Thursdays are Art Days at the school within Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California.
It's a time for children to be creative despite spinal cord injuries, scars and disfigurement from burns and various orthopedic disabilities that limit mobility.
With a book of Claude Monet's paintings on the classroom's central oval table, the children channel the painter's style. With bright blue and yellow hues they create their own renditions of Monet's water lilies, with encouraging words from their teachers.
The walls of their sunny Sacramento classroom are covered with Picasso portraits and bright, abstract designs, pottery pieces and colorful butterflies all testament to previous Art Day gatherings.
Missing from the colorful displays are more than 20 pieces that were created through a springtime collaboration with the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra.
Julian Dixon, director of education and community engagement and principal tuba of the Philharmonic, teamed with an art specialist and other musicians to provide a setting over the course of three months for Shriners patients to blend music with art.
"Music and art have the same vocabulary, and the art allows the kids the vocabulary to connect to the music," said Dixon.
As the children listened to works ranging from Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony to popular rock songs played on tuba, flute, harp or viola, they painted, their colors and patterns reflecting the sounds they heard.
"Many people think that classical music isn't for kids," said Dixon, who begs to differ.
He explained to his young students the parallels between blends of colors in art and blends of instruments in music.
The technique not only allowed the patients to learn about the music and the instruments, but also proved to be therapeutic.
"It was inspiring, the way the kids danced and moved to the music as they painted," said Margaret Kugler, teacher and vocational rehabilitation counselor at Shriners.
"A lot of the kids have mobility issues, and we have used various devices to help them to hold a paintbrush. We saw them hear the music and actually move themselves."
"Some found it livening; I found it so relaxing," Alejandro Ordac, a 16-year-old patient from Mexico, said of Dixon's music. "I feel good when I draw to the music."
Ordac said he loves the sunny classroom, and arrives early in his wheelchair whenever he can to make the most of the daily activities before his treatment.
Rachelle Dixson, a teacher at Shriners, also noticed that the children reacted to the music.
"When the music was lively," she recounted, "they painted in vibrant colors. When the music was soft or slow, we asked them how the music made them feel, and saw that they used darker colors like blacks and blues and purples."
The collaboration at the hospital was part of a larger community partnership, called See the Music, Hear the Art. Initiated by the Philarmonic, it involved not only Shriners, but also Women Escaping a Violent Environment, Mustard Seed School at Loaves & Fishes, and the Sacramento Area Emergency Housing Center-Mother Campus.
The paintings from the entire collaborative program a series of 62 abstracts and landscapes, including the 20-plus contributions from Shriners will be on display at Sacramento's Crocker Art Museum until Aug. 26 as part of the museum's Education Center.
"Art can be so therapeutic for kids," said Stacey Shelnut-Hendrick, director of education at the Crocker. "They usually don't have a viable place to show their art, and that's what we provide."
See the Music, Hear the Art was made possible by grants from the Kelly Foundation, Wells Fargo and the Arata Brothers Trust.
"It is so empowering for the kids to see their art in a frame," said Dixon. "This collaboration exemplifies what the Philarmonic is all about. We are Sacramento's orchestra, and we want to keep bringing music to the folks."