Music Therapy Helping Students at Western PA School for the Blind Experience Music in the Great Outdoors

A school in Western Pennsylvania has added new special additions to its campus to enhance the lives of its students - all through sound and vibration.

The Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children with over 190 students as well as a child care center for the employees of the school and an adult day program for graduates of the school, has created outdoor music areas for everyone to enjoy with Percussion Play instruments.

A generous donor, Ray Wojszynski runs a program for the creative arts where performers visit the school to perform and introduce music and the arts to students. Ray Wojszynski has now donated a range of outdoor musical instruments to give the students and future students something tangible, lasting, and permanent to enjoy making their own music on.

The instruments were chosen by the school and Sue Wiedder, Director of Development and Communications. They include the Stepping Stones, which are perfect for all students including the 75% who use wheelchairs for mobility. A Sunflower shaped Petal Drum along with colorful Harmony Flowers. The most popular are the Tubular Bells with their outstanding resonance and rich deep tones which the students can feel as well as hear.

Sue Wiedder comments on how they chose the instruments; “The students that attend our school are visually impaired or blind or some have a residual vision. All have medical complexities and physical and cognitive disabilities and some are non-verbal so they use adaptive communication devices. We, therefore, had to take our time deciding which instruments would be best. We originally had some items chosen but when I talked to Robin, the Co-Founder of Percussion Play, he told me about the Tubular Bells and a story of how a student who although deaf and blind, still enjoyed playing the bells because they could feel the vibrations along the chimes.”

The school has 5.5 acres of land within an urban city and decided to create multiple areas for the students to play with the instruments. All of the instruments were installed by the school’s buildings and grounds staff after the lockdowns due to COVID were finished.

Sue Wiedder continues; “Each student has a whole educational team including a teacher of the visually impaired, speech and language pathologist, school psychologist and case managers. All of the teachers can see how much the outdoor musical instruments have enhanced our students’ lives.”

Kelly Welsh, Certified Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) at the school says about one of her students; “Isaiah is primarily a tactile learner meaning he accesses his environment and surroundings by touch. He does have some light perception in one eye, hence him soaking up the sun in one of the pictures. Due to his profound hearing and visual loss, he needs to use his other senses such as touch and smell to better understand what is going on around him. Within the classroom he uses sign language for core vocabulary words such as eat, drink, go, more, finished, he uses tactile symbols, and physical prompts to help him throughout his school day. As for the Tubular Bells, Isaiah is probably feeling the movement of the bells as they are played as well as the vibrations that come from striking the bells. Isaiah loves movement and gross motor activities so it's not a surprise that he enjoyed the Tubular Bells so much.”

Sue Wiedder concludes; “I can’t say enough good things about the instruments. They're such a positive asset for our school, especially for the population of students that we have. The big thing is accessibility but when you see a student with the mallets in their hands and they’re hitting the tubular bells and seeing the smiles on their faces and their reaction, that makes it all worth it – music is amazing. All I heard was such calming and pleasant sounds.”

Jody Ashfield, Co-Founder, and CEO of Percussion Play said “This project is a great example of how music can be enjoyed by everyone, including people who have sensory impairments. The vibrations that they make are all part of the experience of music. We also design our instruments to be bright and colorful, which will particularly help the students at the Western PA School for Blind Children.”