was really excited about having a "real, live, musician" attend our concert (Band name?  The Next Big Thing) and it turned into one of the sweetest moments ever. (Why, yes.  I totally belted out "Rolling in the Deep" with a 10 year old as our dramatic concert finale...)

I talked to my professor the next week, saying that more music had to be added to the Super Sleeper program.   I'd later realize that this was totally her style, but then I was a bit shocked when she announced that we were just going to have to make a new program exploring music and that I should invent it.  We've been working on the it since last December and had our first Journeys in Music event this February.  Last Friday was the second and we'll have two more this semester.  It has taken SOOOOOO much work, but I'm loving it.  Pam has told me I can do whatever I want and seeing the students get to explore music in a variety of ways is such a rewarding thing.

The events have about 15 children, each placed one on one with a UT volunteer.  We have a bunch of instruments (from guitars to ukuleles to trombones to violins to drums - the last is a real headache inducer) for the children to experiment with, helped along by local musicians and students from UT's School of Music.  From the very beginning, I've said that I wanted the students to have free reign over their playing.  Most children (not to mention ones with disabilities) are told to be very careful around expensive instruments, so I made sure we bought them all ourselves (or had them donated) so that the kids could bang away until their hearts were content.  I didn't want to stress about breaking anything and you can sense that freedom when you walk in the room.  (By freedom I mean loudness.)

We have a guest performer each time and this month was Austin local Patrice Pike.  I was particularly excited about this because I've seen her in concert a few times and she's amazing.  It turned out to be a really special performance; Patrice had been losing her voice all day and I told her not to worry if she needed to cancel on us.  She rallied herself (and as a singer, I could tell how much she was straining) to perform for the kids and they loved it!  She led them in a few dances and call and repeat songs and even let a few of the children sing in the microphone as she played her djembe.

The big finale of our night is a performance by the children.  We have a time where they can practice their solo with our accompanists or practice their lyric skills in our song writing session.  Each time we've had a few students sing songs they wrote themselves in that session, accompanied by one of our local musician volunteers or playing the guitar or piano themselves.  (That is a sight to see - an seven year old who's had about 20 minutes experience on the guitar accompanying himself on "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, version 2" that he just wrote.)  The big finale of Friday's even was definitely an eight year old boy rocking it out to "TNT" by ACDC.  The whole thing - air guitar solos and everything.

"Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, version 2"
In this clip you can't see the epic bow he took at the end, but he was oh so proud of himself.

I've spent my whole life performing, but there is something really special about a little boy or girl standing in front of a microphone for the first time, hearing the thunderous applause of the whole room...

It's good to be me those nights.

A few of our UT volunteers helping one of our participants write a song.  He's a nine year old boy writing a song about his dog, so as you can imagine, it included a line about scooping the dog's poop. 
Hey!  We don't censor artistry at The Autism Project...


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