Jam Club makes music magic for special needs children

Participants in new Maple Valley Youth Symphony Orchestra program set to perform for the first time Friday night

Students in the new Jam Club program are getting ready for their first performance with the Maple Valley Youth Symphony Orchestra Friday night.

Jam Club, which is part of the Maple Valley Youth Symphony Orchestra, serves special needs students, teaching them about music and giving them hands-on experiences with a variety of instruments.

The class is 45 minutes once a week and is led by Janea Christensen, the special needs program director and a board certified music therapist.

Christensen’s daughter is a member of the symphony orchestra and Christensen said that she wanted to find a way for special needs students to get involved as well.

Last year Christensen and Executive Director Elisa Lewis started talking and discovered that they had the same idea, there wasn’t a program like it nearby, so why not start one?

“I have a passion for music therapy and wanted to get involved,” Christensen said. “This program is very unique.”

The class includes songs as well as experiences with a variety of different instruments from timpani and cymbals to autoharp and jingle bells, music education like different kinds of notes, starting and stopping on cue and rhythm patterns, as well as opportunities for students to develop their social skills.

“In music therapy your goals aren’t only musical,” Christensen said. “There are so many social and cognitive skills you can work on.”

Christensen said that one of the things that is special about the group is that the students get to perform with the symphony.

“We’ve been waiting a long time,” said Carla Snyder, a parent who has a son in the orchestra and a daughter in Jam Club, of a program like Jam Club. “I was excited when we first started mentioning it…it’s not separate only, they get to be involved — not a spectator but a participant, which is cool.”

Snyder said that her daughter, Cecile, always enjoyed going to her brother’s performances and hearing the orchestra and now because of Jam Club she gets to be involved too.

The program started in October and currently has six students.

“The kids enjoy coming, that we know,” Christensen said. “I would say that’s a fruit of how engaging music is.”

Lewis said that she sees how students are more outgoing and are eager to volunteer and participate, and how they have become friends with each other in the short amount of time that the program has been in existence.

Lewis also added that they as a staff are getting to know and learning about the students as well.

“Once you get to know the kids, (you) can see them come closer to the music,” Lewis said.

Christensen described how music is a multi-sensory experience — seeing, hearing, and feeling the vibrations, and how they can tailor what they do to the different needs of their students.

“Music is magical like that,” Christensen said. “It offers a very rich sensory program.”


If you go

The Maple Valley Youth Symphony Orchestra holiday concert, “The Gift Best Shared,” is at 7 p.m. on Friday at Maple Valley Presbyterian Church, 22659 Sweeney Rd SE.

For more information about the programs offered by the orchestra visit mvyso.org.