Last week, master special needs teachers from around Venezuela came to the city of Calabozo to give clinics to the special needs community at Nucleo Calabozo I.
Jhonny Gomez, the national leader of the special needs movement in El Sistema, was included in the visiting teacher group. He taught “Braille Musicology” alongside Gustavo, a composer who grew up in the Barquisimento special needs program for blind children.
This musical braille pedagogy is based on a method from Colombia; Pedro Andrade: “Orientaciones para la Enseñanza de la Musicografia Braille”, Instituto Nacional Para Ciegos. *Many thanks to my colleague Alvaro Rodas for this information* The method is a combination of braille “dots” that represent the note name and rhythm.
Students had an ear training session after the music notation session. Visually impaired students advance much faster than non-visually impaired students in ear training because their sense of hearing is much stronger. To demonstrate this point, the composer Gustavo accurately identified multiple chords and tone clusters played on the piano. Gustavo did not always have perfect pitch, but has trained his ear.
Jhonny expressed that in first starting a special needs program, it is best to begin with visually impaired students first. “They will have the fastest success with music, and it is empowering for them and for you.” From here, after you have gained success with your first special needs group, you can branch out to hearing impaired children and then other special needs.
Two of the visually impaired children- brother and sister Jose and Diosa- performed for us in the back of the choir room after some encouragement. Both were shy to sing at first, but once they began, incredible.
Music education gives a child a stronger sense of self. This is especially important for special needs students who often suffer from low self-esteem. At Calabozo I, the special needs students I met were confident, articulate and ambitious.When I asked hearing impaired students why they enjoyed being in the white hands choir, they answered:
- “deaf children can also sing through signing”
- “I love the integration that happens between special needs and non special needs”
- “Collaborations with the orchestra, large choir and other nucleos are incredible”
- ““We develop ourselves personally through sign language and through music”
“My kids can see the sound, clean and clear”- Jhonny Gomez
One of the most beautiful things at Nucleo Calabozo I is how effortlessly the special needs program is intertwined within the life of the nucleo. Special needs students have the support, pedagogy and curriculum they need, but the program does not feel separate; hearing and non-hearing students joke around through sign language before rehearsal begins, seeing and non-seeing little girls laugh and sing together while waiting for their parents at the end of the day.
El Sistema is an integration tool for special needs students, with music as the vehicle. Through the program, students feel welcome by their peers, fully participate in the community and gain self-confidence through their art.