RockAbility connects musicians with different disabilities to typical musicians who currently gig and record. At most performances, someone asks me how this project got started. Here’s the background.
The idea for RockAbility came to me when I heard a fantastic singer perform the National Anthem at a Special Olympics softball game. She belted it out with confidence and on pitch. She was so solid a vocalist that I assumed she was in a band. When she told me she hardly sang, my immediate reaction was that her voice was going to waste. This made me wonder how many other musicians were in the DD community who had spent much of their time in high school practicing an instrument or singing, only to graduate and find themselves without bandmates, rehearsals and concerts. It didn’t take me long to identify a drummer, flute player, guitarist, another singer and a few percussionists in a similar situation.
As a mom familiar with the challenges of communicating with people who have autism or Down’s, it was important to me to involve neurotypical musicians who could demonstrate teamwork and good musicianship. So, I contacted the musicians I knew who not only were proficient on their instruments but also had big hearts and a desire to share music with others. Once I had a core of about 12 mentor musicians who agreed to rehearse weekly, I took the idea to the Geauga County Board of Developmental Disabilities in December of 2021, and shared my vision for RockAbility. They agreed to support the idea and even gave us free rehearsal space. Since then, this integrated band has been practicing and performing several times a month.
RockAbility and Mental Health
The RockAbility project is exciting on a couple levels. First, we provide a consistent opportunity for musicians of all abilities to work on their musicianship at home. This alone is valuable for it provides a productive outlet for everyone to improve their individual skills. And, if folks are practicing their music, they aren’t bored. They’re less likely to wallow in negativity. They’re more likely to feel good about what they’re doing – which translates to feeling good about themselves. This contributes to making a more harmonious homelife for families. Plus, all this home practice benefits the larger scope for the whole band.
RockAbility and Friendships
Another great perk about RockAbility is that people are meeting each other who share a love of music. Some of the mentor musicians have had mini rehearsals with their RockAbility peers in between our weekly practices. New, positive social media connections are being made. And, RockAbility musicians are attending some of the mentor musicians’ bands’ gigs.
RockAbility Performances – Confidence Boosters
RockAbility plays both small ensemble performances at open mics and coffee shops as well as full-scale two-hour rock shows. Every time our musicians get on stage and share their music, they reaffirm to themselves the value of discipline, practice, collaboration and good musicianship. They trust their abilities more and more and take ownership of the material.
Music is Good Medicine
It’s impossible to be in a bad mood after playing “Stand By Me” or “Johnny B Goode” or “Believe in Yourself.” Everyone walks out of rehearsals feeling good vibes and energy. Playing with a larger group brings energy and a sense of camaraderie. Anyone who loves making music understands the value of solo practice as well as time spent playing with other people. Learning a tricky passage and then performing it with bandmates is a sure way to feel good about yourself. Add a driving beat and a few guitars, and feeling good is contagious! Our song selection is typically upbeat and uplifting.
What does RockAbility Play?
This group of 20ish RockAbility musicians plays mostly rock, pop and country songs spanning several decades. A few songs on our setlist include:
- My Town – Michael Stanley Band
- Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash
- Chain of Fools – Aretha Franklin
- Crocodile Rock – Elton John
- Jumpin’ Jack Flash – Rolling Stones
- Have You Ever Seen the Rain – Credence Clearwater Revival
- Horse With No Name – America
We’re always adding new ones!
NPower Services’ mission is to engage people with developmental disabilities in positive, constructive, meaningful activities. RockAbility aims to support good mental health practices by providing opportunities for musicians to participate in high-quality music programming that fosters:
- Increased confidence
- Building community connections
- Elevating self-advocacy
- Establishing & building touch-points with audiences
- Demonstrating integration in action
- Improving musical skills
- Having fun and rocking out!