5 Reasons to Attend the 2017 VSA Intersections Conference

There are lots of reasons to attend the Kennedy Center’s VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference. Here are a few of our favorites:

1. Brand New Content

We have tons of new sessions that you won’t want to miss! Here is sampling of what we have planned:

  • It Takes a Village: Inclusive Community Music Programming
  • Teaching Students with Disabilities Using Puppets
  • Blackness, Disability, and Higher Education
  • Using Art to Reach Students Who Have Experienced Trauma
  • The Power Of West African Drumming For Students With Disabilities
  • What’s New? A Fresh Look At Paraprofessionals And Peers As Support For Students With Disabilities

Browse the full schedule here.

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2. Keynote Speaker: Antoine Hunter

The Keynote address will challenge attendees to question how teacher perception of disability affects student expectations and to envision a classroom environment in which every student is empowered to achieve at high levels. In this address, Mr. Antoine Hunter—an award-winning African-American Deaf producer, choreographer, film/theater actor, dancer, dance instructor, model, poet, speaker, mentor, Deaf advocate, and the 2017 King of San Francisco Carnaval—will offer perspective from his own experiences as a Deaf artist and provide insights into how those experiences have shaped his current teaching practice.

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3. Get Inspired Before the New Year Begins

It’s the beginning of summer break and you just want to lay at the pool, spend time with your family, and rest your mind before the new school year begins. We know it’s hard to think ahead to the end of summer. But the VSA Intersections Conference is a great way to get re-energized and inspired, so you can bring new creative ideas to the 2017-2018 year.

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4. Grow Your Peer and Resources Network

Meet experts and newcomers to the field and grow your relationships with other educators passionate about arts education for students with disabilities. Everyone conference is a different experience and there are plenty of opportunities to mingle with other participants.

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5. Explore all that Austin has to Offer

A change of location can inspire you to think differently. Join us in Texas and explore all the art and creativity that it’s capital city has to offer. During the conference, you’ll hear from Austin-based arts organizations such as MINDPOP and VSA Texas.

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We hope you’ll be able to join us as we dig deeper into the critical relationship of arts and education through new content, an amazing keynote speaker, and plenty of learning and fun.  The 2017 VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference is taking place August 6-7, 2017 in Austin, Texas. Register by June 30 for the lowest rate.

VSA Intersections is a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program.

Meet the 2017 VSA International Young Soloists Award Winners

This year marks the 33rd anniversary of the VSA International Young Soloists Competition, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program that recognizes talented, emerging artists ages 14-25 with disabilities from all over the world. The four young musicians who have been named winners of the 2017 award are: pianist Elliott McClain, age 23, from Nashville, Tennessee; Kohlin Sekizawa, a 17-year-old pianist from Davis, California; 21-year-old mezzo-soprano Natalie Sheppard of Cincinnati, Ohio; and Jessica Tucker, a 21-year-old saxophonist from Carson City, Nevada.

Photo of a man with brown wavy hair, a dark collared shirt, and a dark blazer.Elliott McClain, age 23, is a pianist and graduate student at Belmont University in Nashville studying commercial music performance. He is an independent artist and musician, specializing in jazz and popular forms of music for live performance and session recording. Blind since birth, Elliott started playing piano as soon as he discovered a keyboard, and has been known ever since for his exceptional aural and improvisational skills. A recipient of the Woods Piano Scholarship, he has performed with Belmont’s top jazz ensembles, and has been a guest performer in many of Nashville’s most prestigious venues. Elliott is the 2016 VSA Tennessee Young Soloist Award winner.

Photo of a young man with a black collared shirt with silver tie, sitting at a piano.Kohlin Sekizawa, age 17, is a high school junior in Davis, California. He has been taking piano lessons for 12 years with Mrs. Huei-Ping Chen Lin. Kohlin, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, has won numerous local and statewide piano competitions, and performed in the honor recitals of the Music Teachers’ Association of California and the California Association of Professional Music Teachers. Last year, he earned a Paderewski Gold Medal from the American College of Musicians. He is currently playing the harpsichord and the violin in the Davis High School Baroque Ensemble, and he performed J.S. Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto with them in April 2017. Besides music, he enjoys basketball and tennis in TEAM DAVIS, a Special Olympics program.

Photo of a young woman with long, black hair, green eyes, and red lips wearing a shirt with purple and blue flowers.Natalie Sheppard, age 21, is a mezzo-soprano from Cincinnati, Ohio. She is an undergraduate student at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, receiving a scholarship to study voice under William McGraw, as well as pursuing studies in International Human Rights. Natalie has performed roles including Dido from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and will sing Cherubino from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro this summer in Berlin. She has worked with composers such as Jake Heggie and Libby Larsen at the prestigious SongFest art song festival in Los Angeles, California, and will return this summer as a Colburn Fellow in the Young Artist Program. Natalie, who has anxiety disorders and depression, has recently been recognized by Aspen Opera Theatre, the Opera Guild of Dayton, Cincinnati Three Arts Foundation, and Classical Singer, and has sung on stages around the world.

Photo of a young woman with long, dark hair wearing a black dress and holding a saxophone.Jessica Tucker is a 21-year-old classical saxophonist from Carson City, Nevada. She has performed across the United States and Canada, including in Vancouver, Seattle, Reno, San Francisco, Chicago, and Las Vegas. Jessica was born with amblyopia in her right eye, which renders it effectively blind. She graduated in May 2017 with a Bachelors of Music in saxophone performance from the University of North Texas, studying under Dr. Eric Nestler. While at the University of North Texas, Jessica performed with the North Texas Wind Symphony under the direction of Eugene Corporon, and can be heard on several of their recordings. She will begin her Masters in saxophone performance this fall at the Russian Academy of Music, Gnesin.

These four young artists receive a $2,000 cash prize and travel to Washington, D.C. for a performance on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage on May 25 at 6:00 p.m. The performance is free and open to the public, and will be streamed live online at www.kennedy-center.org/millennium; a recording of the concert will be available for viewing after May 25 in the Millennium Stage online archive.

Drum Circle Class Impacts Students and Educators

Three students play drums with two teaching artists. Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

A new partnership between the Westminster Center for Community Engagement and Critical Pedagogy and Trenton Public Schools in New Jersey (U.S.) offers children with autism the opportunity to learn drumming alongside Westminster music education students. The program, called Junior Vitamin D after the Westminster Choir College’s own Vitamin D Drum Circle, provides students in self-contained classrooms at three elementary schools and one middle school the chance to participate in a drum circle, play a variety of rhythms, and perform original compositions.

Frank Abrahams, Director of the Westminster Center for Community Engagement and Critical Pedagogy, says a Westminster alumnus experienced in drum circle facilitation leads the Junior Vitamin D classes. Six current music education students assist that teaching artist. The elementary school session for Junior Vitamin D began in January, and concludes in April; approximately 18 students attend each class, and 75 young students with autism are served in all.

A boy plays a drum held by a teaching artist while a girl watches, smiling. Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

Abrahams says the children have learned a host of skills during the Junior Vitamin D classes, from how to hold and where to hit a drum, to how to copy and improvise rhythms, to how to work collaboratively on a project (like hitting their drums at the same time). He adds, “[The children] learn how to express their own musical ideas through the drums.”

The young participants with autism aren’t the only ones having a valuable learning experience at the Junior Vitamin D classes. Abrahams says the experience has had an enormous impact on the six college students helping facilitate the sessions, teaching them about adapting lessons for students with disabilities and thinking on your feet. “I’ve seen a dramatic change in their perception about what teaching is about, and their give and take to go to plan B if plan A isn’t working,” he says, continuing, “I think the college students are coming away as kinder, gentler, more understanding teachers.”

A teaching artist leads three boys in a movement exercise while playing a drum. Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

Photo courtesy of Rider University/Peter Borg

When designing the Junior Vitamin D program, Abrahams and his collaborators made sure it maintained the integrity of a high quality school music program. They set measurable goals for the program in three areas: arts learning, academic learning, and social and emotional learning. The instruction also aligns with National Core Art Standards for Music Education and New Jersey Core Curriculum.

Abrahams says it is exciting to observe how the program has changed both the children and college students. “The children are learning to express their own original thought and emotion in playing drums,” he says, “…and the music education students are having a participatory, pre-service experience you cannot get by reading or watching a video.”

Five Tips on Using Picture-Based Visual Supports for Students with Complex Communication Needs During Music Instruction

By Lisa Pierce-Goldstein, M.M., M.S. CCC-SLP

Visual supports are an integral part of the day for all of us, from street signs to calendars to scrawled reminders on Post-it® Notes. Visual supports in the form of pictures can be an effective and integral part of music instruction for students with complex communication needs, who cannot rely on speech as their primary means of communication. Unlike manual signs or verbal cues, which are transient, pictures provide a stable form of support, as they are fixed and can be referred to repeatedly. This is especially helpful for students who need extra time to process information. Picture symbol software is not necessary. Some assembly is required. So fire up your smart phone, Google Images, or your favorite word processing and presentation-making software to make:

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1. Visual schedules: A visual schedule uses pictures to show the sequence of activities that will take place during a class. For example, for a chorus rehearsal, a visual schedule might consist of pictures representing welcome, warm up, pass out music, practice song 1, practice song 2, put music away, all done.

Five side-by-side images showing where to place fingers on an oboe while playing Mary had a Little Lamb.

A visual sequence for the fingering of Mary had a Little Lamb.

2. Visual sequences: The cousin of the visual schedule, the visual sequence uses pictures to depict the steps necessary to complete a specific activity. This can be useful for showing steps for instrument fingerings, changes in body movements for a physical or vocal warm up, or setting up and putting class materials away.

This image contains pictures of instruments in small yellow square boxes. The instruments include egg shakers, triangle, maracas, sand blocks, rhythm sticks, bells, xylophone, tone block, boomwhacker, and sound shape.

3. Choice boards: A choice board has pictures of choices available for a specific activity. For example, pictures of several instruments may be presented to a student, from which they could make their choice. A choice board could also consist of pictures of the covers of pieces to be practiced during class or rehearsal, from which students could choose the order.

4. Scripts and social stories: Using PowerPoint or Google Slides is an easy way to pair pictures with sentences. Putting several pages together, you can create a script to help a student know what to say and do at an audition. A social story can show and describe what is expected in a specific situation, such as being an audience member at a live performance.

A two column image with the word first and a picture of a person singing on the left, and the word 5. First Then boards: A ‘first then’ board consists of two columns with the headings ‘first’ and ‘then,’ with a picture beneath each word representing the present activity and the subsequent one. It might show a non-preferred activity (practice scale), followed by a preferred one (sing ‘Alexander Hamilton’). This is useful for helping students manage transitions.

To see examples of all of these visual supports, head to Google Images and search. There are hundreds of examples to fire up your imagination. Now have fun downloading, formatting, printing, laminating, and using in class!

Lisa Pierce Goldstein croppedLisa Pierce-Goldstein is a speech language pathologist who has spent the past 15 years working with students on the autism spectrum, first in New York City’s District 75 and now in the Boston Public Schools.  She is a classically trained singer and a guest lecturer at Boston Conservatory’s program for Teaching Music to Students on the Autism Spectrum.  She is a frequent presenter at conferences on the topics of augmentative and alternative communication, autism and adapting arts curriculum for students with complex communication needs.  

Combining Movement and Classical Music at the Australian Chamber Orchestra

A woman plays a cello while a teenage boy in a wheelchair touches it with his right hand.At the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO), access and inclusion are core organizational values. Their triennial disability action plan is a major part of the strategic plan, and comprehensively sets goals for inclusion in every aspect of the organization’s work. This includes their signature education program for students with disabilities, ACO Move.

ACO Move is a series of sessions for young people with disabilities featuring movement and live music. ACO Customer Relations and Access Manager, Dean Watson, who has a background in dance, conceived of the program six years ago to offer adolescents with disabilities an arts learning opportunity with the Sydney-based string ensemble.

ACO Move takes place over five two-hour sessions, with a group of approximately ten young participants alongside program facilitators, a quartet of ACO musicians, and a percussionist. Each session begins with a welcome, warm up, and introductions, followed by a series of music and movement exercises. Watson says the facilitators plan many exercises to allow for flexibility in the sessions and “are prepared to adapt.”

Two teenage boys raise their arms in the air while musicians play violins.Watson says some of the student participants have never heard classical music before, and creating a “soundscape” helps to familiarize everyone. The percussionist brings instruments for the participants to use, and everyone works together to build up sound based on a given idea, such as a storm or wave. This builds a sense of community and trust among the group, says Watson, adding, “Everyone performs together, including the ACO musicians, and by the end we’ve created a new ensemble with a composition we can call our own!”

The sessions focus heavily on the theme of dynamics, and Watson and his collaborators use musical terminology like crescendo, diminuendo, staccato, rhythm, and rest to convey this idea. When a term is introduced, the ACO artists first demonstrate the concept musically. The facilitators then turn it into a movement, and the participants imitate and improvise, ultimately building a theatrical piece.

Tactile and sensory learning are also core components of the ACO Move sessions. Participants touch instruments at rest, lay on the ground while a cello is played, or hug a double bass while it is played. Watson also incorporates the sensory learning and soundscape creation as major parts of the ACO’s education sessions in primary and high schools for students with disabilities.

Young adults with disabilities dance to live classical music.Each year, Watson seeks to engage a guest artist with a disability to collaborate on the ACO Move program. The upcoming 2017 sessions will incorporate original compositions for string quartet by a young Australian composer with cerebral palsy. In 2016, the young writer and actor Emily Dash diarized the project and created original spoken word pieces to perform at the presentation day that concludes each ACO Move series.

According to Watson, ACO Move’s success can be attributed to the organization’s commitment to the program, from the administrators to the board to the musicians. He says, “When we invite people to participate [in ACO Move], we want them to feel as though they are part of the ACO family. This means they have access to everything in the building, can communicate freely with the musicians and staff, and feel like an equal part of the ensemble we create.” ACO is currently investigating opportunities to expand ACO Move through partnerships with arts and disability organizations, as well as with the venues in which the orchestra plays.

For more information, contact dean.watson@aco.com.au.

West Virginia Program Helps Teachers Utilize Music with Young Students

The West Virginia University Music Therapy Program will host its Creating Capacity Through Music professional development workshop this month for educators in Morgantown, West Virginia, and the surrounding areas. The five-hour, interactive, continuing education opportunity helps classroom teachers utilize music to engage all students and support various learning objectives for children ages three to seven years.

Picture of a woman wiht blonde hair, a green shirt, and a pink scarf.

Dena Register

Program Director and Associate Professor of Music Therapy Dena Register says she was inspired to create the professional development program by her work with preschool-age students with disabilities. She hopes the workshop will help attendees feel more comfortable using music in the classroom, and give teachers music-based tools for successfully conveying information to all students.

In addition to the workshop, which will be held for 20-25 participants at four different points during the year, teachers are also invited to apply for a six-week, in-classroom consultation opportunity. Those selected will have a music therapist come to their classroom once per week to lead a 30-minute group music experience tailored to the needs of the children in that class, and a 30-minute consultation with the teacher on implementing various strategies presented each week.

When asked what she would recommend to educators hoping to integrate more music into classrooms inclusive of students with disabilities, Register emphasized the importance of strengths-based assessments. She says, “It is helpful to focus on what students can do rather than what they cannot do. This is especially true for music, when many people think, ‘Oh, I’m not a musician.’ Everyone has a musical capability! They just need to focus on their strengths.”

Five Tips for Submitting a Good VSA International Young Soloists Competition Application

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Each year, a select number of outstanding young musicians with disabilities, ages 14-25, are recognized by the VSA International Young Soloists Competition. These emerging musicians from around the world receive a $2,000 prize, professional development activities, and the opportunity to perform at the Kennedy Center. If you or someone you know is interested in applying for the 2017 VSA International Young Soloists Award, check out these application tips before submitting your entry:

  1. Upload high quality, live recordings. Professional recordings are not necessary. Video recordings are recommended but not required. If you are using accompaniment, it should be live and not pre-recorded.
  2. Submit pieces that showcase your proficiency as a musician. Please choose selections focusing on your primary instrument regardless of whether you play multiple instruments.
  3. Variety is encouraged. We encourage you to submit selections by different composers showcasing facility with different styles or eras of music.
  4. This award is for excellence in performance, not songwriting or composition. Original compositions may be submitted, but will not augment your score. Select pieces that showcase your technical skill, artistry, and musicianship as a performer.
  5. Carefully review all elements of your application before submission. Applicants will not be notified if components of their application are missing.

You can find more information about the 2017 VSA International Young Soloists Competition on the Kennedy Center’s website. Application materials should be submitted no later than February 8, 2017. Questions about the VSA International Young Soloists Program can be sent to VSAinfo@kennedy-center.org.