Rhythm and Drumming Empowerment Program at the Alabama School for the Deaf and Blind 2005
By John Scalici
I have often wondered what it would be like to work with the
hearing and visually impaired. How would
you communicate? Would the rhythms be
the same? What challenges would I as a
person and facilitator face. Often times
when I ask myself these questions, the opportunity soon becomes available to
discover the answers!
Demonstrating the rhythm
I am fortunate each year to be a part of a large number of
grants written by various arts organizations from around the Southeast. One such grant was written by an organization
called VSA arts of Alabama. They are a non-profit whose mission is to
promote art and music created by people with disabilities. I have facilitated many rhythm based events
for this wonderful organization and was eager to do more.
When my good friend and executive director of VSA arts,
Sherri Van Pelt, asked me to conduct a six-week residency at the Alabama
Institute for the Deaf and Blind, I excitedly agreed!
After a few hours it kind of hit me. This would be the greatest challenge of my
life as a rhythm facilitator. I planned
on spending an hour a day with the school for the deaf and one hour with the
school for the blind. I thought to
myself, “how in the world am I going to do this work”? Then the idea was proposed that at the end
of the six week residency, we would bring the two schools together for a
demonstration of their newly acquired skills.
Now I knew for sure it was my biggest challenge ever. I would be facilitating a completely
different set of skills. I felt
overwhelmed. One group would rely on
visual cues, the other on aural. The
activities and patterns would be the same for each group, but HOW I would facilitate
would be different.
Learning how to
facilitate three groups of multi-challenged participants
For the deaf school, I decided to teach a pattern based on
something both groups could relate to:
FOOD. Southern Food! Mashed potatoes,
cornbread, black eyed peas. That would
be my rhythm. Once my interpreter
understood where I was going, she would sign to the deaf school the rhythm of
the words. “mash potato cornbread black
eyed peas”. Translated musically, the
phrase would sound like, “one-ee-and-ah-two-and---three-and-four”.
I kept telling
myself, “use your intuition”. I decided
to do a “question/answer format. I
decided to play the rhythm on the back of one of the kids from the deaf school,
then have him play on the other kids backs, passing down the information. We went over visual cues. Stopping/starting,
Culminating event at the Alabama
School for the Deaf and Blind
I would keep the
pulse with large stomping movements. I
had several angels sent to me in the form of helpers who helped me with pulse
keeping duties so I could facilitate.
They soon began to facilitate themselves. I didn’t have to explain why I chose to use a
six measure phrase for the rhythm. (I
did this so that the group asking the question
could have more time to get ready for the next phrase, and I could have
more time to set it up. It flowed much
better to me than just a short, four bar phrase.
I would stop the
group after a couple of phrases to allow for solos
As I was working with the school for the deaf, I realized
that they were so sensitive to volume changes and textures, so I decided to do
stop cuts with the deaf school, have the blind play soft parts, and do accents
with BIG, visual accent cues for the deaf.
Suddenly it all came together. I realized that I really didn’t have to do
anything too different than usual. I
just had to be the best facilitator I could be, using VERY clear visual and aural
communication. It didn’t matter to
them. They were used to having no sight
or no sound. They had NO fear. When the two schools came together for their
demonstration, there were three T.V. crews, the entire school and faculty, not
to mention my mom! Because I had stuck with the simple things, the basics, it
turned out beautifully! My fear had
turned to joy. KEEP IT SIMPLE.
John Scalici and a
proud drummer at The Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind
Remo artist and facilitator.