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National Disability Employment Awareness Month: An Example Of Using Music As Vocation at BHMA

Image of Heather Silva, Mary Westgate, Matt Clougley, and Ben Monkaba posing together in the ensemble room.

Berkshire Hills Music Academy supports graduates of our Two-Year Transition Program in pursuing a number of vocational opportunities, depending on their area of interest. These individuals enter our LIVE (Long-term Independent Vocational Experience) program, and are supported to find paid work while simultaneously continuing to participate in the social, recreational, life skills, and musical opportunities BHMA has to offer. 

Some of our students pursue individual paid jobs working with children, in restaurants, offices, and other positions on-campus or within the local community, but we also have students who want to continue to use their passion for music as a springboard to work opportunities, and our LIVE Band is an example of that. As October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we wanted to celebrate just one example of the ways in which our community members are engaged in paid work in the community. 

The LIVE. Band (now bands) is a small group of students from the school's LIVE program with an aptitude toward music and the basic skills and stamina necessary to maintain engagement in lengthy rehearsals and multiple weekly performances. 

The group was created as a continuation of the 2nd Year Music and Human Service class, with the added goal of achieving regular, paid, work as performers.  This idea was well received by the nursing facilities with whom we currently had relationships and has been embraced by many more since.  During the LIVE Band's inaugural year, we visited a series of 5 nursing facilities each month with compensation from each.  In some instances we have done promotional gigs to facilitate the development of new contracts but all other performances are paid with 100% of the profit going directly to the student performers. 

At a typical LIVE Band concert, we arrive at the the nursing home and, during various stages of setup, greet the residents so that they can better know who will be performing for them and for the members to strengthen their conversational skills.  We then give a 45-minute performance, complete with introductions and prompts to engage the residents to sing-along, dance, or move in ways that are comfortable to them.  The music is picked with care to address the particular ages at the facility with material that is engaging and familiar.  

The initial band was such a success that there is now a second LIVE Band doing similar work.  The first L.I.V.E. Band is now performing twice per week, and both groups perform at a network of 11 contracted nursing facilities in the area.  

Please take a moment to watch the video below, which features most of our inaugural LIVE Band: Mary on vocals, Heather, who is a vocalist and auxiliary percussionist, Matt, who plays alto and tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute, and violin, & Ben, who plays the drumset, auxiliary percussion, & is a vocalist. If you are interested in hiring the LIVE Band, please contact Andy Anderson. BHMA currently features two L.I.V.E. Bands, a Performance Troupe, and individual music performers. 

We are so excited to be able to support all of our graduates in seeking out and maintaining vocational opportunities in their areas of interest. After all, doing work that you love is one of the key foundations of a successful adult life. 

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