The universal language of music pairs teens with young adults with disabilities.
By Barbara Heins (Patch Staff)
December 2, 2014 at 3:34am

The Jewish Community Center rocked on a recent Sunday afternoon as Band Jam, the musical creation of Abilis’ Family Resources, performed before a crowd of more than 50 people. Almost as soon as it started, the audience was on its feet singing songs including “Hey Jude” with the performers.


This is the seventh year of Band Jam, an inclusive program bringing teens of all abilities together to share their musical and theatrical talents. The group creates a unique setting in which typical teens get to know and learn from their peers with disabilities.

The Nov. 23 program marked Band Director Bobby Laman’s 13th show at the helm. He said he loves working with the performers to find songs that have a good beat. “I spend hours trying to find music that is catchy and engaging but also complex enough to present a challenge to us,” he said.

The result is a community of young adults buzzing with the thrill of a successful show. “The arts allow the teens to interact on the same level, music presents a universal language. We pair typical teens with teens with disabilities, so Band Jam really presents a great opportunity for these kids to learn from each other and to experience a new perspective on life. It’s a win win,” said Monica Schlessinger Smyth, Director of Family Resources Support.

With about 24 performers, Band Jam stages shows once each in the Fall, the Spring and the Summer. Each season consists of four rehearsals and then a show.

“It’s a really rewarding experience,” said Joe Schlessinger, captain of the Westhill High School football team and a member of Band Jam since it began. “I’ve learned a lot about myself and about the talent of people with disabilities. They are amazing.”

Photo 1: William Trump, 16, playing drums.

Photo 2: Danielle Annunziata, 21, is twirled by Tara Wighton, 19, as they perform in the 13th Band Jam show.

Photo 3: Band Jam Director Bobby Laman

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