The Music Project works magic for Wranglers

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Back Row (l-r): Justin Shelton, Chris Waters, Stephanie Routh, Laila Berrada, Skyler Gratton, Cole Caplan Middle Row: Samantha Yetman, Amy Cinkovich. Katie Couch, Joel Nazaro, Eric Angelo, Spencer Gillett, Brandon Churchill; Front Row: Emily Sanders, Melissa Sprague, Julianna Trippett, Bernadette Bascom, Marcus Hodges, Alan Bridgeford. Courtesy photo.
Bernadette Bascom has been a singer for most of her life and has many credits to her name. She has opened for Ray Charles and performed with many noted artists including Stevie Wonder and Elton John. For 15 years, she was a headliner on the Las Vegas Strip.

Bascom feels blessed that she has had such an incredible and rewarding career. “I’ve been given so much,” she says. “It has made me want to give back to others. My mission is to share what I’ve learned with as many people as possible.”

With this aim in mind, Bascom created The Music Project, a program that ties the study of music with a performance experience to help empower students and enhance self-confidence, pride and creativity.

“I like to say that The Music Project is courage masquerading as music,” explains Bascom. “It’s self-esteem masquerading as music. And it’s life skills masquerading as music.”

The project began six years ago at Northshore’s Secondary Academy for Success and since then, it has become a prototype around the country for uplifting and self-esteem-building performances.

Chris Waters receives a congratulatory hug from Bernadette following his moving rendition of “Phanton of the Opera.” Courtesy photo
Last June, Bascom connected with the Northshore Wranglers, a local non-profit Special Recreation and Services program, serving individuals of all ages with intellectual, cognitive and developmental disabilities. Now based in the Northshore Health & Wellness Center in Bothell, the Wranglers serves the cities of Bothell, Woodinville and Kenmore, as well as surrounding communities. Though the program originally focused on sports, recently it has added other types of activities to provide a range of arts opportunities for participants.

“We were thrilled that Bernadette wanted to work with us,” says Cole Caplan, program coordinator for the Wranglers. “The Music Project has such a rich history of empowering students through music and we thought it would be a great fit for our program.” He adds, “Bernadette is amazing. She is so passionate and caring, and an incredibly engaging teacher. She really wants her students to succeed.”

Caplan explains that 18 Wranglers, ages 12 to 30, have been working with Bascom over the past six months. Each has chosen a song to learn with the goal of performing it in front of a live audience at an upcoming concert.

“The performance is a component of The Music Project,” says Caplan. “It’s the culmination of the time, energy and effort put forth by the participants.”

Among the songs selected by the students are Broadway show tunes and country hits, as well as songs made popular by movies such as “Aladdin,” “Hercules” and “Lion King.”

Caplan explains that not everyone will sing a solo. Some students have opted to perform a duo. And then there will be two group numbers, as well.

“Bernadette works with each individual,” adds Caplan. “She also works with the class as a whole on such things as breathing exercises, tempo and beat.”

In regards to the impact of The Music Project on the Wranglers, Caplan reports that he has seen the confidence levels in participants rise, particularly in front of a group. He has also seen improvement in their speech quality.

“Music helps them,” he comments. “They learn to project their voice and it’s a great avenue for expressing themselves.”

Bascom is also delighted with the changes she has noted and adds, “We’re having such breakthroughs with speech. We have one girl who’s a selective mute and she’s singing now. It’s really a miracle. And they are all so proud of themselves. They think they’re the bomb … and they are!”

In working with the Wranglers, Bascom utilizes many of the same tactics she employs with all her students with the addition of a few extra techniques. To help them keep up with the tempo, for example, she keeps time with a wood block. She also teaches them to read with expression so that it will translate into their voices when they sing. “No matter who I work with, I let them be themselves,” she says. “I love and respect them and they know it.” She adds, “I try and impart courage, strength and joy when I teach. And I also try to help my students learn to present themselves well. If you can present yourself in this type of performance situation, you can do it anywhere.”

Bascom is enthusiastic about her experience with the Wranglers and admits that they are most likely teaching her more than she is teaching them.

“Most importantly, they are teaching me courage,” she notes. “They’ve shown me how courageous they are to live with disabilities and to live life to the fullest.”

It’s not a surprise to the singer that her students are achieving success. She is a firm believer in music and knows what it can do. “Music is powerful,” she says. “It truly works wonders.”

Northshore Wranglers will offer the inaugural “Holiday Extravaganza” at 7 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Northshore Senior Center main stage (10201 E. Riverside Drive, Bothell). Entry to the event is free, however donations will be accepted and all proceeds benefit the Northshore Wranglers Program.

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