Adjusting the special needs playlist from two to three players

The setting: For July 3, 4:30 p.m. This was a session with two string players, in the meditation building at an away special needs camp. All campers in attendance were over 21, ranging in age 21-70 plus. They were mostly new campers, hot and tired on the second day of camp. They had a wide range of ability to process. They were excited and attentive but beginning to flag. Many were in wheelchairs.

Questions: What adjustments to the time of day and their mental and emotional state might you make in your planned program? Selections might be shorter, have more contrast in what they ask of the listener, be more interactive, and involve less reflective music. If campers are not very verbal or have trouble processing, you could model the actions you want and talk less. Other considerations in designing your program are: How mobile are they? How well can they hear? Can they move their legs while seated? Do they have good control over their hands and arms? Do you have appropriate percussion instruments if you want them to accompany the music? Are they getting hungry or have trouble paying attention? Activities must be adapted to their capabilities.

After introducing yourselves and your instruments you could:

  • Sing something connected to the time of year). If you don’t want to include much July 4 music, you could sing Happy Birthday USA (instead of America the Beautiful and/or Star Spangled Banner.)
  • All sing /learn a Greeting Song, familiar to returning campers, such as Shalom My Friends (you can make up your own greeting words to the tune).

If you want to have them continue with singing, play something like Signal Mountain Sunrise, which can include drone pitches you give them to sing.

  • Sing something familiar to them: Take Me out to the Ball Game. Less familiar songs that might be appropriate such as Auld Lang Syne or The Water is Wide could be creatively worked in somewhere!

You have some options depending on their energy, attentiveness etc. you could:

  • Sing some simple rounds (taught by rote).
  • Quietly listen to something such as some of the following, continuing the imitation/round/motif idea but this time with just instruments:

Dona Nobis Pacem

Bach 2-part Invention in F

Leclair Giga 2 violins

Telemann Canonic Duos

Telemann Sonata II Spirituoso

Or introduce the Rondo:

Mozart Duo G Rondeau

Mozart Rondo alla Turca

Or you could try

  • Active listening: What is the story? Use short ” musical painting” pieces (or programmatic music) such as

Bartok Duos: 19 A Fairy Tale, 28 Sorrow, 32 Dancing Song, 36 Bagpipe, 43 Pizzicato, 35 Ruthenian Dance, Bartok Romanian Folk Dance No.3 Standing Still.

NB: if the listeners aren’t responsive, start talking among themselves, or are becoming inattentive, draw them back in by having them participate more: include pieces where they can clap, stomp, snap their fingers as appropriate or speak the contrasting rhythmic patterns of each part before you play.

Question: How could you frame Bartok’s Stick Game, Dance, Horn Song and Fast Dance?

  • They can move to music, warm up or stretch, or practice breathing with a leader while listening to music such as:

Waldteufel Skater’s Waltz.

  • You could have them march, practice breathing or accompany with percussion while you play short pieces such as:

Chanters Tune

Kerry Dance

Basket of Turf

Kesh Jig

Lannigan’s Ball

Old Joe Clark

Rakes of Mallow

Swallowtail Jig

Sweet Killaloe

Tempo, volume and energy level can increase as appropriate.

  •  Slow down, calm down and end your session with quieter music such as:

Skye Boat Song

Dona Nobis Pacem

Simple Gifts

O Waly, Waly (The Water is Wide verse 1, and end with new words, “my friend and I”)

Recuerdos de la Alhambra. Prepare a shortened version just in case.

La Petite Fille de la Mer

Copeland Saturday Night Waltz

Shalom Haverim

Delibes Flower Duet

Mascagni Cavalleria Rusticana Intermezzo

Find pieces that convey a sense of hope, optimism or other positive messages.


Here is another program for comparison, playing for a similar special needs group but this time with with string trio, also on July 3.

You could play:

My Country Tis of Thee or other patriotic songs

Listen to the ocean drum. Say whooshhhhh. Say uhhhhh. Sing an A and a D sing a G and C when the violinist takes a step, then A and D when s/he steps back.

Play Signal Mountain Sunrise while the students sing the drone notes.

Teach and sing Hey, Ho! Nobody Home.

Active listening:

Telemann Canonic Duo 2 violins

Bach 3-part Invention Have them raise hands when they hear the theme (motif).

Ask and have them discover what differences they hear between instruments by playing a Bach violin solo, viola solo and cello solo OR play a violin, viola and/or cello favorite       showpiece.

Beethoven Opus 9 Number 3 Scherzo

Piazzola Libertango

Dohnanyi Serenade C major Opus 101 Marcia

Shalom My Friends

Here are some suggested playbook options:

Seasonal music (adjust this list as appropriate to time of year and holidays):


Star Spangled Banner

Happy Birthday

Auld Lang Syne (because many campers return from year to year)

Before you officially start:

Under the Sea or other song familiar to them

Happy or other upbeat song

Bach Prelude from the G major Cello Suite or other slow Bach movements in major keys

Dona Nobis Pacem

Menuet I originally for violin solo arranged for 2 treble instruments


Hello My Friends (using the Shalom Haverim melody) or other greeting song

Ocean Drum. Listen to the sound of the ocean. Breathe the salty air (!)

Signal Mountain Sunrise


Row, Row, Row Your Boat or Are You Sleeping (can be done simultaneously)

Hey Ho! Nobody Home

Dona Nobis Pacem

Shalom Haverim or other rounds

Other songs:

Over the Rainbow

Molly Malone

Take Me Out to the Ball Game or other songs familiar to them

Gentle Movement in 3:

Skaters Waltz or other piece in a major key

Molly Malone

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Increasingly vigorous movement in 2, or, if they are sitting, some could play percussion:

Rondeau (Masterpiece Theater theme)

Saint Anthony Chorale

Old Joe Clark

Swallowtail Jig

Lannigan’s Ball

Drowsy Maggie

Chicken Reel

Pennsylvania Polka (now discontinued as a Steelers song) or other local sports songs

The Chanters Tune Violin and viola

Sweet Killaloe

The Kerry Dance

Mozart Rondo all a Turka

Quiet (active) listening:

Play short instrument solos that reveal something about the player’s background, interests, or shows an interesting mood or color, etc. Or demonstrate a second instrument      such as erhu.

Papageno’s Song

O Mio Babbino Caro

Litanie Schubert

Bartok Romanian Dances: Ask “what is the story?”  Let them figure out a title.  Mountain Horn Song, Stick Game, Sash Dance, Fast Dance.

Bartok duos: Dancing Song, Pizzicato, A Fairy Tale, Ruthenium Kolomejka, The Bagpipe

Instrumental imitation:

Bach 2- or 3- part inventions: raise your hand when you hear this theme come back.

A Telemann Canonic Sonata

Other possibilities:

Mozart Rondo alla Turka

Leclair Giga

Beethoven Opus 9 Number 3 Scherzo

Piazzola Libertango

Dohnanyi Serenade C Opus 101 Marcia

The Swan

Clark Trumpet Voluntary

Vivaldi Danza Pastorale from Spring

Mouret Rondeau

Mozart der Vogelfanger from Magic Flute

Delibes Flower Duet

Sicilienne by Paradis


The Water is Wide

Saturday Night Waltz

Simple Gifts

Cavalleria Rusticana

Goodbye My Friends (Shalom Haverim)

Dona Nobis Pacem

Skye Boat Song

Recuerdos de la Alhambra

La Petite Fille de la Mer

Delibes Flower Duet

Note: Keep your session to 20-40 minutes, adjusting for:

Drowsiness in mid- afternoon, or their need for rest or medical treatments

Nearness to mealtime

Questions to ask caregivers: 

Is the session in the beginning days of camp or just after a disruption of routine?

Have they seen you before, or are you new to them?

What songs do they know? Do they sing, dance or play any instruments?

What is happening just before or after your event?

What do they like to do?

How mobile are they? Can they move their arms? Legs?

How well do they process words?

Is their hearing at all impaired: do you need to speak louder, enunciate more or space your words more?

Who knows this audience? What can they tell you about this group?

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