A group of Union County performers marked seven years of musical partnership and disability inclusion in a recent performance at Kean University’s Wilkins Theater in Union.
The Music for All Concert, a collaboration between Community Access Unlimited (CAU) and Kean University, attracted an audience of over 400 people on January 12 for a musical showcase that had a special focus on accessibility for both the attendees and the performers.
The set list included favorites of the group: “Jump” by Van Halen and “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, as well as a song with original lyrics by CAU’s performers from the Academy of Continuing Education (ACE). In addition to Kean University students and alumni as well as performers from ACE, the show featured musicians and choruses from Union County high schools and middle schools.
For the first time, the performance included American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters. The venue also set up a sensory room for anyone who wished to take a break during the show, and provided ear protection and fidget toys.
“We started the Music for All Concert with the idea of giving everyone a chance to participate in a true concert format using music they would be reading and instruments they would be playing,” said Marguerite Modero, music and theater director at ACE. “From the time we started to now the growth has been enormous. We have members who are really eager to perform and come back year after year.”
For Samantha Adams, a 2019 graduate of Kean’s music education department, mentoring CAU members for the show was an inspiration for her to complete a master’s degree in special education, and later become a special education teacher.
“We taught a modified notation system with modified instruments,” Adams shared. “It’s a color-coded system based on colors along with shapes. So instead of reading black notes on black lines, it’s a little bit more accessible. Our goal is to make music accessible for everyone and this concert is a great example of that.”
Adams said she was proud to work with Lynann Schraer-Joiner, Kean associate professor and music education coordinator, to build on her work and passion making music approachable for people with disabilities. The group has also submitted their work to be published in an international music education journal.
“Once we had that first concert we knew that we had to do it again,” Schraer-Joiner said. “I also saw my students’ realization that music really needs to be accessible for everyone, and everyone should have the ability to express themselves musically if that’s what they want to do.”
ACE student John Drescher sang in the show, sharing his love of Frank Sinatra with a rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon.” He credits Modero for helping him build the confidence and skills to sing solo.
“It’s a lot of fun, I get to meet new people and meet new friends,” Drescher said. “I can’t believe I got a standing ovation for Frank Sinatra.”
Many ACE students perform each summer with the CAU Community Players, a theater troupe made up of people with and without disabilities. To learn more about the program and register to receive audition information, email Asia Mitchell at Amitchell@caunj.org.