(An excerpt from the interest session, "Challenging the Children’s Choir Movement to Inclusionary Excellence" by Sarah Morrison and Carol Woodward Ratzlaff. Presented during the 2013 National Conference)
Among the special needs community we find many complex and musically gifted young people who wish to sing, and who are willing to rehearse and persevere in a structured ensemble. All people have the right to an outlet for musical expression. Many singers with autism, down syndrome, and a number of other conditions are intensely musical. Despite significant challenges which some disabled people face, the human spirit remains receptive and in need of quality musical opportunity.
Our singers, however, do need support to rehearse, patience to persevere, and courage to perform. They are included and supported to achieve and to perform at a high standard. It goes without saying that this community has been neglected with respect to music performance. As singers and musicians, they have the right to receive, but more importantly, the right to give. Our goal is to understand their needs, accommodate their complexity, and to support these needs in the appropriate manner.
We strive to ensure that choirs include and welcome children and youth who are diagnosed with disabilities, when they demonstrate the musical aptitudes and skills appropriate (providing support as needed). We educate all of our children to be understanding and inclusive. The VIVA Youth Singers provide an entry-level choir (ECS: Everyone Can Sing Choir) to provide youth with disabilities and the beginning teen with an excellent musical training, possibly equipping them with opportunities for integration into one of our other choirs. The ECS is a refuge for those who are partially integrated. Each young person engages in the same audition as youth who are not disabled, and each must express the desire to sing. The Oakville Children’s Choir has developed a meaningful partnership with ErinoakKids Centre for Treatment and Development (the largest Children’s Treatment Centre in Ontario) including choir exchanges for rehearsals and performances between the OCC Senior Choir and the ErinoakKids Glee Club.
(The ACDA National Conference is just one of the many benefits of membership in the American Choral Directors Association. Join ACDA today.)