A Shared Musical Experience at Cotting School

By Linda Gerstle, Director of Education & Community Partnerships

From the Top staff and Arts Leaders with Cotting School teachers and students

The Friday afternoon school assembly is a time honored tradition in many schools. A chance to connect with friends and teachers outside of class as the week winds down – it’s a moment that many of us recall so many years later. And so it was at the Cotting School in Lexington, Massachusetts, on a recent Friday. As students, ranging in age from 9 to 22, filed into the auditorium, the esprit de corps of this community was palpable. Smiles, high-fives, and everything in between filled the room as all took their places for a special program planned by From the Top Arts Leaders.

Abby Lorimier (17, cello), Mai Nguyen (14, flute), and Avik Sarkar (14, piano/cello/composition) planned an hour-long program culminating with the Cotting School choir’s quietly joyful rendition of Sara Bareilles’ “The Winter Song.” As the sounds of the opening trio sonata filled the auditorium, the audience turned their rapt attention to the stage – a peer-to-peer nod to the power of the shared experience of music. 

The program included selections from Peter and the Wolf and Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Swan Song,” each with lots of fun games and opportunities for the audience to participate. Woven through the music were stories the arts leaders told of their own personal musical journeys that included how to make amusing sounds with a flute mouthpiece as well as a story about the bathtub as a bona fide practice space for a beginning cellist.

Wheelchairs, walkers, and the latest innovations in adaptive equipment were the assists that facilitated the full participation of the audience, as Cotting is a school for students with a broad spectrum of learning and communication disabilities, physical challenges, and complex medical conditions. Its goal is help them achieve their full learning potential and a maximum level of independence.

What could easily have been perceived as a barrier turned into an incredible learning opportunity for all involved, as so powerfully illustrated by the arts leaders’ reflections:

  • If I played Peter and the Wolf at my school, no one would know about it and here they’re learning about it!
  • Don’t make assumptions about your audience – you don’t know who people are until you meet them.
  • We would be friends, if they went to my school.

A spontaneous shout out by one of the Cotting students – a declarative and enthusiastic AWESOME! – was the final word. No one could have said it better.