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United Sound Shares the Joy of Music at UE

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Tim Jagielo
Evansville students Emma Hall (right) and Rachel Taylor work with Tess Fuller, 27 (center) of Newburgh during a United Sound practice session.

The University of Evansville held their inaugural session that teaches special needs children and young people music — helping both students and teachers grow.

Sharing 'The Joy' of Music: University of Evansville United Sound College Chapter

University of Evansville students Emma Hall and Rachel Taylor are working with Tess Fuller age 27 of Evansville for a brand new program called ‘United Sound.’

The classroom is full of sound as three other groups teach simple lessons in music, banging on drums like tom-toms and bongos as the mentors count off the beats for them.

These ‘new musicians’ are all special needs and in this case all over the age of 18.

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Tim Jagielo
Annie Kim, United Sound President

Annie Kim is president of this college chapter of United Sound.

“The purpose of United Sound is to help new musicians who are students with disabilities, get an opportunity to learn music and to perform in concert,” she said. “It's really important for us to be able to spread musical education, because music is a genuine joy that everyone deserves to experience. So we're really excited to be able to bring this to the Evansville community.”

This is a national program with elementary middle school and high school chapters as well.

This group has only met a few times but in less than a week they’ll be performing ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’ on-stage alongside the university symphony orchestra.

United Sound developed a simple yet elegant way to teach the notes.

“We like to bring things closer to things that our new musicians are familiar with,” Kim said. “So instead of saying, ‘quarter note’ or ‘half note,’ we'll say something like ‘cake’ or ‘soup,’ which is easier to understand.”

Special sheet music was provided which has little images of cakes and soups on the staff lines as they read along.

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Tim Jagielo
Chun-Ming Chen, conductor and faculty advisor

UE faculty advisors are Chun-Ming Chen who conducts the UE Symphony Orchestra and music therapy professor Melissa Heffner.

Chen counts the new musicians in, with Kim playing “Rudolph’” on violin. She is also Concertmaster of the symphony.

“…I'm going to count you in measure 17,” Chen said punctuating the percussion with the necessary “donut” and “Soup” notes.

“We got a lot of doughnuts, right? Very nice,” Chen said.

While this time, the music and instruments are kept pretty simple, United Sound can actually meet New Musicians where they are. Sometimes they just need a little extra help before they can join an ensemble and sometimes they just learn to play one single note.

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Tim Jagielo
Cade Heller, 22, rehearses with his mentors.

New Musician Cade Heller is 22. He moved to the city a couple years ago. His parents, including his dad Phil, found the programs lacking for someone like Cade with down syndrome who is just out of high school.

“So we're real excited about this program that’ll be offered,” Heller said. “Cade loves music. And so it's been fun for him to have an outlet for that. We always joke that he doesn't have much pitch, but he has good rhythm. So this percussion class was perfect for him.”

It’s also important for the mentors to interact with people like Cade — says United Sound Director of Operations Dorean White.

“I think it's very important to those college chapters, not only for the new musicians, but more especially for those mentors that are now going to go on and create their own music ensembles after they graduate, especially those music education majors,” she said.

Nina Fuller is mother to two new musicians, Tess, 27, and Hope, 19. She echoed what White said. “I think that's really important not just for the special needs population but for the neurotypical population so that we can learn to develop friendships through programs such as United sound.”

Heller would like the public to better focus on special need’ individuals’ skills and capabilities, not their deficits

“It’s not what they can't do, it's what they can do,” he said. “And so I think, I'd love to see our community embrace their abilities, instead of just their disabilities. Certainly, there are things — limitations that they have, and abilities that they might not be able to possess like the rest of us. But that doesn't mean that they have nothing to offer to the community.”

The following Monday was their dress rehearsal on stage at the Victory Theater with the symphony, and the next day, the Holiday Pops concert beside the UE Symphony Orchestra, led by Kim and Chen.

The Fuller sisters and Cade Heller performed before the concert crowd, and the cacophony of toms and bongos ended in applause.

“Starting United Sound was a very long process with a lot of obstacles that we had to overcome,” Kim said. She had to wait for grant funding to start the program.

“But it was really fulfilling to see the mentors and musicians up on stage. They're finally getting to share the music that they've been working so hard to prepare with our audience. So it was really exciting and really fulfilling.”

Kim said she’s already working on the next session which will be the spring semester. She wants to work on recruiting more new musicians who from addition to percussion will also have two violins to try.

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Tim Jagielo
United Sound participants stand for the applause following their early December performance at the Holiday Pops at the Victory Theater.