The room was silent despite the presence of six children on six drums.
One of the young percussionists, a 12-year-old boy, seemed lost in his own world.
Then his hands begin lightly beating his drum, repeating the rhythmic pattern instructor Sasha Brathwaite had just demonstrated.
The boy flashed a brief smile before carrying on. After many weeks, it’s the first time he’d engaged with the group.
“It’s moments like (these) that feed my soul and validate what I do,” said Brathwaite, creator of a travelling therapeutic music program called Let’s Jam: Percussive and Creative Movement.
In the four years she’s run the program, Brathwaite has witnessed small victories like these a hundred times over, she said.
“Her experience and work in the field show that she is committed, creative and enthusiastic about her program and the people it benefits,” said Melissa Ngo, founder of Hand Over Hand, a Markham-based social group for people with special needs.
Brathwaite, who has more than 15 years experience working with children and adults with developmental disabilities, designed her program to enhance relaxation and create the ultimate sensory experience, she said. The focus, she added, is to regulate positive behaviours, active listening, turn taking and social interaction.
The idea came to her after seeing the effect music had on her younger sister Camille, who was diagnosed with autism at a young age. Brathwaite found music connected her with her sister in a way nothing else could, she said.
“Camille was more focused, she would follow directions, was attentive and overall just more calm,” said Brathwaite, who currently works in the special education and functional life skills department of the York Region Catholic District School Board. “I saw how much music benefitted my sister and I thought I could share this with other families.”
For a recent family music festival, the first for Hand over Hand, Ngo approached Brathwaite.
“Looking around the circle, every person was provided with something that they were able to use as an instrument, creating a completely accessible, musical, sensory and movement experience,” Ngo said.
For now Let’s Jam is a mobile program that Brathwaite runs as a side business. Her goal, though, is to find a more permanent space her clients can come to and participate in individual or group sessions.
Until then, Ngo said she’s glad Brathwaite’s program travels.
“The great thing about Let’s Jam is that it can be taken anywhere, which allows for Sasha to create a totally inclusive environment anywhere she goes,” Ngo said.