After witnessing first-hand the positive effects of music on people with disabilities, junior Sam Harreschou founded Expression Through Music, a program that holds “music circles” with students in Specialized Academic Instruction classes at Samo.
Harreschou is both a member of Circle of Friends and volunteer at LA Goal, a school for developmentally disabled adults, and he says that his experiences with these organizations inspired him to create this program because of the miraculous effects music had on the students.
“I saw how much fun the students had, bonding over singing and playing the songs. I also noticed how it helped them socialize,” Harreschou said. “I knew that, for these students, comfortably singing with of a group was a huge step towards comfortably socializing with their peers.”
Harreschou approached Specialized Academic Instruction teacher Carol Gassman-Proud with his concept — to hold music circles for students with disabilities at Samo every school day during fifth period. Gassman-Proud then invited Sam to attend a training in San Diego for music therapists; speakers and other participants included Assistant Executive Director of the Children’s Discovery Museum Jacob Proud and Samo Instructional Assistant Pete McCabe, who believes that the inclusion of music in the Specialized Academic Instruction Curriculum is vital.
“It is a pleasure for me to implant some of the joy of music into these students. I had a record in the 1970s and moved to LA to further a [music] career. That didn’t happen but I’m glad that I have been able to make use of my music talent in [Samo] classrooms,” McCabe said. “There is a lot to learn from singing and playing instruments in a group. It improves their motor skills, concentration, gives them a sense of rhythm and harmony and encourages social interactions.”
According to Gassman-Proud, the music circles are much more than a creative outlet. She claims that the program has strengthened the students’ social relationships, reading skills and language development, aids them in strengthening self esteem, building teamwork, encouraging a sense of well being improving cognitive abilities.
“It has been going great. I’ve seen so much growth in the kids. The other day they created a jazz piece spontaneously,” Gassman-Proud said. “[At first] one student simply refused to participate. Now she takes the microphone and sings in front of the entire group.”
Expression Through Music had its first performance on Feb. 22 at the YMCA in front of a small crowd of senior citizens. The group was invited to return again in April. According to McCabe, they have also been asked to demonstrate at Silver Crest, and the Salvation Army, and are scheduled to attend a rehearsal of the LA Philharmonic.
Freshman Quinn D’Andrea was one of the General Education students to perform with the group at the YMCA.
“I loved being involved. It is so nice to see the satisfaction that the students got when they were singing and playing instruments,” D’Andrea said. “The fact that they were giving back to the community gave them a sense of responsibility and really helped them with improving social skills for the future.”
Harreschou says that ideally, Expression Through Music will expand to include more General Education student musicians in the future.
“The music circles are open to everyone. I want to make it more of a known program at school,” Harreschou said. “We want more students, more instruments — more of everything. Aside from helping these teenagers, we want to promote an understanding of students with disabilities.”