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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Lauren Southard has an ear for music and a heart for children. Both are on display in a practice room at Lilly Hall on the campus of Butler University, where Southard cajoles a group of Indianapolis Children’s Choir members through a series of songs, games and exercises on a Thursday night.

It’s hard to know who’s having more fun as they sing “All the Pretty Little Horses” around the piano and try their hand at the baton, leading the class in the waltzing game. But it gets better. In a nod to St. Patrick’s Day, the group does a little Irish dancing, too.

Southard is directing ICC’s Jubilate Choir, geared for children with special needs in grades 3 through 9. The half-dozen kids here on this night have a host of challenges, including autism and visual impairment.

But they also share a sense of belonging in this classroom.

Southard, who has a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s in applied behavior analysis with a certificate in autism, launched the choir five years ago after realizing there was no place in ICC for many kids with special needs.

“Now we have a place for everybody; we truly do,” she said.

About 5,000 young people around Central Indiana, from ages 18 months to 18 years, are involved in ICC music education programs.

The Jubilate Choir shouldn’t be confused with music therapy, Southard said. “This is a music ensemble; it’s a great social experience for them. Kids are performing from the heart, and we’re doing it in a way that everybody in this group can be successful.”

The curriculum focuses on proper singing techniques, music theory, sight-reading and social skills. Jubilate singers learn the same things as singers in traditional ICC programs, just at their own pace and in their own space. Each child also has individual goals set for them, whether in the area of speech, music or social behavior.

Many are accompanied by peer friends from an advanced ICC choir to assist them in practices and performances.

Stella Alford, who attends the Indiana School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, can’t see Southard direct the choir or look at music notes on the board, but she can feel the tap of her friend’s hand on her leg and hear the voices raised in song around her.

Stella, 9, is not shy about participating. She taps out the beat on the chalkboard and raises her arms in sync with the others as they move to the sounds of “What a Wonderful World.” Her voice is loud as she sings “I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them bloom for me and you, and I think to myself what a wonderful world.”

Her stepmom, Laura Alford, said Stella loves music. “Singing and dancing are one of her favorite things. We’re grateful that she has this opportunity to be involved in choir.”

Cheryl Loggins has two sons in the Jubilate Choir — Carson, 10, and Nolan, 14, and an older daughter in another choir.

Here, she said, “they just get to be kids; they don’t have special needs here. They’re able to sing and just be like everybody else, and that’s what they really like.”

For the first time, the Jubilate Choir will perform as part of the ICC’s Big Fun Event, a fundraiser April 20 at the Conrad Indianapolis. Learn more at


Source: The Indianapolis Star


Information from: The Indianapolis Star,