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The timbre of learning

Music provides countless paths for Perkins students to learn and express themselves.

At Perkins, music is educational, social and even therapeutic.

This story appears in the Summer 2019 issue of In Focus.

Chorus students in Dwight Hall rehearse a Bach oratorio for an upcoming concert. A three-year-old in the Lower School taps cacophonously on a piano during a therapy session. All throughout Perkins, the sound of music means students are learning.

“With music, we cover education, entertainment, recreation, social and even clinical work,” says Jill Buchanan, a music therapist in the Lower School. “That’s what’s so cool about the way we teach.”

In other words, at Perkins, every music lesson is tailored for each student’s benefit.

This is most uniquely illustrated by the organization’s use of music’s therapeutic power, as it leverages its offerings to help students sharpen non-musical skills.

For some students, particularly those with limited speaking ability, music therapy offers an outlet for self expression. Working with staff, a student might learn to play loud and fast on a piano to signify excitement. At the same time, music therapy can help students with mobility issues develop physical skills that can be generalized for use in their daily lives. If a student can build the strength and orientation to reach out for a drumstick, or tap keys on a piano, they might then be able to use those skills when reaching out for a spoon, or learning to type on a computer.

“Music therapy helps students relax, express themselves, develop fine motor skills and work on behavioral control,” adds Buchanan. “There’s so much to it.”

Yet it’s not all therapeutic. As in traditional school settings, audition-based groups like the chorus and instrumental ensembles give students the opportunity to learn a variety of instruments and perform for diverse audiences. Of course, parts of the program are uniquely Perkins. Staff create simple tactile adaptations to make instruments more accessible, while regular collaborations with outside organizations and other schools help students build social competencies. This latter element is core to the music program’s mission.

“Music is such a social thing,” says Arnie Harris, music teacher in the Secondary Program. “As much as it’s about the music, it’s also about that outreach in the community.”

These focuses—combining the practical with the fun—make music a vital and multi-faceted part of the Perkins curriculum. It’s a sound that fills the air unseen, but is felt across campus by all.

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