Finding Their Place in the World

White lights were strung around the room. A table with hot chocolate and cookies stood near the entrance. Chairs were arranged around a makeshift stage and the walls were decorated with paper hearts, since Valentine’s Day was quickly approaching. Members of Melodic Connections’ Teens Rock Out class were excited to host a group of young violinists from Walnut Hills. Class members had prepped the room, rehearsed their chosen music and written a welcome message for their fellow teens. It was to be a casual “Hang Out” night when the two groups would socialize, perform and connect over their shared love of music.

Melodic Connections’ Alexandra Wilson, who co-leads Teens Rock Out with Jordan Toney, is excited to see how the class has progressed. “It’s an opportunity for teens to participate in music wherever they find it or wherever it finds them.”

“It’s an interesting time of life,” she continues. “Teenagers have a clear idea of what they like, but not a clear idea of who they’re going to be in the world and what their place is going to be.”

UC’s College Conservatory of Music’s Suzuki Advanced Class, comprised of six middle and high school students from Walnut Hills, was challenged by their teacher to find a project that would spread their music and talent into the community. Class member, Kate, knew right away she wanted to partner with Melodic Connections. Her brother, Andy, is in the Teens Rock Out class and she was excited to bring the two groups together.

On February 12, the community space at Melodic Connections was transformed into a coffee-shop style hangout, filled with members from the classes, along with their families and friends. The evening kicked off with a welcome message, which was written by Melodic Connections’ student Kenta, “Welcome, everyone. We are thrilled to have you tonight. Music connects us with each other. That is our goal tonight. Let’s have fun together.” Then each class performed one song individually and one song together, which was Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” “We play a lot of classical music so it was a chance for to us to play different music,” Kate said.

The event was relaxed and well-received by both sides. “Many people in my group didn’t know I had a brother with Down Syndrome. Playing with people with disabilities is new to others in my group, but it all came together. It’s about playing with different people, not about having a perfect performance,” Kate said.

Last fall, the Teens Rock Out class performed a collaborative holiday concert with a music group from Walnut Hills. However, February’s event was different because the students were also responsible for hosting and leadership – which included creating a playlist, being a greeter, and coordinating the scheduling.

Alexandra explained, “This event is what we’ve been leading up to. Other collaborations have been one-off, but we’re hoping this will be an ongoing experience for the class – where we collaborate with different music groups.”

In the following interview, Alexandra talks more about the class and how music is helping teens connect with each other while also exploring their individual roles in their community and the world around them. Alexandra started as a volunteer with Melodic Connections in 2011, then came back to the organization in 2017 after earning a BM in Music Therapy from Ohio University and interning at the Institute for Therapy through the Arts in Chicago. She’s involved in many programs at Melodic Connections including work in preschool classrooms, with elementary students in STEAM programs, and The Percussion Effect, in which  she coaches and supports adult students in their jobs as drum circle facilitators in the community.

Coming Together as a Group While Exploring Individual Interests

“At the start of class, we always have an opening warm-up time where we’re getting together as a group – to center – to greet everyone and get oriented because the social aspect and relationship dynamics are so important for teens.

Then we move into our small groups. This is something that came from our work with teen camps – breaking off into small groups based on interest. We think about which students thrive in a high-energy environment and which thrive in a low-key environment. We consider who is interested in electronic music or wants to create a playlist. Who wants to make decorations for the space or plan a welcome activity. They are grouped based on interest and what they’re drawn to doing.

Our process and approach are very student led and relationship led. Because Jordan and I have been working with a lot of the students for a year, we have a good sense of what they enjoy and attach to in a music experience – whether they are all about the music or they want the opportunity to lead an activity. That’s what we built this event experience around.

At the end of class, we have a traditional rehearsal because it’s still important to contribute to the performance, but it’s one small portion of what we’re doing.”

Meaningful Social Roles 

“I think attachment meets belonging when you translate those things people attach to into a meaningful social role. We’re in the process now of developing those roles based on what they’ve attached to. If someone has attached to introducing what’s next on the schedule, maybe their meaningful role in the group experience is introducing who is going to perform.

As music therapists, we have a lot of training on how to create belonging, so part of our process is empowering students with some of those skills. For example, noticing that one student tends to greet everyone who comes in the door and allowing him to be the greeter and hospitality of the event. That’s one of the components that creates belonging in a group – welcoming someone when they come in.”

Looking to the Future
“This is the future! We’re just so excited to be working on this project. We plan to host a group each month and have a couple prospects now. What’s been beautiful about this class is that we’re open to whatever comes our way. We say yes to opportunities. To me, this is the best project we’ve done so far, but each semester gets better and better so who knows what next year we’ll be able to do!”