Teen Beat Summer Music Camp campers exploring stringed instruments.

Teen Beat Summer Camp is a life-changing experience. Many of the teens in camp have come before and look forward to it all year. This year we had several new campers who came for their first time and performed, perhaps for the first time in their lives. They all made new friends, learned about music and found a sense of belonging.

One teen was described by parents as being anti-social and angry at home. They were shocked that their teen was in the program and going to perform in several numbers at the end-of-week performance. WE were shocked that this camper behaved in any way other than being highly social, positive, complimentary, and willing to participate. This particular camper said things like, “This is the most fun I’ve ever had!” And she wasn’t alone.

Teenagers have their fair share of uncomfortable feelings, hormones, thoughts, and lessons to learn. Without a sense of belonging, it can be hard to navigate the difficult task of finding one’s identity. In Erikson’s stages of social-emotional development, he describes the teenage stage of life as the time find out “Who am I?” by trying on various identities. In order to successfully move through this stage of development, teens need to find an identity that fits, and find a sense of agency and capability, rather than being dominated by self-consciousness and self-doubt.

NMTS is opening another exploring music class for teens in September, in order to allow teens to deepen their social relationships, as well as strengthen their own identity with the positive, life-changing power of music. I know that for me, my interest in music and songwriting felt life-saving when I was a teenager. It was my biggest outlet for all my big emotions, and it was the thing that created the most positive connections in my life. I’d make friends after performing at open mic nights in coffee shops and I found a sense of identity and belonging that continues to this day in my profession as a music therapist. Who knew all that teenage angst would lead me to my life’s biggest passion?

Teens with disabilities have an added barrier to finding their sense of belonging through music in traditional ways. Traditional camps and music programs are not equipped to include people of all abilities, which means they often unintentionally exclude the people who may need music the most. Without programs offered by NMTS, many teens with disabilities would not have an opportunity to dance, sing, perform, and play instruments with peers. This makes what we do that much more valuable and important. Teen Camp is an accelerated and concentrated week of personal transformation for these amazing campers.

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