Special needs choir in Indianapolis builds confidence, breaks down barriers

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A unique choir is helping children with special needs find their voice.

“They do warm-ups, they practice their music but also they play games; they learn about the technical part of performing and music on a level that they can understand,” said Denise Shelby.

Her son, Eric, is part of that choir group called Jubilate. The program is part of the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, specifically for children with special needs. They focus on proper singing techniques, music theory and sight-reading. They have the same goals as the rest of the ICC.

Denise says Eric has really thrived in Jubilate and she loves seeing him grow within the program.

“He’s always loved music, he’s always loved singing and it’s just a great opportunity for him to get out and do something on a weekly basis that he really enjoys,” said Denise. “He’s gotten to meet a lot of new friends that he’ll be able to be friends with for quite some time.”

But what’s special about this program isn’t just what’s being taught musically. It helps build confidence and break down barriers.

“When he first got there he was nervous, didn’t know what to expect,” said Denise. “But having all of the assistants there in the practice scenario and everything, he’s just developed a confidence. He’s developed knowledge and skills, and I think he’s really been able to discuss those things with his teachers at school and the individuals that he interacts with.”

And those skills are transferring into positive growth into Eric’s school and personal life. So much so that his teachers have even encouraged his mom to keep him in Jubilate.

“He’s getting support from all of the different environments that he’s in, so I think that’s been something that’s been really nice,” said Denise.

The idea for Jubilate came from Director Lauren Southard. She’s always believed music has a place for everyone.

“I realized that while we’re out teaching all children, some with special needs or disabilities, that we didn’t’ have a choir where they could come to us,” said Southard. “So, we needed the Jubilate choir – a choir for children with special needs who, for one reason or another, would maybe not participate in one of our other choir programs.”

And Jubilate was born.

She and her assistants make sure to take time with each of the kids, giving them the special attention, they need to help them learn singing and music at their own pace.

“Some of our singers aren’t very vocal; they are still working on making sounds with their families at home, let alone talking or speaking words and so, maybe half of the choir is singing the words and maybe a couple of us are working on making a vocal ‘ooo’ sound,” said Southard. “We also can work on social skills. How do you react if you’re a very high-functioning singing in our Jubilate group – how do you react when someone who isn’t doing as much as you? It might be frustrating you, it might be frustrating the process, because you want to go faster but we have to stop and do something for someone else and so how do we approach that social situation. Because we’re a choir, we’re a team that has to work together.”

“And so, in Jubilate we can get up and we can dance around when we need a break,” Southard goes on to say. “In another choir, maybe it’s time to really put our performance skills to the test and we’re sitting and we’re standing, and we’re seeing our self-control. And our self-control might need to get there in stages in Jubilate.”

Denise says finding Jubilate has been a blessing for her family and Eric. And Eric would probably agree!

“I would definitely recommend going there because it’s a fun choir,” said Eric. “It’s awesome!”

The current Jubilate class will have a special performance on May 11th in Lilly Hall at Butler.

Everyone is invited to attend. For more information on tickets, click here. For more information on Jubilate, click here.

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