Highlights from the "It's My Breath, It's My Music" Symposium

March 14, 2015

What an exciting symposium we had at the CRAIVE Lab this weekend.  If you were there, you know how great it was to see and hear many musicians, young and not-so-young, who use adaptive musical instruments to play some great music!

Our Host, Jonas Braasch took the opportunity to show-off his wonderful Immersive Virtual Environment, which has a fourteen foot tall circular screen that encircles the room and seventeen projectors to create a virtual environment.  

 Shamar Persaud and his music teacher Keith Pray performed some great jazz together, with Mr. Pray on keyboard and Shamar, (who was clearly "in the zone") improvising on the Jamboxx in the mode of a saxophone.  The audience loved it and Shamar basked in the accolades he earned.  A charming young man, Shamar is a student at Schenectady High School and has the wit of a seasoned comedian, which helps him make friends everywhere he goes.  His greatest joy in learning the Jamboxx he said was "being part of a group".  He plays in the Schenectady High School Jazz Band and is a featured soloist.  Mr. Pray proved himself to be a dedicated and inspiring teacher with some great advice for other music teachers attending the symposium. 

Howard Hart, a music teacher with 37 years of experience teaching in public schools spoke to us via Skype from Florida on the fourteen foot tall screen at the incredible CRAIVE Lab. Howard shared his experience of how he included his student Kylee, who cannot hold an instrument, in the Middle School Band by providing her with a Jamboxx.  “The Jamboxx is a very serious instrument” said Mr. Hart, “it’s not a toy, and I wanted my other band members to understand that” he said, so he did a careful demonstration for the whole band.  Kylee is a member of the flute section and is never out-of-tune!  “Kylee doesn’t want any special attention, she just wants to be part of the group” said Mr. Hart.  His presentation gave teachers some good advice about both the practical parts of incorporating unique talents into a musical group, as well as the emotional benefits of inclusion.  Not everyone can play a traditional musical instrument, but with adaptive musical instruments there are many more people who can play music.  Now, several months after joining the band, Kylee is a respected member of the flute section! 

 Leaf Miller was an exuberant, and engaging participant, bringing loads of energy into her presentation about the Adaptive Used Musical Instrument (AUMI).  The AUMI was developed by the Deep Listening Institute, and Leaf helped with its development.  AUMI can be played by anyone who has at least some minimal movement in their head or upper body.  Leaf is an Occupational Therapist and drummer who uses AUMI in her work with severely disabled children.  Her presentation was captivating, and everyone seemed interested in trying out the program which Leaf had set up.  The free software program is available by download from the Deep Listening Institute.

The symposium also featured two talented young women from the Netherlands who play the Magic Flute.  Both Karin van Dijk and Marlene den Besten, who appeared live via Skype, are unable to play traditional musical instruments.  They are both students of Ruud van der Wel, who is the founder of the My Breath, My Music Foundation of the Netherlands.  Karin is also a member of My Breath, My Music Foundation’s Board of Directors and a Public Relations Representative for the Foundation.  She demonstrated her talent on the Magic Flute by playing a beautiful rendition of “Imagine” by John Lennon.  She was also a great spokesperson for the Magic Flute, which she clearly is quite passionate about.  Marleen also joined us from the Netherlands to show off her musical talents on the Magic Flute.  Marleen has an improvisation style which is both inspired and uplifting.  Our audience thoroughly enjoyed hearing the performances and listening to Ruud and Karin talk about the Magic Flute. 

 We were very fortunate to have musicians from Germany and Turkey join us as well to perform on the Jamboxx via Skype.  With the incredible audio system and digital projection capability, the CRAIVE lab was a wonderful location for listening to Tobias Kozlowsky and Alper Kaya.  Both Apler and Tobias are quadriplegic and play the Jamboxx for fun and self-expression, and both are phenomenal musicians!  Tobias played the theme from “Pirates of the Carribean” and also played the Jamboxx in electric guitar mode in a rock song of his own composition.  Alper is influenced by both pop music and the traditional middle-eastern music he grew up with.  He is a very experienced musician who lost his ability to play the classical guitar, and has since taken up the Jamboxx.  The audience was enamored with their talent and charm.  You can find recordings of both Tobias Kozlowsky and Alper Kaya on YouTube if you include the word “Jamboxx” in your search. 

Our audience included Henry Lowengard, who adapted the AUMI for the iPad, and RPI Architecture Professor Ted Krueger, who brought along some of his students.  We also had music teachers from the Guilderland School District and the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES, who had many questions for our panelists of musicians, therapists, and teachers. 

Unfortunately, we were unable to include a performance from Thomas Borghus in our event, as we were planning.  We were expecting a live performance via Skype but had some scheduling problems.  Thomas is a talented professional singer and songwriter from Copenhaggen who recently took up the Jamboxx after a spinal cord injury.  Thomas’s latest album entitled Uden Haender (Without Hands) is available on iTunes.  We hope to have Thomas join us at a future event!

Speaking of future events – SAVE THE DATE for our first fundraiser, which is planned for Friday evening, June 19th at the Saratoga-Wilton Elks Club in Saratoga Springs.  The theme of our event will be “Put on your party hat and celebrate”.  We will have live music, appetizers and desserts, and the highlight of the evening (besides the music) will be a hat contest!  Put on a unique and interesting hat – hand-made or uniquely embellished and join our party!  There will be prizes for the best hats, and our winners will be chosen by our party guests! 

Thanks to everyone who helped us to put together the symposium “It’s My Breath, It’s My Music”, especially Mike DeCesare, and Jonas Braasch.  It was a huge success and we look forward to doing another symposium in the Fall.