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Special-needs drumline seeks Disney dream
At a drumline practice Thursday, Jeff Salvo marched in place, tapping a cadence on his snare drum and eager to take direction from his instructor.
To Salvo, who has a neurological impairment, and the other 54 members of his drumline, playing in front of an audience is a way to prove that even with a disability, they can deliver an impressive performance.
“I’m going to showcase my talent,” said Salvo, 41, of Williston Park. “Just because we have disabilities, it doesn’t mean that we can’t do what everybody else can do. If you just give us a chance then we’ll show you what we’re capable of.”
The drumline, part of a musical arts program at Family Residences and Essential Enterprises (F.R.E.E.), a nonprofit in Old Bethpage that provides services to nearly 3,500 individuals with mental disabilities on Long Island, is hoping to get that chance later this year.
After sending in a video of one of their performances to officials at Disney World, the group was invited to perform in a showcase at Downtown Disney’s Waterside Stage, part of the Disney Performing Arts Program, on May 11.
In order to go, the group must raise $30,000 to send its members, aged 18 and above, to Florida, plus cover meals, housing and other fees.
The drumline members have started raising money through theater productions and individual donations, and will hold a charity event in early May called “Over the Edge for Charity,” which will challenge participants to rappel down the side of a building for charity.
Jessica Oliveira, who has Down syndrome, said when she found out she could be going to Disney World for the first time to perform in front of a live audience, she cried tears of happiness.
“When I perform I know they’ll love me because they’ll cheer, chant my name and clap,” said Oliveira, 24, of Medford. “My favorite part is dancing and doing all the hard and difficult stuff on the snare drum.”
Brian Calhoun has been a music specialist at F.R.E.E. for four years and after forming the drumline in 2010, continues to serve as its director.
The drumline, which consists of snare drums, bass drums, quads, cymbals and a color guard, practices almost two hours every day at the F.R.E.E. location in Old Bethpage.
Calhoun, who first taught drumline members music theory and different aspects of drumming in a classroom, said he hopes a Disney performance would change the way society sees people with disabilities.
“Our main focus is to get them out there and perform in front of people to showcase their abilities and talents, not their disabilities,” said Calhoun, 31, of Bethpage. “We hope to change the face of the world and let everyone see what these guys are capable of.”
Jessica Gallone, senior director of day services at F.R.E.E., said the 153 individuals enrolled in the Theatre Arts Day Program — which the drumline is a part of — learn arts skills to gain confidence.
“For years, they’re put in special classes in school and some are even bullied, but when they’re here they gain a sense of pride and independence,” said Gallone, 39, of Huntington. “We build on their strengths to give them the confidence to do anything.”
For more information on the F.R.E.E. drumline or to make a donation, contact the organization at 516-870-1600.