“THE ROLE OF MUSIC IN THE LIVES OF SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN & ADULTS”
Nine years ago, Pat Qualls, retired music educator, started teaching Vivian Hardin, a 16-year-old autistic girl, to play the harp. After one year of lessons with much success, she had the vision to promote a concert presented by special needs performers. As a lifelong performer and teacher, she could see desire in Vivian’s eyes. A willingness to practice and be successful, just as any other person with talent would. She and special people like her needed an outlet, an opportunity, and a platform to express and showcase talent. Qualls sought out others like her and found them.
In April, 2010, sponsored by the Jonesboro Treble Clef Club, four musicians and one artist put on a program for the ages. These individuals shed the label “disabled” and entertained an audience that held their breath and applauded with sincere appreciation of their hard work and superb performances. One performer was a young lady vocalist with cerebral palsy; another young man played a clarinet, he has autism, Qualls harp student with autism, a violinist & drummer who also has autism, and an artist with cerebral palsy.
The first concert was an astounding success. Each subsequent concert has grown in number of participants, musicianship and audience. The May 3, 2015, Concert had over 60 special needs musicians ranging in ages from 13 to Sr. Citizens with mental and physical disabilities: autism, CP, downs syndrome, MS, blindness, some in wheel chairs. Talents included male and female vocalists and vocal ensemble; band; harpist, pianist; violinist, Native American flute player, and mandolin player. A liturgical dance duo from Atlanta, Georgia traveled to Jonesboro to participate in the program. Also featured are special needs artists, sculptors, and painters. One of the artists draws with a paint brush in her pony tail!
The Overcomers Choir from the Jonesboro Central Baptist Special Ministries, co-directed by Qualls and Lynn Williams joined the program in 2014. The Overcomers have performed many concerts in northeast Arkansas, Hot Springs, Little Rock, Arkansas and Sikeston, Missouri. They have been taped by VTN, a Christian TV station in Arkansas.
This concert is unique, interesting, entertaining, and Qualls has yet to find another as successful anywhere in the U.S. She believes strongly in this program and the positive impact it is having on these musicians and artists - a sense of identity and belonging, improved self-confidence, improved social and verbal skills. She wants to share what is taking place in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Tell the world that persons with a disability, sometimes set aside by society and pitied, can share music from their heart and talent often overlooked, with the rest of the world, and the world be entertained.
The 7th annual Concert was presented May 3, 2016, again in the beautiful Fowler Performing Arts Center, on the campus of Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas. This Concert featured 79 different special needs musicians and artists. Talents included: male and female singers, band, violinist, mandolin player, harpist and Native American flute player. Qualls considers this program to be the "Special Olympics for the Arts".
In addition to the annual Concert each spring, there are other opportunities in which many of the special needs musicians participate including: assisted living and nursing homes; area churches, organizations including Sigma Alpha Iota and Alpha Delta Kappa Nu Chapter.
October, 2015, Qualls and Julia Lansford were invited to bring a small group of special needs musicians to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. These 8 musicians participated in a seminar with a group of education and music students, followed by a Concert that evening. To say this was a success with the faculty and students, being in awe of the talents, would be a huge understatement.
Treble Clef Club member, Robin Yates, believed these special needs musicians were capable of performing with Jonesboro’s Delta Symphony Orchestra. That became a reality on October 23, 2016, when the Delta Symphony Orchestra partnered with the Treble Clef Club and special needs musicians to present a concert in Riceland Hall. Under the direction of Dr. Neale Bartee, founder of the Delta Symphony Orchestra 45 years ago, assisted by his wife Elaine, half of the Concert consisted of orchestral music written by composers with a disability, such as Beethoven who was deaf and Bach who was blind. The other half of the Concert featured special needs musicians performing with the Orchestra – singers, violinist, harpist, Native American flute player and band. The musicians ranged in ages from 15 years to Sr. Citizen.
The 111-year-old Treble Clef Club has continued to be the sponsor of these concerts, as well as members being active participants in the production of each concert. All Concerts are always free.
Qualls said the outpouring of support from the community has been overwhelming, including sponsors; teachers; parents; aides, volunteers and especially Arkansas State University.
These special individuals look forward to this Concert all year long. They work hard preparing for their big night and love to dress in their tux and formal dress. They have no fear of being on stage, with “stage fright” being a word that is not in their vocabulary.
The 8th Annual Special Needs Music Concert was presented Tuesday, May 2, 2017, in the Arkansas State University Fowler Center’s Riceland Hall in Jonesboro, AR. beginning at 7:00 pm. The Little Light of Mine Liturgical Dancers from Atlanta, under the direction of Linda Weaver, will travel to Jonesboro for the third year to participate in this year’s Concert. Weaver said “I never dreamed a program like this existed, much less that the Little Light of Mine dancers would have the opportunity to participate in this amazing concert. Over 75 different musicians, dances and artists performed to an almost capacity audience.
In addition to performing on the annual Concert, Little Light of Mine Liturgical Dancers, accompanied by the Overcomers choir, will present their entire program, Wednesday, May 2, at Fellowship Bible Church, 1801 Woodsprings Road in Jonesboro, AR 72401. The program begins at 6:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
The 2017 production featured 80 different musicians, dancers & artists ranging in ages from 12 years old to Sr. Citizen. Proving that special needs musicians can perform on the stage alongside professional musicians, nine professional musicians accompanied several of the acts. They included: piano, oboe, drums, trumpet, trombone, bass, flute, clarinet and tuba. Admission is free and open to the public. After the 2017 concert, an almost packed house left saying, “I never thought this year’s concert could top last year’s concert, but it certainly did top last year’s outstanding concert.
The 2018 9th Annual Concert will feature sixteen different musical acts and seven artists.