San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Music Helps Kids Overcome Disabilities

Since 2000, the MercedesNorteSchool

of Music in Heredia, north of San José,

has given children with disabilities the

opportunity to succeed in life with the help

of music.

With 21 members, 16 of whom have disabilities

including Down syndrome and

autism, as well as paralysis and other physical

disabilities, the percussion group

Inclusion performs for audiences all over

the country while exposing the children

involved to the benefits of playing music

within a group.

“There are university studies that demonstrate

how, after some years, the kids of our

school become more outgoing,” said José

Luis López, director of Mercedes Norte.

“One child who had divorced parents came

alone to the school without his mother realizing,

despite his high dependency on her.”

Four professors with an array of musical

experience teach the students to read music

and play instruments such as the xylophone,

drums, bongos, maracas and many others.

“We teach by following routines,” said

Ignacio Solano, head professor and a music

veteran with more than 30 years of experience

teaching in institutions such as the

National Youth Symphony and Castella Conservatory.

“It’s not difficult. It’s a pleasure.”

Every Wednesday, practices are held in an

upstairs room of the school. The room,

packed tight with parents, aides, students,

teachers and instruments, constantly reverberates

with noise often so overpowering

that neither the teacher nor any semblance

of music can be heard.

However, once the students give their

attention to the professors, their love for

making music becomes apparent.

They follow the lead of professors Juan

Pablo Retana on the drums, Inés Chaves on

the xylophone and Ana Leticia Solano on the

violin, playing everything from “Twinkle,

Twinkle Little Star” to cumbia, a Colombian

folk dance.

Professor Ignacio Solano plays his tuba as

he walks around the room, often stopping to

point to one student looking up at him with

excitement, telling him or her to play a solo


Elizabeth Ureña, mother of 27-year-old

Rigoberto Alfaro, who won four medals in

swimming at the 2006 Special Olympics in

Belfast, Ireland, saw several positive changes

after her son joined the group to play the


“It helps him with discipline because he

has a schedule that he has to cover,” Ureña

said. “Also, the fact that they feel part of a

group is very important, as there aren’t many

organized groups where special kids can get

together and have a space where they can

relate with others.”

Apparent also are the therapeutic benefits

of playing instruments, especially in developing

fine and gross motor skills.

“One student had foot problems at the beginning,” López said. “With the drum practices, he now walks better.”

Though the students learn at different paces, the teachers don’t allow disabilities to get in the way of goals.

“We want our students to take their talents to the top and learn to play various instruments so that someday they can perform outside of the country,” López said.

So far, Inclusion has given more than 300 performances at a variety of venues, from schools and private companies to Casa Presidencial and the Embassy of the Dominican Republic.

Through food sales and festivals, the group tries to raise money for the music school’s charity association and to build a classroom on the first floor to provide better accessibility for students in wheelchairs.

For López, one of the most satisfying moments of working in the program came when Alfaro approached him and said, “God bless you.”

“I felt that God put the kids close to me in this school to give them an opportunity to be happy with music,” López said.

For more information about Inclusion, contact López at 8385-1303.


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