AMASE volunteers encourage environment of musical expression for people with disabilities


Source: Jeffrey Wang

Students and participants in Northwestern’s AMASE program practice the guitar. The group gathers on Saturdays to foster a shared passion for music and art.

Kelley Czajka, Reporter


Every Saturday morning, Parkes Hall fills with melodies from the keyboard, guitar and the unique wind pipe instrument called the boomwhacker.

A group of Northwestern students gathers with a group of people with disabilities to play music as part of Northwestern’s Academy of Music and Arts for Special Education, a program that aims to foster a shared passion for music and art, said co-operations director Keishel Lee, a Bienen sophomore.

AMASE started 10 years ago as a prayer meeting amongst music teachers in Cupertino, California, and was brought to NU in 2010 by Hee Jae Choi (Communication ‘13), who had been involved in the Cupertino chapter, Lee said. Lee added that AMASE aims to provide a space where people with disabilities can express themselves through music.

NU’s AMASE program is the only chapter out of the three to be associated with a university, said co-operations director Brandon Lin, a Bienen sophomore.

“We just want to transfer our love of music to them so they can integrate this important part of our life into their lives,” Lin said. “It’s something that we love to wake up for on Saturday mornings just to see our students come in with smiles on their faces, and they’re always so happy to come learn music.”

Every week, each AMASE student has a 30-minute private music lesson with two NU volunteers, followed by 15 minutes of arts and crafts and 15 minutes of music and dancing with the entire group of students and volunteers, Lee said.

Each lesson is spent working on something, from simple rhythm clapping to short songs on the piano, Lee said, and the lessons culminate in a concert at the end of every quarter. She added that each quarter has a theme — for this quarter’s space theme, the students made paper astronaut helmets and their group performance song is “Fly Me To The Moon” by Frank Sinatra.

Along with its weekly lessons, AMASE hosts different events throughout the year. Thursday will be the second AMASE Playathon in which volunteers will play music at three locations around campus to bring attention to their organization and collect donations that will go toward future events, Lin said.

Since coming to NU, the club has greatly increased its presence on campus, Lee said. She explained that it has grown from having as few as three students participate per quarter to around 20 or 25 students and about 40 volunteers.

Weinberg junior Kara Ferracuti, who has volunteered with AMASE since her freshman year, has seen the organization grow and change over the past three years, but she said something that has remained constant is that she has worked with the same student for her entire experience.

“She’s really incredible,” Ferracuti said. “She’s really gotten to trust me over the years, and also I’ve been able to learn things from her and about her, things that might not be necessarily immediately apparent. I’m always astounded by how she understands things and how she can just play music.”

Ferracuti said her experience with AMASE has improved her communication and leadership skills, and even impacted her academic path. Because of her experience with the program, she switched her major from chemistry to psychology and now researches autism spectrum disorder in the Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Lab.

While AMASE has changed the lives of its volunteers and students, Lee said the organization’s importance spans far beyond that.

“People with disabilities or the term ‘special needs’ in general is something that we as a community don’t talk about often or we don’t discuss in a general setting or we’re afraid to talk about it,” Lee said. “What our organization is doing is sort of raising awareness that these are people, we should include them.”

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