Ned Hammad has only strummed two chords on his guitar, and already the mood in the room shifts dramatically.
Wheelchairs begin jiggling slightly as their occupants wiggle and move. Several students begin clapping along.
One taps a tambourine from the second row, trying to keep pace with the beat of the song. Another grins wildly, moving his wheelchair forward and back and making sounds as if trying to sing along.
Hammad, a certified music therapist, had spent the past 15 minutes turning a question-and-answer session about a party into lyrics. Their words became music. And music became joy.
At United Cerebral Palsy of Sacramento and Northern California’s Adult Day Program, music is one of the most sought-after sessions.
“Music, as they say, is a whole-body, whole-brain experience,” Hammad said. “There are so many components – rhythm, melody, harmony, lyrics, as well as emotional, sensory, reasoning – and that’s all receptive learning.”
It also provides a range of learning experiences. Hand students an instrument that they can shake with one hand, and they will try to stay on beat. Students socialize as they come up with words for lyrics about birds and the Statue of Liberty.
Those who perform for others, as was the case one recent afternoon, are learning teamwork.
“They are learning language, meaning and understanding of the written word, and music helps with that,” said Loie Rhodes, program manager for UCP’s Adult Day Programs in North Highlands.
While music is just one of the programs available for students at Aero Haven School, which serves individuals 22 and older who have developmental disabilities ranging from epilepsy to spina bifida, it can make a huge difference in their lives.
Music is therapy, whether playing an instrument or listening, said Doug Bergman, president and CEO of UCP of Sacramento and Northern California.
“Even if they themselves can’t do it, they’ll benefit from just hearing the music,” he said.
Book of Dreams readers are asked to help purchase more instruments for the program. Things as simple as shaker eggs, drum pads and maracas would mean more involvement for students. More opportunity. More joy.
“It would be a real shot in the arm for this program,” Hammad said.