Musical Motivation

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), December 24, 2009 | Go to article overview

Musical Motivation


Byline: Susan Dibble sdibble@dailyherald.com

Ten-year-old Spencer Hua of Naperville is taking his piano lesson at Wheaton College's Community School of the Arts and needs a break.

He asks instructor Beth Bauer to let him jump on the trampoline in her studio and she agrees.

"There is some correlation between jumping and getting the brain back to focus," Bauer says.

Spencer, who has autism, is one of 30 students in the Beethoven's Buddies program Bauer started five years ago to teach children with developmental disabilities how to play piano. He's been featured on "NBC Nightly News," and recently received a standing ovation when he played for a school program.

"Spencer is amazing. He gets it," Bauer said. "Once he sits down on the bench, you would never know he has autism."

Not all of Bauer's special needs students are as musically gifted as Spencer, but under her tutelage they all perform in ways many find amazing. Autism, Down syndrome, fragile x syndrome, vision impairment, attention deficient hyperactivity disorder and an array of other disabilities don't stop them from learning to play the piano.

"Every child who walks through the door is capable of learning something," Bauer said. "It's my job to figure out how to make sure they do."

For children who can't read, that means creating picture schedules. Children struggling to learn to read have separate flash cards to identify the symbols for notes and the names of the notes. All lessons begin and end with a bow.

"The key to all this stuff with special education is consistency, structure and boundaries," Bauer said. "They love it."

Bauer didn't set out to instruct children with disabilities or even to have a teaching career. The Wheaton native, who now lives in Winfield, wanted to perform after graduating from Wheaton College and going off to Northern Illinois University to work on her master's degree.

Damage to her ulnar nerve led a doctor to tell her she had a choice u continue to perform at the level she was and lose her ability to play altogether or aim for a more academic career.

Unhappy with her dilemma, Bauer had surgery on her nerve and went to her parents' home in Wheaton to recover. She was looking for a subject for her master's project when she asked to work with a neighbor's Down syndrome daughter and teach her how to play piano.

The paper she wrote on the experience came to the attention of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, which invited her to pursue the subject further while earning a doctoral degree.

"There's lots of stuff on music therapy, but mine was different in that I was actually teaching the kids how to play an instrument," Bauer said. …

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