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Making Music Is For All

Mike Lawson • Perspective • July 5, 2019

It’s an exciting couple of months for the students involved in United Sound’s new drum corps program.

As we are going to press, two events have happened the last week of June, and one is approaching the 26th of July, which I am hoping to attend.

If you’ve read this column much the past nearly five years that I have been editor, you may recall that I am the father of a musical young woman with autism, so these programs have a personal interest for me. They did not exist in the schools my daughter went to, and her participation in anything musical was extremely limited. I get how it happens. Special needs students, each with a different IEP, can be difficult to work with, in general, let alone in a setting where a musically harmonic existence is essential to the program. Special needs students can be all over the map in their personal abilities, making it difficult for them, the teachers, and their peers. I don’t like it, but I get it.

Maybe things are slowly changing — The Blue Devils Performing Arts (BDPA) organization produces an array of award-winning, spectacular programs, most notably, “the most decorated corps in the history of Drum Corps International (DCI), the Blue Devils.” They have won the DCI World Championship title more than any other performing group and have finished in the top five for over 40 years.

This year, they are leading a new partnership with United Sound. The DCI 2019 Summer tour includes performances with drum corps and United Sound participants. The Blue Devils have written an original composition learned by the United Sound New Musicians at their respective schools and then performed alongside the corps at specific encore performances. BDPA has had a Special Needs Color Guard program for some time, though it is an indoor performance combining basic dance moves, traveling combinations, and flag spinning techniques, not an instrumental performance.

I believe this is the first time that music has been composed and arranged for special needs students for a multi-city performance with DCI, and the first collaboration with United Sound. I am really eager to see the United Sound event in at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, about an hour from my home, and about thirty minutes or so east of Nashville. Each participating city’s show features the United Sound New Musicians students performing alongside the corps, prior to the awards ceremonies.

Making music can be for nearly every student with the right programs and supports in place. Julie Duty, the founder and executive director of United Sound, is my hero for making inclusion of these students in instrumental music programs her life’s work.

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