ASU choir seeks to make a difference to lives of kids with autism

The choir, which is run by students and volunteers, works to build friendships and community for students.

ASU music and psychology students are working to provide children who fall on the autism spectrum a chance to grow and build friendship through the power of music.

Rainbow Connection, which is a choir run entirely by volunteers, focuses on creating a safe place to promote communication and self-expression among children with autism.

The choir is free of charge for anyone age 13 and above who falls within the autism spectrum. The choir meets every Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the third-floor music room of ASU Gammage in Tempe. It’s also open to people of all musical backgrounds and levels of training.

The organization’s founder, Ali Friedman, said the name Rainbow Connection came from the idea that autism is talked about as a wide-ranging spectrum, Friedman said. It was also in reference to the "Rainbow Connection" song in "The Muppet Movie."

“We wanted to emphasize how unique everyone is, similar to the different colors you find on the visible light spectrum,” she said.

The unpaid volunteers come an hour early to plan the day’s schedule, which includes crafts, interactive games and songwriting workshops. Friedman, who has a younger brother with autism, said she feels a personal connection to the cause.

“With projects like this, it’s hard to even know where to start sometimes,” she said.

She said each semester required a lot of organization, but becomes easier to work with each time.

Friedman said the choir has been a big success.

“Every time a new friendship is formed, every time someone achieves something new, each person who learns something about autism, it’s all a success,” she said.

Friedman said the club has many benefits for everyone involved.

“It’s a cliché, but touching the life of just one person is more than enough,” she said. 

The founders of the club have graduated and now the choir is run completely by several volunteers, a mix of psychology and music therapy students.

Music therapy graduate student Taryn Gordon volunteers with the program. She said she heard about the program through professors who were interviewing her for a job within the Music Therapy Department.

“I became very excited upon hearing of the choir because my background is choral conducting and I planned on working with children with autism at ASU,” Gordon said.

Gordon said she believes the future of the choir will be “bright and colorful,” especially as it expands to special needs programs across the country.

“I suspect the choir will also become (and is already becoming) more clinical in nature, with specific goals and objectives for each rehearsal session while keeping the tremendous fun,” Gordon said.

An annual free concert is held in the same space.

Psychology major and volunteer Danielle Medrano said she has a passion for music therapy while pursuing her degree, which makes the choir meaningful to her.

“I want to work with children with autism in future as well, so that’s why I volunteer,” Medrano said.

Volunteers are patient and encouraging, supportive of the kids coming out of their shell as they sing simple songs like “Colors of the Wind,” “Silver and Gold” and other easy-to-grasp melodies.

The kids, like Farah, take great pride in what they do in the choir.

“I love this group,” Farah said. “I love that I get to make friends, meet new people and sing.”

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