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MSU Community Music School hosts event for children with disabilities

June 10, 2013

Co-founders Judy Winter and Cindy Edgerton discuss the benefits of music therapy and how it has impacted the lives of those who’ve attended through the years.

Photo by RJ Wolcott | The State News

A cacophony of drums, synthesizers and auto-tuned voices echoed throughout corridors of the MSU Community Music School, 4930 S. Hagadorn Road, as youngsters of all ages came together for the Eric “RicStar” Winter Music Therapy Camp. As the programs enters its 11th year, Cindy Edgerton, the camp’s director, said the program has experienced exceptional growth, from 46 campers in 2003 to an all-time high of 124 participants this year.

With more than 30 years of experience with music therapy, Edgerton still finds herself amazed by the progress of campers.

“Music therapy has the potential to bring out social skills as campers create music together,” Edgerton said.

Activities are designed to promote cooperation and the involvement of every child, regardless of ability or age, according to Edgerton. She added financial assistance is provided as well, ensuring no child has been left out because of money.

Judy Winter, a camp co-founder as well as the mother of Eric Winter, said the program lives on as both a testament to her son’s memory, as well as an effort to help other children the same way Eric Winter was helped. Nicknamed RicStar by his parents as a tribute to his aspirations to become a rock star, Judy Winter said Eric Winter’s memory continues to be a central component of the program.

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, Eric Winter’s music ability was recognized early in life. After being recommended by an MSU professor, Eric Winter spent seven years attending music therapy programs, and it was at these programs that Judy Winter remembers her son’s abilities shining through.

“We were determined to raise him as a typical kid and ensure he had the greatest life possible,” Winter said.

Eric Winter grew tremendously throughout his time in therapy until his death in early 2003. Just a few months later, with a whirlwind of support from those who knew Eric and those driven to make opportunities available for children like him, the first summer music therapy camp was launched in June 2003.

“Today, children are exposed to the arts and are able to play and compose music alongside other kids,” she said. “We look beyond disability, seeing our campers as human beings just like everyone else.”

Activities such as percussion, singalongs, music writing, band performances and more provided an opportunity for all campers to get their feet wet with music. Both Judy Winter and Edgerton remarked on the progress of campers throughout the years. One camper went from being carried through the doors by her mother to speaking and standing for the first time during camp activities. Edgerton and Judy Winter now say she eagerly runs through the doors each year, ready to participate.

Pre-nursing junior Caitlin Sare was asked by Edgerton if she was interested in participating, and said the experience has been eye-opening.

“I like helping people, and I’ve always been involved with music,” she said. Even though she had never worked with children with special needs, Sare said the experience has been rewarding and, bar any unforeseen circumstances, plans on returning next year.

As the program grows in popularity, Judy Winter recalls parents are often left yearning for similar programs. However, it isn’t just parents whom Judy Winter urges to see the work being done.

“I would tell everyone to come and see it for yourselves; it will change your life and your perceptions of these individuals,” she said.

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