Arts for Living

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich

Co-founders and directors Rich Smucker and Laura DeLoye created a program in San Luis Obispo through United Cerebral Palsy called “Arts for Living.” This program provides an opportunity for people with developmental disabilities to express themselves, engage in social situations, and improve life skills through different kinds of art. Rich and Laura were kind enough to answer some questions I had about Arts for Living, and one component in particular: their Music Clubs.

What was the inspiration behind Arts for Living?

We both work as board certified music therapists, each with over 15 years of experience connecting with people with developmental disabilities through music, supporting caregivers and coordinating community art projects. We believe that experiencing music and art is a vital, functional, and productive part of a community. All parts of life are steeped in melody, harmony, rhythm and aesthetics. From the rhythm of the contour of hills along the Cuesta grade, to the harmonic rhythms of the cars traveling along Highway 1, all parts of living contain the art of music. Recognizing the need for people with disabilities to share in the expression of self and their journey, living fully in and through art, the name Arts for Living came about.

With the support of UCP (United Cerebral Palsy of San Luis Obispo County), we secured grant funding last fall to begin our program. We were able to connect with people with developmental disabilities and their families throughout the county, as well as create a space where music and art are shared in a success-oriented atmosphere.

What activities are included in the Music Clubs?

Drumming, singing, handbell playing, and movement to music. The first quarter evolved to find that everyone really engaged through rhythm and drumming. Through facilitated rhythm circle interventions, everyone was sharing their creative spirit and engaging in the group. We then went through the process of creating our own drums.

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Proud participants displaying their decorated drums.

Thanks to some assistance from Hayward Lumber, we designed a tubano sized drum for each person. The drums were decorated according to each person’s taste. This process culminated in playing drums with “Swing for Joy” at the UCP spring fundraiser “Night Without Limits.” Swing for Joy is our Big Band of community based, skilled musicians supporting inclusive, live performances with Music Club members.

We also sing as a group during each Music Club session, which assists each person in supporting their vocalization goals. Singing enhances their vocal capacity to speak more clearly, loudly, or at a more even pace. This fall, we will be starting a Glee Club, bringing interested community members together with people with developmental disabilities through joyful, musical exchange.

In your experience, how does music therapy differ from other kinds of art therapies?

We believe all arts and art therapies compliment each other: in hearing a rhythmic beat, your body moves and dances; in painting on a canvas, colors join together in harmony to create an entire piece; the melodic lines of poetry flow to create a scene in our mind. This is the essence of Arts for Living – where life is art, music is vital for learning and living, and stories are our lives.

Music touches nearly everyone in so many ways. Not only do both hemispheres of the brain process music, but so does our heart. This is why people of all cultures, abilities, and ages hold on to “their music” for their lifetime. This makes music very accessible to many different people, and is why we turn to different songs for comfort, energy, and focus. The class can be tailored to meet physical, psychological, and physiological goals that can be integrated into all areas of their lives.

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In a therapeutic setting, how does playing music compare to just listening to music?

When people are only able to listen, music can still engage them physiologically and emotionally. Playing music engages your entire being – physically, emotionally, cognitively, physiologically. When singing or playing, all parts of a person are engaged and focused. Rhythmic variations and wide dynamic changes are a significant part of the communication tools that we successfully explore. When playing with another person or in a group, there is a social aspect that takes place. In creating music, the expression of the music is adjustable. For instance, the tempo, dynamics, and style can be changed. In listening to music, the listener does not have the control to adjust these parts.

What is your favorite part of Music Club? 

A favorite part reverberates outside of the regularly scheduled classes (Thursday afternoons in SLO and Tuesday evenings in Atascadero). Coordinating with our community to share the Music Club members’ joys, talents, and music, through Swing for Joy or engaging with other groups. We even joined the Morro Bay High School Band in one of their pieces at their spring concert in Cal Poly’s Performing Arts Center.

Seeing the smiles on the participants’ faces when they realize they created that sound, played that rhythm, sang that song, shared their inspiration, and connected with someone else – that is the best part.

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Find out more about Arts for Living on the UCP website: http://ucp-slo.org/affiliates/arts-for-living.

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