THE HEALING AND ENGAGING POWER OF THE ARTS: Jazz St. Louis’ “Beat NF”

Children with NF participating in Jazz St. Louis’ new program that combines jazz and physical therapy.

Children with NF participating in Jazz St. Louis’ new program that combines jazz and physical therapy.

A new program created by Jazz St. Louis (an A&E Sustaining Grant recipient), St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University Neurofibromatosis (NF) Center is addressing frequently delayed skills in children with Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1). The program, called “Beat NF,” combines jazz and physical therapy to promote socialization and improve gross motor skills in youngsters ages two to five with NF1.

“Dr. David Gutmann, who is a season subscriber at Jazz at the Bistro, is also director of the Washington University NF Center. He felt a program that blended the improvisational aspects of jazz with physical therapy would be greatly beneficial for these kids,” said Phil Dunlap, director of education for Jazz St. Louis. “The idea was to use jazz in an interactive way to help children improve their gross motor skills but make it so much fun, they wouldn’t even know they were getting therapy.”

Jazz St. Louis' "Beat NF" Program, April 2015

Jazz St. Louis’ “Beat NF” Program, April 2015

NF1 is a genetic condition that affects one in 2,500 individuals worldwide. It affects almost every organ system, causing a predisposition for tumors to grow throughout the body. Children with NF1 can also struggle with autism, developmental delays, learning problems and attention deficit.

Dunlap explains that with input from a physical therapist at Children’s, he and a Maryville University music therapist wrote most of the jazz for the program. “The music is designed to get the kids to do certain actions aimed at building their gross motor skills,” Dunlap said. “This includes making eye contact, improving coordination, following directions and playing instruments.”

To date, there have been three five week sessions, with a fourth session planned for this summer. Sessions are free and each has attracted between six and eight children and their parents.

Jazz St. Louis' "Beat NF" Program“We start each class with a welcoming song that’s meant to help these kids build confidence in a social setting,” said Dunlap. “The song is interactive so each child will stand up and say their name in front of the group. It’s a big thing for these kids to stand up and feel comfortable in front of others.”

Each class also introduces a “mystery instrument” through puzzle pieces the children assemble. A special guest is then revealed to play the mystery instrument, said Dunlap. Other songs are designed to get the children limber and working on motor movements, including shaking hands and navigating a small obstacle course.

Jazz St. Louis' "Beat NF" Program“Our physical therapist measures the motor capability of children at the start of each session,” explained Kirsten Brouillet, Team NF Coordinator at Washington University Neurofibromatosis (NF) Center, which administers the program. “She noted that a child who couldn’t balance at all on one foot was either doing so or was close to doing so by the fifth [week]. Another parent said her child’s speech pathologist noticed improvement over the time her child was in the Beat NF class.”

Trish Brennan, the mother of four year-old Connor, said the program allowed her son to practice skills that are challenging for him in the context of something he loves: music.

Jazz St. Louis' "Beat NF" Program“He would always share the instrument that was introduced in class and an interesting fact that he learned,” she said. “I’m not even sure he realized that he was working on the gross motor skills because the activities that were planned were engaging and fun. As parents, we appreciated the observant eyes of the professionals as well as getting the opportunity to meet other families affected by NF1 [through this program].”

Brouillet added prior to the program there was no group therapy program in place to work with NF1 children at such a young age. “We hope getting started with these kids this early will significantly help to improve their gross motor skills by the time they get to school,” she said.

Jazz St. Louis' "Beat NF" ProgramDunlap adds that tweaks to the program could create broader appeal. “We feel it could be a component of many early childhood programs and help children with all kinds of developmental delays and attention deficit,” he said. “We are exploring ways that we could use this program in the St. Louis public schools and bring it into early childhood programs.”

More information about NF1 can be found at nfcenter.wustl.edu. Jazz St. Louis is an A&E Operating Grant recipient. For more information visit: jazzstl.org/education-outreach.

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WORKPLACE GIVING: Ameren Corporation’s 30th Annual Campaign

Jim Maniaci (center) of Ameren Corporation with clown performers entertaining at Ameren's Workplace Giving Campaign event. Photo courtesy of Ameren Corporation.

Jim Maniaci (center) of Ameren Corporation with clown performers entertaining at Ameren’s Workplace Giving Campaign event. Photo courtesy of Ameren Corporation.

Ameren Corporation recently completed it’s 30th annual workplace giving campaign for the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis. During this year’s week-long fundraising effort, Ameren welcomed several A&E grantee organizations that performed for and entertained employees who contributed more than $113,000 to A&E’s “One Gift. A Million Returns!” annual campaign. In addition, Ameren made a corporate gift of $95,000 bringing the firm’s 2015 giving to just over $208,000.

Engaging and encouraging employees to support the arts and arts education since 1986, Ameren has contributed more than $2.9 million to the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.

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TEEN TALENT COMPETITION: Fox Theater Performing Arts Foundation

Emcee Ben Nordstrom (left), with scholarship winners Connor Low, Race Simmons, Christian X.M. McGhee and Cynthia A. Prost, president of the Arts and Education Council (right).

Emcee Ben Nordstrom (left), with scholarship winners Connor Low, Race Simmons, Christian X.M. McGhee and Cynthia A. Prost, president of the Arts and Education Council (right).

The Arts and Education Council presented a trio of teen musicians with a “Keep Art Happening” Scholarship at the Fox Theater Performing Arts Foundation Teen Talent Competition. The winners were: Christian X.M. McGhee, drummer, age 16, junior at Westminster Christian Academy; Race Simmons, vocalist, age 15, sophomore at Maplewood-Richmond Heights High School; and Connor Low, guitarist, age 15, sophomore at Liberty High School.

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THE HEALING AND ENGAGING POWER OF THE ARTS: STAGES St. Louis’ “Access the Arts”

STAGES St. Louis’ “Troupe Broadway” performs in the End of Year Showcases at The Kent Center for Theatre Arts.

STAGES St. Louis’ “Troupe Broadway” performs in the End
of Year Showcases at The Kent Center for Theatre Arts.

Opportunity seems to be the guiding principle behind STAGES St. Louis’ “Access the Arts” programs, which consist of classes, workshops and performances for young people with physical, cognitive or developmental delays, allowing them to fully participate in the performing arts.

“To my knowledge, we are the only professional musical theater company in the region that has programming for students with special needs, as well as having them be members of our Performing Arts Academy,” says Tali Allen, director of education at STAGES St. Louis (an A&E Operating Grant recipient). “We provide opportunities to those with special needs who otherwise might never have the chance to perform before an audience on stage.”

Students with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities participating in STAGES St. Louis’ “Access the Arts” program.

Students with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities participating in STAGES St. Louis’ “Access the Arts” program.

Roughly 350 students, including those with Down syndrome, visual impairments and autism, take part in “Access the Arts” programs annually. Many meet weekly for 90 minutes throughout the academic year to develop skills in acting, singing and dance. Students are divided into classes according to grade level, and while costs range from $450 to $570, no one is turned away due to inability to pay.

Special-needs students ages eight and above can also participate in three-week performance camps during the summer, which, like all of the “Access the Arts” programs, culminates in a talent showcase.

STAGES St. LouisIn addition, STAGES’ “Troupe Broadway,” an invitation-only program, gives special needs students the chance to be part of an ensemble and perform onstage in a musical revue at various venues throughout the St. Louis area. Our ATA students memorize their lines and songs, learn choreography and respond to the material just like all of our students at the Academy,” said Allen. “The great thing about musical theater is that everyone can appreciate and have fun with it.”

Both trained artists and special educators teach the “Access the Arts” classes. Katie Hayes is manager of STAGES’ outreach education, which collaborates with area schools to host inclusive classes on their campuses. These classes combine typically developing and special-needs students in workshops that last anywhere from a few months to an entire school year.

“What I notice in most of our “Access the Arts” programs is how  many of these kids go from being shy and unaware of their surroundings to more comfortable and confident,” said Hayes. “It’s amazing to see how far they come from when they started.

“I can’t tell you how many parents are surprised and so impressed to see their child speaking in sentences and singing on pitch because they weren’t able to do that before. These programs strengthen speech and movement skills and help them feel comfortable with their body language.” Allen points out that teachers and artists who work with these kids also get a lot out of the programs.

“It’s incredibly demanding on them. They are not just doing a lesson plan because the class can change from moment to moment,” she said. “But it’s incredibly rewarding. We really do feel we are making a positive impact in these students’ lives.”

STAGES St. Louis is an Arts and Education Council Operating Grant recipient. For more information visit STAGES St. Louis.

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GRANTEE SPOTLIGHT: Union Avenue Opera

Union Avenue Opera’s 2012 production of Das Rheingold, the first opera in Wagner’s Ring cycle.

Union Avenue Opera’s 2012 production of Das Rheingold, the first opera in Wagner’s Ring cycle.

Opera lovers have one more reason to love the summer – Union Avenue Opera’s 21st season opens July 10 with Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Union Avenue Opera, an Arts and Education Council PNC Project Grant recipient, will put on three operas during July and August: Don Giovanni July 10 to 18, Verdi’s Rigoletto July 31 to August 8 and Wagner’s Götterdämmerung August 21 to 29, all performed in the intimate setting of Union Avenue Christian Church.

“I’m looking forward to bringing three new operas into the UAO repertory. Though all three offerings are standard repertoire – they are all new to our stage,” says Scott Schoonover, Union Avenue Opera artistic director and conductor. “Over the years we have done plenty of Mozart, Verdi and now Wagner, but somehow after twenty years we are just now coming to these three masterpieces. It’s amazing to discover the breadth of the operatic genre – there is so much to explore! I can’t wait to hear our orchestra bring life to these three wonderful scores.”

Lise Lindstrom, Scott Schoonover and the UAO orchestra at our 20th Anniversary Gala in November 2014.

Lise Lindstrom, Scott Schoonover and the UAO orchestra at our 20th Anniversary Gala in November 2014.

“Audiences can expect classic productions of all three operas. We have an exciting blend of new singers and many friends from past seasons returning to our stage,” continues Schoonover. “Each of these three stories is powerfully dramatic and takes actors with a certain gravitas to pull them off believably. Similarly we have three wonderful directors (Jon Truitt, Tim Ocel and Karen Coe Miller) at the helm for these productions. We always try to hire directors that are committed to engaged story-telling and the ‘theater’ of opera.”

Jordan Shannahan as Alberich, David Dillard as the Wanderer, 2014 Siegfried

Jordan Shannahan as Alberich, David Dillard as the Wanderer, 2014 Siegfried

Union Avenue Opera was founded in 1994 by Schoonover with support from the Arts Group of Union Avenue with the goal of bringing affordable, professional, original-language opera to St. Louis. Union Avenue’s first production was Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in the summer of 1995.

This year’s production of Götterdämmerung marks the end of a four-year endeavor to present Wagner’s Ring cycle. “I am so glad and grateful that we took it on. It has certainly been a growing experience for me, for our singers, orchestra and our production crew. It has stretched all of us and in the end we are a stronger company for having taking on such a challenge.”

Bringing affordable opera to St. Louis audiences is only part of Union Avenue Opera’s mission. It is also dedicated to providing professional development opportunities to emerging artists. UAO prides itself on hiring based on ability rather than resume to provide promising singers a stepping stone for their professional careers. UAO also offers “Crescendo” – a free, hands-on, performance-based training program designed to further the education of emerging local artists who are preparing to join the St. Louis arts
community. The program gives undergraduate voice students the opportunity to work with Union Avenue Opera professionals and compete for scholarships and paid chorus positions in UAO productions.

2015 Crescendo Participants

2015 Crescendo Participants

“We just finished our second successful year of our Crescendo program which is a six week training ground for 24 undergrads from the St. Louis metro region.  The students get to work with top professionals in the business on honing their craft — working on vocalism, acting, diction, stagecraft and performance practice. The six weeks culminates with a judged public performance where we hand our $3,000 in scholarships to the top four artists,” comments Schoonover.  Also, up for grabs are spots in the chorus for the summer productions. This year we are able to hire 10 of them in the chorus which is especially gratifying as it extends their learning into the summer as they get to be surrounded by professional singers from all over the country and experience how a professional production is put together.  It’s one of my new favorite parts of UAO and I look forward to it’s growth.”

Union Avenue Opera is an Arts and Education Council PNC Project Grant recipient. To learn more and purchase tickets visit unionavenueopera.org.

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