A Band of Musicians with More Ability Than Disability

The interPLAYcompany Band at Strathmore in Rockville, Md., aims to provide adults with cognitive disabilities enrichment from the world of music. Reported and produced for Maryland CNS.

ROCKVILLE – It’s a Monday night at the Music Center at Strathmore, and the interPLAYcompany Band is rocking out.

The 36-member band, comprised of adults with mild to moderate cognitive disabilities, is rehearsing for their upcoming show in May, a performance featuring 1960s rock music from Great Britain.

Foster Bennett, who has been a band member for 16 years, said he got involved because he loves music. He typically plays tambourine.

“It gets you out of the house and it gets you into a place of happiness,” Bennett said. “It brings joy into your life, you know? It makes you feel like, you know, I could leave every care at home, I could come here and I can just rock it out.”

Founder and principal conductor Paula R. Moore said she was inspired to start the interPLAYcompany Band 25 years ago by her youngest son, who was born with Down syndrome.

“It became very clear to me that this population was not getting enrichment from the world of music,” she said.

Prospective members do not audition, Moore said. Instead, they have interviews where they talk about music and sit in on the band during a rehearsal.

“These band members are coming in without any musical training whatsoever,” Moore said.

Once admitted, they pay a tuition fee of $225 every three months, which covers the costs of music lessons, funding concerts and purchasing instruments and music, Moore said.

The interPLAYcompany Band has 10 mentors, or “bandaides,” who assist members during rehearsals. A group of 20 professional musicians also accompanies the band during concerts, associate conductor Paul Bangser said.

People with disabilities typically just play percussion instruments, Bangser said, but the band has been experimenting with technology to allow members to play more complicated instruments.

“We’ve started to teach them guitar as well, by using a device that sits on the guitar neck that allows people with not a lot of hand strength or dexterity to push a button and make a chord with one hand while they strum with the other, ” Bangser said.

Band captain Kristen Uleck said playing music has built up her confidence.

“We are able to do things like [perform in front of 500 people] regardless of if we read music,” Uleck said. “And for me, that’s what makes me proud.”