"We're All in This Together" was the theme of a collaborative community concert held last night at the Wilkins Theater at Kean University. The concert featured 30 adults with disabilities who are members of Community Access Unlimited (CAU) and attend the agency's Academy of Continuing Education (ACE), 35 Kean University music students and alumni and a choir of more than 90 students from the Roselle School district.
Community Access Unlimited (CAU) is a statewide Elizabeth-based nonprofit providing support programs and services to adults with disabilities as well as youth served under the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to enable them to live independently in the community, in areas including housing, vocational and life-skills training, education, advocacy and recreation.
The concert was an outgrowth of ongoing collaboration between Kean's music department and ACE, according to Marguerite Modero, director of the academy. Kean students have been working with ACE students in their music appreciation class.
"Music is the great unifier," said Lyn Schraer-Joiner, Kean's music education coordinator. "It connects all people equally and brings them together. Music bonds and that's what happened to us."
The united ensemble performed a variety of songs, including "Bohemian Rhapsody," "One More Day," songs from Broadway plays "Les Misérables," "Shrek the Musical" and "Seussical" and the theme piece, "We're All in This Together."
"All our songs are meant to make a statement," said Modero. "They speak to self-actualization, becoming the person you want to be and living the life you want to live."
CAU members John Drescher and Terrell Ross were among those who participated and played a radio baton, one of only 10 such instruments in the world. The radio baton allows a performer to conduct and control a musical score stored in a computer, similar to how a conductor leads an orchestral performance. Drescher and Ross practiced for months prior to the concert with Kean music faculty member Robert Rocco.
Drescher, who has always been interested in music, said the concert was very meaningful to him.
"It felt great," he said. "I had a great time and I loved when everyone was giving us a standing ovation. It was a night I'll never forget."
The concert also served as a learning tool for those Kean students who participated and for the wider public, according to Schraer-Joiner and Modero.
"It's a great message for my students who work with people with disabilities," Schraer-Joiner said. "It helps them understand music is tactile and everyone, regardless of background, should be able to express themselves."
"This is one more step in public awareness that people with disabilities have talent and should be able to show it," said Modero.
Community Access Unlimited (CAU), celebrating its 36th year of success in 2015, supports people with special needs in achieving real lives in the community. CAU provides support and gives a voice to adults and youth who traditionally have little support and no voice in society. CAU helps people with housing, life skills, employment, money management, socialization and civic activities. CAU also supports opportunities for advocacy through training in assertiveness, decision-making and civil rights. CAU serves more than 5,000 individuals each year. For more information about CAU and its services, contact us by phone at 908.354.3040, online at www.caunj.org or by mail at 80 West Grand Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07202.