By Mark Ambrogi
It was no surprise to Soo Han, Carmel High School director of orchestra, how his students have embraced helping those with special needs learn to play instruments.
“These kids love to share their passion for music,” Han said. “These are just incredible kids who have beautiful, charitable hearts and love to give back whenever they have an opportunity to do so.”
The mission of United Sound, a national nonprofit organization, is to provide musical performance experiences for students with special needs. CHS senior Lia Mossler is one of three co-presidents of the United Sound Club along with senior Tiffany Xie and junior Lilly St. Angelo.
“It’s really rewarding. It’s definitely a different experience being able to take what I’ve been practicing all these years and give it to someone else,” Mossler said. “These are kids who never got the opportunity to learn an instrument. I feel like society says, ‘Oh, you can’t do this.’ We get these kids to learn music by an alternative way of reading music and rhythms because rhythms are a really abstract concept. To see how fast these kids improve is really insane. It just brings so much joy because music is like a universal language.”
The United Sound members will join the orchestra members for “Silent Night” during the winter orchestra concert at 6 p.m. Dec. 10 at the CHS auditorium.
“I know they’re going to do fantastic,” Xie said.
Han had presented the idea of a starting a club to his orchestra members in the 2014-15 school year.
Dana Lawrence, a special education teacher with the functional academic program, is a club co-sponsor along with Han.
“A lot of my kids don’t have opportunities to stay after school and do things,” Lawrence said. “Before it was Best Buddies or nothing. This is another opportunity to be in a club. I think the parents are most excited about them being in the concerts.”
Han said the initial response from the orchestra students was overwhelming and there were actually too many volunteers in the first year. Han said there was an application and interview process for those that wanted to be mentors this school year.
“All the kids talked about how important the club is to them as a way for them to give back,” Han said. “They grow as individuals just as much as the United Sound members.”
There are three or four orchestra members for each United Sound member. Last school year it was about eight orchestra students for each United Sound member. There are nine United Sound members this school year.
Junior club member Blake Dauby is in his second year learning the violin. Playing classical musical is his favorite part of the club, he said.
“It’s definitely my favorite type of music,” Dauby said. “One time I was not ready for the violin, but now I really am.”
Dauby said he tried to play the violin when he was younger but had trouble learning. The club mentors have definitely helped, he said.
Xie said the orchestra members learn alongside those they were mentoring.
“This year how it’s changed is both the mentors and the returning students have more of an idea how everything works,” Xie said.
St. Angelo, who plans to continue as club president as a senior, said the half-hour session is her favorite part of the day on Mondays.
“It’s makes me so happy to see my United Sound member, Abby Love, progress in her playing every week,” she said. “She really loves playing, and I can see that. It’s energizing to see them be passionate about the same thing we are. It speaks volumes about our (orchestra) program. We’re like a family, and we want to extend that family environment to everyone in the school.”
A sister’s wish
The program has special meaning to Lia Mossler, whose sister Jessica is a Creekside Middle School eighth grader with Down Syndrome.
“She’s always singing and wanting to be in musicals,” Mossler said. “She would see me play violin and say, ‘Teach me how to play violin.’”
But Mossler knew it would be hard for her to teach her sister at home.
Mossler said in its first year the club was just for students with functional autism.
“I wanted this club to be open for her next year,” Mossler said. “So I really pushed Mr. Han and Ms. Lawrence to open it up, because it’s really an amazing club. I think it should be open up to everyone, and she is so excited about it.”