Every Thursday evening in Box Hill, Judy Oleinikov and Katy Addis host an open jam Celtic music session for young adults aged between 15 and 25. Offered by Quasitrad Music Melbourne, the sessions are open to players of all abilities and to anyone with and without lived experience of diverse learning needs, and or disabilities. The sessions are free, funded by the Keys of Life Foundation, a charity that supports students with disabilities and or diverse learning needs to flourish through music making. The sessions offer opportunities for the development of techniques and life skills intended to enable young people to develop their aural music-making practice, while connecting up with each other socially.
The idea for the sessions was conceived by Katy Addis, a member of the Melbourne Scottish Fiddle Club. Both Katy and her husband are musicians and Katy was fully appreciative of the inclusive and particularly welcoming characteristics of Celtic music making; the way you can walk into a session in Melbourne, Ireland or New York and be likely to hear the same tunes. Katy reflected that if you know the basic repertoire, the patterns and chord sequences, you can actually join in a jam session pretty much anywhere in the world where Celtic music is played.
As Judy says, “there’s a skill in learning by ear so that you can pick up tunes that other people are playing. Katy has a son who is autistic who is now in his 20s who plays in a regular Celtic Jam session which I run in Box Hill on Wednesdays. He’s a key player, he’s the one who keeps us together and he is superb. The Celtic Jam sessions are a really good social outlet for him too and provide an opportunity to enjoy the social aspect of participatory music making.”
Again, it was Katy who having seen the positive effects of this music making experience on her son, realised it had huge potential for other autistic young adults who may be experiencing learning difficulties and who may not have finished school, making them at greater risk of social isolation. After successfully applying for funding to help turn her vision into a reality, Katy approached Judy. The pilot phase of the Welcome Sessions began at the end of May and while the sessions are open to players of pretty much any instrument, as it happens everyone so far plays keys.
“This has been really good for starting up. We have a group of keyboards in a circle and have been trying waltzes, ¾ timing is something they have not all tried before but it’s a lot of fun and it isn’t uncommon for autistic kids to have perfect pitch. Keyboards are also great for working separately if we choose to take this approach, or we can all play chords or melody. One thing that has been a challenge has been all starting at the same point and playing in time together as they’re used to doing their own thing and also accepting that if you make a mistake you have to keep going!” There’s a life lesson to be learned there somewhere too.
“A couple of the kids have made recordings of the tunes which has been great and allowed everyone to familiarise themselves with the tunes that we’ll be learning in our Welcome Sessions. This means everyone actually has the chance to listen to the tunes before they then go and learn them. In that way, the tunes are in their heads which is the key to helping them learn.”
The sessions are open to a broad age range and while the blurb says 15-25, Judy points out that actually they’re open to anyone from high school age upwards; she also has plans to get a bit of a band together and find public playing opportunities at events such as farmers markets.
“It really is just a chance to use music as a tool for a social outlet, coming together and having a group to meet with once a week, especially for young people who, once they’ve finished school, might not feel there is much happening around them, hence the name, ‘Welcome Sessions’. ”
If anyone would like to support the program, Judy suggests donating directly to Keys of Life which also offers training to music teachers and therapists of students with diverse learning needs and disabilities. “Any teacher who might be working with a child or with children who doesn’t fit the mainstream mould might benefit from exploring what Keys of Life has to offer.”
“As Welcome Sessions are a new thing and people aren’t too sure what to expect yet, our work at this point is all about reaching people. We’ll put up some videos that will hopefully break a bit of ice, but being an innovative program it takes a bit of courage for kids to come along and we’re hoping to break that ice further a bit and expand it.”
The sessions will continue to run every Thursday night from 7:30pm – 9:00pm throughout the school term. To find out more for yourself or somebody you know or if you are planning to pop along and try a Welcome Session for yourself one Thursday, contact Judy: firstname.lastname@example.org and make the world of the Celtic jamming your musical oyster.
Article by Deb Carveth, CMVic Copy Editor, in conversation with Judy Oleinikov.