Office of the Provost

Students Bond with the Harrisonburg Community through Music


Students enrolled in the Music and Human Services practicum course in Spring 2016 strengthened their musical abilities and built relationships while filling unique roles at The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham,  the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Center, and the Gemeinschaft Home. According to Music and Human Services professor Dr. Paul Ackerman, the course is designed to introduce JMU students “to the many human services professions, their goals and philosophies, their populations, and their methods of healing.”

Students in placements at the Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County worked with persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities to form the Rocktown Ringers and plan a performance for the community. The Ringers—a group of 10 individuals—sang, chimed, and signed in front of a congregation of 60 community members, families of the musicians, and members of Asbury United Methodist Church in Harrisonburg.

Ackerman called the Rocktown Ringers concert “emotional,” with three JMU students performing background music from their studies, conducting several songs for the Ringers, and providing piano accompaniment. “The concert,” as Ackerman described, “reflected an Arc tenet that all activities…should be done in inclusive settings.”

JMU’s Department of Engineering and the Asbury United Methodist congregation assisted both the students in the Music and Human Services’ Arc practicum experience and the Rocktown Ringers by inventing new instruments for the Ringers and supplying chimes. Affiliates of the JMU Department of Engineering were able to create a four string amplified bass and a drum controlled by a wheel to add portable percussion to the group. Both instruments enhanced the quality of the Rocktown Ringers’ music, which was met “with wild acclaim.”

A fundraiser conducted by members of Asbury United Methodist and the JMU team raised over $1,200 for the Arc and purchased new chimes for the Rocktown Ringers. Collaborating with the Asbury bell choir to support the Arc “helped us to forge a relationship of mutual interest and caring,” noted Ackerman. 

In addition to working with the Rocktown Ringers, students enrolled in Music and Human Services played familiar tunes to those in the low-income wing at the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Center (VMRC). A JMU student singer/flutist and a student violinist performed solos and sing-alongs in the lobby of a building undergoing total renovations. Ackerman explained, “…residents were worried about [the renovations], but loyal to VMRC.  Our students asked them to suggest words about what they were feeling. They worked together to make rhymes, and the students put all of it together to create an original song. They recorded this song and gave it to the residents as their final gift.”

Weekly performances at VMRC garnered the attention of visitors and residents alike. “…[W]ord of mouth increased the listeners each week,” noted Ackerman, “they had a functioning community near the end of their placement.”

Two additional JMU students worked in Harrisonburg’s Gemeinschaft Home. According to the Home’s website, “the Gemeinschaft Home is a therapeutic transitional home that seeks to prepare non-violent, non-sexual ex-offenders who have been released or diverted from incarceration in the Virginia Department of Corrections for re-entry into their communities.” By playing contemporary songs on the violin and guitar, and through singing, JMU students “introduced music games [and] music as a way of expressing feelings,” Ackerman described. The students “even taught some requested lessons in the elements of notation [and] rhythm.”

“All the residents came to the [music] sessions, and, during the evaluation session at the end, all told them that they liked the sessions, found them meaningful, and were able to get more perspectives on their goals,” continued Ackerman, “The final activity for this practicum was a fundraising dinner, serving about 400 people of the Harrisonburg community.  At this event,” Ackerman described, “the students sat with the residents…[and] led the entire audience in a warm-up self-drumming circle, similar to that used in the sessions.” After the warm-up session, the JMU students performed a few of the favorite contemporary songs. “…[T]hey ended with a contemporary song to which the residents added their rhythmic background.  After this, the students then made a CD of favorite songs of the group and gave each resident a copy on their last night.”

In addition to the eight week practica at the Arc, VMRC, and the Gemeinschaft Home, the students of the Music and Human Services course attend guest lectures. Their experience in diverse professional settings models service learning and community engagement—two pillars of the JMU education. 

Published: Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2018

Back to Top

Related Articles