In perfect harmony

Students connect through music

Sophomores+Landon+Faulkner+and+Charles+Payton+read+sheet+music+together.+Peer+mentors+take+a+leadership+role+teaching+them+the+fundementals+of+this+skill.+%0A
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In perfect harmony

Sophomores Landon Faulkner and Charles Payton read sheet music together. Peer mentors take a leadership role teaching them the fundementals of this skill.

Sophomores Landon Faulkner and Charles Payton read sheet music together. Peer mentors take a leadership role teaching them the fundementals of this skill.

Maya Hernandez

Sophomores Landon Faulkner and Charles Payton read sheet music together. Peer mentors take a leadership role teaching them the fundementals of this skill.

Maya Hernandez

Maya Hernandez

Sophomores Landon Faulkner and Charles Payton read sheet music together. Peer mentors take a leadership role teaching them the fundementals of this skill.

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Before starting, the room buzzed with friendly conversation. As the bell rang, the orchestra and special needs students formed a half-circle around the podium. Once the lesson started, everyone broke off into their own groups, two or three orchestra students with one special needs student. Each group started to practice rhythms, clapping and matching each beat to a word like “cake.” They then played the same rhythms on an instrument, either a violin, viola or cello. The room soon filled with the sound of the plucking of strings, the light violin sounds mixing with the heavier viola and the deep cello tones.

When they finished, their mentoring orchestra students gave high fives and told them “good job.” The special needs students smiled at the compliments. At the end of the lesson, the budding musicians left full of excitement for what was to come next week.

We have the philosophy ‘all means all,’ and we say everyone can play a stringed instrument.”

— Allison Washler, Orchestra Director

United Sound is a nonprofit organization formed to teach students with special needs how to play stringed instruments. The new musicians are chosen for the program by special education teacher Jackie Flanary. They are taught by members of the orchestra who are chosen through applications. They meet every Tuesday after school.

The program was started at the school by Orchestra Director Allison Washler two years ago. Washler says that she was inspired by the chance that United Sound gave for anyone to learn to play an instrument.

“We have the philosophy ‘all means all’, and we say everyone can play a stringed instrument,” Washler said.

For senior Caitlyn Aenis, United Sound is a chance to teach  peers a new skill that she loves.

“United Sound is just a combination of all the things I love and that I’m passionate about,” Aenis said. “I get to teach, it involves music, and it was just a really exciting opportunity.”

The program starts with the new musicians choosing what instrument they would like to learn — the violin, viola and cello. Aenis says that during this time their preferences become clear.

“Our first week we have a few instruments and we play on the instruments for them so they hear how they sound,” Aenis says, “They get really excited, or if they don’t like the instrument, they don’t like it.”

Maya Hernandez
Seniors Anna Ryan and Hailey Caiado warm up before practicing. Although United Sound is currently limited to string instruments, other instruments may be added to the program in the future.

The students learn the basics of their instrument from their peer mentors, starting with scales. They eventually learn difficult new pieces that they perform in the spring and fall orchestra concerts. During their concerts, the Chamber orchestra performed the well-known song “Remember Me” from Disney’s “Coco” along with the new musicians.

The peer mentors have been proud to see the growth that the new musicians have shown in seven months.

“Through all of the concerts, we got to play with the United Sound orchestra, and it was really amazing watching how much they had improved from our first fall concert to the final spring concert and just how excited they were to play and to join in the program,” sophomore Luke Dodson said.

The new musicians also react with excitement for the program. They have a lot of anticipation for the music they will learn, according to Dodson.

“They almost always react positively,” Dodson said, “Sometimes it can be frustrating when they can’t get something, but they’re always super resilient and always wanting to learn.”

For the orchestra musicians, Washler says that she is impressed to see the reach of the program beyond the orchestra room.

“They have an instant new friend, which is beyond just playing an instrument. It’s somebody they can connect with and say ‘hi’ to in the halls,” Washler says, “So I’ve seen really cool friendships form.”

United Sound is a program that speaks towards the idea that music is a language that connects everyone. It can connect people despite their background or the challenges they face in life, according to Aenis.

“I think what United Sound is teaching is that music is something for everyone. Music doesn’t need to be limited by who you are, how old you are or what you can do,” Aenis said.

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