All the right notes
The Music Room in Leeds is on a mission to bring the joy and healing power of musical collaboration to children and families
by Jeana Durst, content director, JBMC Media
When Mark and Alaina Lucas founded The Music Room in Leeds in 2012, they had a vision. Eight years later, they are making that dream come true, spreading the pure joy of music and healing power that only music can bring to individuals in a neuro-inclusive environment. In addition to the programs they offer kids and adults with special needs, The Music Room serves many kids who are neurotypical through private piano, percussion, guitar, ukulele, and voice lessons. They’ve been able to spread the healing power and joy of playing music to over 100 kids and adults each year.
The inspiration for the nonprofit was born out of a very personal journey. “I grew up with epilepsy and cortical dysplasia, and it was a real big struggle in my teenage years and growing up,” Mark says. He remembers dreading school as a child, never knowing when he might have a seizure. For Mark, music was a refuge and a joy. “I was always very dedicated to music and that was one thing that I could really look forward to,” Mark says. Having first picked up the guitar for lessons with his father when he was age eight, he went on to study percussive performance at Jacksonville State University. It was a natural progression for the young child who from the start loved banging on pots and pans and grew up in bands and church music groups.
If Mark’s background was the inspiration for starting the nonprofit, then his experience after undergoing surgery was what really cemented his path. “My epilepsy was so severe when I was graduating high school that I knew I had one of two choices: I could stay where I was and deal with it or take a chance and have a frontal lobe resection, which is a very invasive brain surgery,” he says. It was a very risky procedure but, fortunately, it was also successful. What happened next as he rehabilitated from the surgery made an impact on Mark. “I was fortunate to get through with therapies—and mainly music,” he says.
It’s the therapeutic power of music and play that he and Alaina now bring to their programs and lessons at The Music Room, where they serve all kinds of children and adults, including those with autism or other challenges. “I really wanted to use my own experience and what I went through to work with a group of people who deal with similar things on a daily basis—to work with them through a vehicle that’s fun, constructive, creative and low pressure, because it’s so different than most of the therapies they are already in,” Mark says.
With an approach that’s centered on learning through play, Alaina, Mark, and their instructors focus on collaboration. They work closely with partners such as Ady’s Army, whose mission is to help families overcome some of the challenges of autism so that they can focus on their family. “They find families who would like their kids to do music and we take about six to ten families at a time, and for a whole month we provide free music instruction for the whole family,” Mark says. They also host Ady’s Symphony four times a year. Other partner organizations include The Arc of Alabama, The Exceptional Foundation, and Hope Haven, among others. “I love working with people in general but have a special place in my heart for the special needs community because they deal with problems not many people understand, and I get that,” Mark says. Plus, the Lucas’s shared love for percussion means that many programs are percussion- or piano-based, offering lots of opportunities for kids to practice motor and coordination skills.
Alaina, who has extensive experience in voice and piano, explains that the majority of their instruction occurs with neurotypical kids starting at age six. “We take a holistic hands on approach—eliminating elitism that some music educators bring into music,” she says. In all of their lessons they focus on the individual, and find out where he or she wants to take the music. In the same way that most people learn language best by being immersed in the culture where the language is spoken, at The Music Room, the Lucases believe immersing the students in music collaboration is most effective, too. The joy of music really comes alive when the kids get to share it.
And soon that sharing will be expanded to the parents as well. Alaina and Mark are developing a support group for the parents of kids who are neuro-diverse that will operate in tandem with their children’s music programs. “They give so much that they need someone to listen to them—the caretakers need a place to go too,” Alaina says.
For more information or to donate to support this special mission, visit themusicroomleeds.com and be sure to check out their activities on Facebook at @TheMusicRoomLeeds or Instagram at @themusicroomleeds.