With the colored accent wall of the Purple Studio as a backdrop, second-year student Mark sits atop a bench in the midst of his weekly piano lesson. He alternates between smiling and looking pensively at how his fingers are moving on the black and white keys. The joy he gets from making music is clear. Mark, a twenty-year old who hails from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, has been playing piano since his early days in elementary school. Upon coming to Berkshire Hills Music Academy, he has taken up voice lessons as well, and is making strides to sing and play piano at the same time. Mark has Noonan Syndrome and is also affected by hearing problems, but what more accurately defines him is his love of jazz music, the artist Dave Brubeck, and the song “Take Five.” The musical atmosphere at BHMA is thus well suited for Mark and his passion for jazz, and it has allowed him to gain other key skills on the path to independence.
When Mark first came to BHMA, he was nervous, but as he reflects now, it is “awesome” to be where he is. As a second-year student, Mark was selected to live in the men’s apartment on campus—a huge achievement, and a testament to his successes in the program. Mark enjoys cooking in the apartment’s kitchen, and has experimented with all of the recipes loaded on our assistive technology devices. In addition to being a cooking extraordinaire, Mark is a fixture in the community here at BHMA. He is a member of the Special Olympics bowling team, Best Buddies, and the UMass Boltwood Project. He participates in the African Drumming Ensemble and Jazz and Soul, among other music classes. His Music and Human Services Instructor Johannah Ross describes Mark as "very professional," and she goes on to say that he "knows how to have fun and has a great sense of humor, which brings a lot of fun energy to the class." Mark has also recently become a part of the church choir at St. Patrick’s. With every group he joins, Mark makes friends and thus solidifies the impact he has on our extended community. This includes animals as well, as Mark is a dog-lover and has thoroughly enjoyed spending time working at the Dakin Humane Society. He credits these different experiences with teaching him important lessons, such as how to be on time.
Mark will graduate from our Two-Year Transition Program in May, and he then plans to stay on with BHMA as a part of the LIVE Program. And eventually, he would like to be a member of the Troupe. As a final question, Mark is asked if he has any special skills, and he responds by stating that he can talk backwards. He demonstrates his prowess by saying ‘Erihskreb’ and 'Kram,' or, Berkshire and then his own name backwards. Mark is a special addition to our program because he is passionate, reliable, and uniquely himself. Mark, or ‘Kram,’ has capitalized on the potential that exists at BHMA, and he has generously spread joy to others along the way.