Nonprofit gives deaf students the gift of music

‘The music, I feel it in my heart,’ 9-year-old signs

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Four Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf students sat in a semicircle strumming guitars.

To each one of them, the experience was different.

Some heard faint notes. Others sensed vibrations within their bodies.

“I think they are having that first experience of doing something that they are not used to doing,” said teacher Nicole Williamson.

In some ways, they must have felt like every other child experiencing something new.

“They don’t know what music is, but they like that feeling of the vibration,” Williamson said. “All kids love music, whether they are deaf or hearing. When you are talking about music, to these deaf kids it’s more about feeling that rhythm.”

The experience would not have been possible without the nonprofit group Guitarists for Good and its supporters.

Founder Sandy Green brought a car full of guitars, bass guitars, ukuleles and music accessories on Thursday. She was joined by Julia Newton of Wilson, who added an acoustic guitar and a 3D-printed cello made by her husband Will. Country musician Jonathan Byrd enlisted the organization to help bring music to the school.

“The music, I feel it in my heart. I feel the vibration in my heart and in my chest,” said student Korbin Smith, 9, signing through an interpreter. “I enjoyed it.”

Korbin said it was his first time playing a guitar.

Another first timer was student Ca’Niyah Lloyd, 8.

“I can hear it a little bit,” she said, signing through the interpreter. “It makes me feel happy.”

Newton said the moment of discovery was amazing to see.

“I don’t know if these kids have ever gotten to do something like this before,” Newton said.

“My heart is so full right now,” Green said.

School for the Deaf director Michele Handley said the reception from the children spoke for itself.

“Automatically, many of us started showing them rhythm and how you can feel the difference in the vibrations whether it was a high-pitched tone or a low pitched tone,” Handley said. “I think their eagerness to get their hands on them speaks for itself.”

Green said the moment was not unlike the moment that any instrumentalist first gets to play.

“I love was that whole moment that you when you first play a guitar and you know that all the strings are working together to make that sound, or that feeling in this case. That emotion that comes over your face, they had it in there,” Green said. “After we did the rhythm, I showed them how I moved my fingers on the fret board in order to make different sounds. Some of them were trying to do that. One of them in particular pointed at the stage. She got up there on the stage just to perform for me. And then a second one came up there and performed as well.”

Green said the moment moved her.

“Look how happy they are,” Green said.

After the session, the children hugged Green and signed to her.

“They are saying ‘thank you’ and ‘I love you,’” Williamson told Green.

Handley said music isn’t just for the hearing population.

“Many students who come to school here and many people we might describe as deaf do have some hearing, and then of course, there is a level at which it is just vibration,” Handley said. “And there is a lot of ways that can still be enjoyed by people with hearing loss to whatever level. So we are very excited to be able to bring this in to the program and the experiences for our students here.”

The school currently has 61 students ranging in age from 6 to 21.

“We are very appreciative and I look forward to what we are going to be able to do with them,” Handley said. “We are still at the ground floor, but it is nothing but possibilities. All you have to do is give it to them and they tell you what you need to do.”

A month ago, Byrd and his fans began making donations of games and other supplies to the school.

“Jonathan and his fans have continued to give in terms of getting us set with our art room,” Handley said. “So many of those supplies were dried up and were not usable anymore, so we are so thankful to Jonathan’s fans who have donated to us and we have been able to buy her so many supplies and we are attempting to purchase a wheel and a kiln to have some pottery throwing going on. So, nothing but a bright future for the students here at the ENCSD.”