The Music Studio has much to celebrate during 2017.
The private music school is not only marking its 40th year of teaching music to hundreds of Capital District children, but also the launch of its classes and private lessons designed specifically for children with autism spectrum disorders, neurological impairments and complex learning disabilities.
In announcing its new offerings for children with special needs, Noel Liberty, the school’s founder and director, said, “Everyone should have access to the joys of making music and the benefits of music education. We are thrilled to be able to include more students in our community.”
In order to provide its newest group of students with the best possible instruction, The Music Studio collaborated with Beth McLaughlin, a board certified music therapist and state certified music teacher. Previously, McLaughlin had served as coordinator of music therapy services at Schenectady’s Wildwood School, which offers comprehensive educational programs for special needs students in an effort to prepare them to be as independent as possible.
“I am honored to join The Music Studio, which I have long admired for its musical integrity and commitment to excellence. Since I met Noel in the mid-1980s, I have felt a kinship with her approach to teaching, which is inherently supportive and inclusive, much like my own,” said McLaughlin.
When asked what prompted the addition of classes for children with special needs, Liberty responded, “From the very beginning, The Music Studio has welcomed everybody to its classes, and our teachers have happily accommodated various learning styles and speeds. And yet, we have also been aware that there were children who needed a different approach altogether, and in the back of my mind I’ve always wanted to figure out a way to serve those children. So when Beth — whom I have long known and respected — came to me and suggested that we work together to develop this program, I said, ‘Let’s do it!’ I think my speedy agreement took her by surprise: She had no idea how long I had wanted to offer classes like this.”
McLaughlin has developed and is currently teaching a pair of programs at The Music Studio for special needs children: “Circle of Friends” and “Adapted Piano Instruction.”
“Circle of Friends” is a group class for children ages 4 through 7 with special needs. It is designed to “give families a unique opportunity to interact with their child through the elements of music in a nurturing environment.” Six, weekly sessions include singing, movement and instrument play in a small, supportive environment. Similar to the school’s other introductory classes, parents actively participate in each session.
“I observe what each child brings to the group and provide opportunities for integrating their unique skill into the activity,” explains McLaughlin.
“For instance, as an accompaniment to a song I play on the piano, one child may be playing a single note on a keyboard with her dad, while another plays a two-note chord and another improves a melody.
She adds that “Circle of Friends” is also designed to reinforce non-musical skills, such as listening, social interaction, taking turns and leisure skills development.
“Adapted Piano Instruction” is an individualized program of private lessons for children with special needs. Its focus is on developing both music and non-music skills at a frequency and duration agreed upon by the parents and instructor.
McLaughlin believes that special needs students receiving these private, adapted piano lessons “will benefit from instruction that is informed by their learning style and musical preferences. By providing this instruction in [the] community-based setting of The Music Studio, [these] students will have numerous opportunities to attend and participate in concerts, student performances and various field trips with their typical peers. In keeping with the mission of The Music Studio these experiences will ‘…inspire and enable students to reach the highest musical standard and a lifelong love of music.’”
McLaughlin readily acknowledges that music therapy interventions and music education classes are offered to special needs students in either private or public special education settings.
“Many children receive music therapy services while in special education programs. Music therapy interventions are designed to support a student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) and are determined through assessment and data collection. Children receiving special education services in public school settings may also be included in music education classes. These classes are intended to teach children music skills based on music education curriculum.”
She explains that The Music Studio’s programs, “Circle of Friends” in particular, differs from what is offered in “traditional” special needs classrooms because while the program’s activities may focus on singing, movement and instrument play, “the primary goals are non-musical and are more focused on social interaction and student engagement. That being said, when a student demonstrates musical ability, those skills are recognized, nurtured, and shaped into the activity. As these skills continue to emerge, it is possible for these students to transition into the Foundation’s classes offered by The Music Studio.”
According to Kate Cohen, an administrative assistant at The Music Studio, the initial response to the new programs for special needs children “has been good, but we definitely look forward to building interest through word-of-mouth.”
The next round of “Circle of Friends” classes is scheduled to begin this month [March]. While the first pair of classes met on Saturdays, Cohen says that the upcoming class may include a weekday evening option, as the school is still in process of determining what times work best for families.
For more information about either of these programs, visit themusicstudio.com/program/music-for-children-with-special-needs/. Parents are encouraged to call (518) 459-7799 or e-mail [email protected] to set up a time to speak with McLaughlin to determine which of the programs would be most appropriate for their child(ren).
The Music Studio is located at 1237 Central Ave. in Colonie, approximately one mile west of Colonie Center.