New Event: Celebrating the Spectrum, A Festival of Music and Life

College of Music partners with MSU research consortium to explore autism and piano musicianship.

The final concert of the festival will be held in the beautifully renovated Cook Recital Hall of the Music Building.
Six MSU Colleges and about 90 faculty are engaged in various projects and efforts through RAIND.
Participant applications will be accepted through May 1, 2016.

A first-of-its kind summer piano festival through the MSU College of Music will provide advanced music students on the autism spectrum the chance to preview life as a collegiate musician.

Slated for July 24-31, the 2016 “Celebrating the Spectrum: A Festival of Music and Life” will immerse 10 pre-college students in a daily schedule that emulates a week-in-the-life of a music major in a college setting. The festival will culminate in two concerts, featuring students, faculty, and student mentors. The second concert will be open to the public in the College’s Cook Recital Hall.

“Our number one goal is to provide an incredibly inspiring, high-level artistic experience for these students,” says Derek Polischuk, associate professor of piano and director of piano pedagogy. “We’d also like to improve perceptions families may have about the possibility of having their student with ASD attend a university.”

Polischuk says the idea for the MSU festival was prompted from his experience teaching piano to students on the autism spectrum through the MSU Community Music School. Working with Professor of Piano Deborah Moriarty, chair of the piano area, they sought the support of the RAIND Program—the MSU-based institute for Research In Autism, Intellectual And Neurodevelopmental Disabilities

“Music is a language that speaks across many borders and often opens unexpected doors,” Moriarty says.  “We hope that celebrating and highlighting the abilities of young musicians on the autism spectrum will provide an exciting and enriching experience for students, families, and audience members as well as increasing awareness of the RAIND program and MSU’s commitment to this project.” Insterested students on the Autism Spectrum can apply online. Applications for registration will be accepted through May 1, 2016.

The RAIND Program was receptive to the concept pitched by Moriarty and Polischuk, and recognized the potential to collaborate on an event that combines research, outreach, artistry, and education that serve autistic students and families. 

“We’re a multi-disciplinary effort, and bringing music in adds to the program,” says Ian Gray, who helped create the RAIND Program. “As faculty, we’re constantly learning from one another. I love thinking about and seeing all things our university can do to improve the lives of others.”

The College of Music, Gray says, brings powerful perspective and expertise to the consortium of six MSU Colleges and about 90 faculty engaged in various projects and efforts through RAIND.

“The RAIND Program involves so many different units on campus,” says Dean James Forger of the College of Music. “We are pleased to be part of the efforts and to shine a light on autism and the interdisciplinary research underway at MSU through the upcoming festival.”

Setting the stage

After receiving RAIND’s support, Polischuk and Moriarty lined up expertise on and off-campus, and began recruiting students and their families. Most important, they formulated daily schedules that include master classes on solo and four-hand piano repertoire taught by Moriarty and Polischuk.

Each day will also include hour-long lectures by national and international educators  to give students a feel for the academic components of college life. A guided Pilates class will provide R&R in between classes, with lunch, dinner and evening activities on the MSU campus. Each student will be paired with a College of Music student mentor, while the MSU Office of Disability Services will consult on special accommodations students, families and aids may need, including overnight lodging on- or off-campus.

Connie Wible, owner of Musical Mind Music Studios in Washington, is among the piano teachers nationwide who have advised on the festival format and approach. A veteran piano teacher, Wible is known for her adapted piano and keyboard instruction for children with autism spectrum, Asperger’s syndrome, attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, and behavior disorders.

“For a musically gifted student, this is a rare opportunity to practice leaving home and trying college life with excellent support from staff and aids,” says Wible who will attend the festival with a couple of her students. “Once autistic students leave high school, parents often find there are not many programs available for them. This is changing, but not enough to meet the needs of the 1 in 68 children being diagnosed with autism every year.”

While the number one outcome of the festival is a positive experience for students, organizers hope to analyze the effectiveness of particular teaching methods as well as the qualitative effect the daily musical routine has on attitudes and behaviors. Other research may look at how the festival experience affects the perceptions students and families may have about attending college.

“Internally, this festival presents a great opportunity for research and collaboration across colleges and units,” says Gray. “It’s also a nice outreach piece for the University and tells the public that we care and want to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Celebrating the Spectrum: A Festival of Music and Life is sponsored by Michigan State University as part of the RAIND Program, with generous support provided by the MSU Office of the Provost, and the following corporate sponsors and donors: Sparrow Health System and the MSU Federal Credit Union, as well as generous support from MSU alumni and friends: April Clobes and Glen Brough, Merritt and Candy Lutz, Bill and Sandy Mason, Jack and Karen Noonan, along with support from the Frances Baldwin Mulnix Endowment Fund at MSU. Special thanks to Dean Transportation for generously providing all transportation needs for festival participants.

Private support will provide dollars to sponsor each student participant, enabling them to attend the festival tuition free. Funds will also cover stipends for College of Music student mentors who will be buddied-up with the festival participants.

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