The opinions expressed herein are the sole opinions of Gabrielle Stravelli, not the US State Dept or American Music Abroad. Our ensemble is: Jim Ridl, piano, Pat O'Leary, bass and Jordan Young, drums. All pictures and videos by Mateja Uric.
Our second day in Slovenia provided us with the other big highlight of our time in this country- our visit and performance at The Education, Work and Care Center in Draga. This center is a sprawling compound for children and adults with moderate to severe special needs, some of whom live on the premise and some who attend part-time for school, job training and/or healthcare.
When we arrived we were given a tour of the facility by their wonderful director- there was an area outside for physical activity and a barn with horses who are cared for by the Center's elderly patients. A big part of the Center's mission is to integrate people with special needs into mainstream society, to lessen the degree to which they are marginalized, and so the patients don't just live at or attend the Center, they also have jobs and responsibilities. Inside we toured classrooms where students were working on language skills, art and games. At first I felt a little nervous about how to interact with the people at the Center, so I took my cue from the director. She spoke to them as she would speak to you or me and I did the same. Their responses were beautiful- they had artwork to show us, they very proudly introduced themselves in English and shared a few English phrases that they knew. We sang Happy Birthday to someone, Jordan drew a picture for an art class (picture below) and they were excited when we told them we were going to perform a music concert for them. Of course, this seems obvious now- these are whole people and they should be treated as such. There's no particular way you need to treat them, other than with the same respect you would give anyone else.
After our tour of the facility we performed a concert for staff and students. I saw that they had a Christmas tree set up so we started with Jingle Bells before moving into more traditional jazz rep. We did "Take the A Train" and I had everyone in the audience make the sound of a train whistle on my cue. We did a blues and I had them sing little melodic lines with me, the same way I did in masterclasses with University students. As I moved into the audience to get them clapping and singing I was thrilled to see many of them moving along with the music. Jazz was created to be dance music, so what better way to teach them about the form than to get them dancing! Below is a short video of one of the students I danced with- he's got moves!
At the end of the concert, the students presented me with a gift- an incredible birdhouse that they built themselves! The birdhouse was accompanied by a card that told the story of a boy who lived in a town where a castle was being built. People were donating lots of money to help build the castle so that they might get credit for the construction. The boy had no money, so he brought just one stone to contribute. People ridiculed him- one little stone was all he had to give? What difference would that make? But in the end, the boy's stone was just the thing that was needed to complete the building of the castle. Each of us matters. Each of us has something to contribute. Each life is sacred.