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Midvale Middle's performances benefit Jordan Valley students as well as themselves

Feb 01, 2018 08:05AM ● Published by Julie Slama

Midvale Middle School's symphonic band give out shakers they made to Jordan Valley students so they could play along with the concert orchestra. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Midvale Middle eighth-grader and clarinetist Connor Oviatt said he appreciates his middle school band and orchestra performing for nearby Jordan Valley School’s students.

“We were able to play and connect with them for the holidays,” he said. “I liked being able to talk to them and give them shakers so they could help create part of the music.” 

Connor and his fellow band and orchestra classmates played a concert at Jordan Valley in December after also giving two performances at Midvale Elementary School. 

The idea to perform at Jordan Valley came from a parent, Midvale Middle music teacher Lena Wood said.

“I wanted the students to have a chance to have an experience to perform in the community and wanted it to be personable,” she said. “This gives our students an experience to reflect on and be proud of and gives their students a chance to engage in music; it was a perfect suggestion.”

Wood also wanted her students to make a connection, so she had her music students create shakers out of toilet paper rolls for the Jordan Valley students to play along.

Jordan Valley students have severe multiple disabilities including autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, seizure disorders, communication impairments, genetic disorders and syndromes, deaf-blindness and students who are extremely medically fragile. The goal at Jordan Valley School is to improve the quality of life for students, age five to 22, and their families.

“This may have given some of my students a first-time experience interacting with these students, and through the shakers, many of them engaged their peers through music,” she said.

Eighth-grader and trombonist Tayvin Austin said he talked to Jordan Valley students.

“It was fun to talk to them about what was happening and playing shakers alongside them,” he said. 

While Connor and Tayvin and other students may use this as their experience for the school’s Make a Difference project to help serve those around them, Jordan Valley Principal Mark Donnelly said it gives his students a chance to participate in an activity and interact with others in a different way.

“They’re learning to socialize with their peers, practice social behavior and use a different part of their brain than a typical day,” he said. “Music is engaging and they’re able to feel it. It’s wonderful to see how music opens barriers.”

Jordan Valley Employee Support Professional Gary Ren said that it also gives his students a chance to respond to the music.

“The students are relaxed, calm — most of them get into it rocking back and forth, responding to the music,” he said. “There aren’t many behavioral issues when they’re engaged in music.”

Jordan Valley music therapist Sarah Mortensen said other groups have come to perform, but this is the first time it has been a concert orchestra and band performance.

“I believe it is important to give the students the opportunity to hear live concert music, just as their peers in other schools would,” she said. “We don’t often have large instrumental groups perform at our school. The volume and quality of sound they make is something I am not able to duplicate on my own in music therapy groups, even with recordings. When the band and orchestra students interact with our Jordan Valley students, it gives our students an opportunity to practice appropriate social interactions and to further engage in the music. Playing instruments along with the music helps the students to be present and more focused on what is happening around them.”

In addition to Midvale Middle School, Jordan Valley recently hosted choirs this year from Brighton High School, Hillcrest High School and West Jordan High School.

Mortensen, who teaches students in 10 classes for 30 minutes twice weekly, said there are a myriad of ways that music helps Jordan Valley students.

“Some of my biggest goals in music therapy groups are to increase social interaction, increase communication skills, decrease agitation, increase range of motion and increase attention to task. Singing together is a great way to encourage the students to communicate vocally, sometimes more than they do in other settings,” she said.

Through playing on her guitar or other instruments with students in class, Mortensen can see students listen and respond when she plays fast or slow tempos or plays softly or loudly.

“This encourages the students to keep their attention on the song for an extended period of time in order to follow along,” she said.

Connor said he hopes he can have more experiences like this one.

“I like doing something which has a positive impact,” he said. “It’s been cool.” 

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