Thursday, June 28, 2018

Peer to Peer

We were invited for the second time to run the Peer to Peer portion of the annual Parent to Parent conference. This event is hosted by Texas Parent to Parent, a statewide non-profit that does great work of educating and supporting parents of children with disabilities. Their annual conference is a big hit with topics on all the important issues a parent needs to be aware of when raising a child with a disability as well as advice and mentoring from parents who have been in their shoes.

Families come from all over the state, from the Valley to the Panhandle and everywhere in between. And they bring the entire family because there is something for everyone at this conference. Texas Parent to Parent wants to make sure that all that come get the most out of the experience. They want the parents to be able to focus on the panel discussions and workshops. They provide a SibShop for siblings. Childcare for the young ones. And Peer to Peer for the teenagers.

That’s where we come in! Our goal is to provide stimulating arts, performance, movement, and music activities for these young adults to take part in while their parents are at the conference. This year we started with Flower Fairies. While very messy, with glue and flower petals, we got some great results and a few participants spent the entire day working with the flowers.

A mer-man decorated with flower petals

We also provided other art stations throughout the day including Egg Shakers, Drawing, Beads and Pipe Cleaners, Costumes, and Cameras. You just never know what art supply is going to be the one that captures someone’s creativity.

Grant holds up some of his pipe cleaner creations.

David wears red boxing shorts, a black cape, and a Mardi Gras mask from the costume box.

A highlight of the morning was having Zach Anner visit us! Zach is a comedian, actor, writer, and YouTube star. The teens were able to ask him questions, converse with him, and get his autograph.

Later that day we had a visiting musician, Sterling Steffan. He brought his saxophone, a violin, digital drums, a recorder, and other various instruments. Some of the students’ eyes and smiles really lit up when they had a chance to make music. Eric was especially excited by the opportunity. And his sense of rhythm was natural. The participants had a chance to step up to the mic and record their voice or playing an instrument.

Elsa plays the violin.

Day 2 was another day packed with art activities led by teaching artist Mary Oliver. Using small pizza boxes we created names on the outside and self portraits on the inside of the box.

Josh’s pizza box self portrait

We also used recycled water bottles to create Maracas. We painted them in the morning, then after a movie in the afternoon, used them in our drum circle.

The drum circle!

After two exhausting but fun days the teens were picked up by their parents to start the travel back home. So many parents were grateful for the opportunity to attend this conference and know their children were in good hands. Thanks to our friends at Texas Parent to Parent for making that possible!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Pursue Your Musical Dreams with VSA Texas

From time to time I'm asked something along the lines of "what is the most soul nourishing part of your job?" I am normally caught off guard by the directness of such a heavy question, but inevitably my mind wanders to the music and other performance opportunities offered through VSA Texas. Even to those who know me, my affinity for the stage may seem peculiar as in any other circumstance I do everything I can to avoid drawing attention to myself. Performing music on stage, however, feels liberating; I am free to make myself into someone different, to lose myself in chords, rhythms, lyrics, and in doing so, I inch closer to the person I aspire to be offstage. Call me corny, but I truly believe that playing music makes me a better human being. And that's why the highlights, or most soul nourishing moments of my job, are those where I can extend the same opportunities I have received to others.

Music is the foundation of my relationship with VSA Texas. My first involvement with the organization came in the form of volunteering in the Summer of 2012 Music and Recording Camp; then in February of 2014 I made my first serious public debut of my own music at the inaugural Lion and Pirate Open Mic, which I now co-host with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities' Pen 2 Paper Creative Writing Contest; and in January of 2017 I organized, emceed, and performed at our first VSA Texas at Library Live concert at Carver Branch Library, which was so successful the branch manager invited us to make it a quarterly concert series, which has since extended performance opportunities to twelve different musical groups. At each stop along the journey, I have been grateful to learn as much, if not more, than the performers I hope to empower, and that's how I know these programs work.

Me performing at the Lion and Pirate Open Mic. Did I mention Malvern Books takes great photos and videos of the open mic performances? Of course you can opt out, but I'd say it's super cool if you ask me!

Over the past few years, I have seen performers grow in confidence, turn a few original songs into a dozen, explore new collaborations, and seek new venues to perform. Most importantly, I have witnessed the burgeoning of an inclusive community, where performers inspire and learn from each other, lift each other up and offer encouraging words when they need to be heard. So if you are a chronic bedroom performer (like I used to be – and still am, frankly) and are ready to share your songs with the world – or even if you aren't ready – there is a place for you at our Lion and Pirate Open Mic held each month at Malvern Books (613 West 29th Street, Austin, TX 78705)! Our next four open mics are this Saturday, June 9th from 7-9 PM, Saturday, July 7th from 7-9 PM, Sunday, August 12th from 1-3 PM, and Saturday, September 15th from 7-9 PM. Join us at one or all of the above!

Flyer for our Lion and Pirate Open Mic at Malvern Books this Saturday, June 9th from 7-9 PM

And if you want to really stretch your performance muscles with a fully mic'd 25-minute set at the Carver Branch Library, email me at eric@vsatx.org to book a performance slot. If you need any added incentive, you get high quality videos of your performance (see past Library Live performances here) that you can use to promote your music and pursue future gigs. No matter your genre or level of experience, we are here to launch you where you want to go!