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Reflecting a rainbow: Prism non-profit widens access to music

Colby Taylor has had a busy few months.

The first-year music education major has been working since July to start a nonprofit organization with the help of just a few friends. The organization, called Prism Marching Arts, aims to give special needs students an opportunity to learn to play an instrument and perform in a marching band.

“You never see anybody with special needs in band,” Taylor said. “There’s no rule against it, you just don’t see it because most high school bands are competitive and fast-paced. I decided to put two of my favorite things together, working with special needs students and music.”

Taylor has always been an advocate for special needs communities, as his best friend growing up had Down syndrome. But, after taking a class during his senior year of high school that allowed him to help out in the special needs classes, he knew he wanted to do more than advocate. Over the summer, he came up with an idea to bring marching band, one of his other big passions, to students who likely wouldn’t have a chance to play otherwise.

Through Facebook groups and Miami’s marching band, Taylor connected with a few other incoming Miami students over the summer and recruited them to help turn Prism from an idea into a reality. With a staff of five others behind him, Taylor has worked since July to grow the program and get it off the ground. This has included planning out lessons and rehearsals, networking with other local groups and nonprofits that work with special needs children, as well as creating a website.

So far, six students have signed up to be a part of the program. However, Taylor has only just begun widely advertising Prism in the last few weeks, which makes him hopeful there will be many more to come before rehearsals start next month.

“It’s all blown up in one month,” Taylor said. “It got real big, real fast, and we’re not even that big yet.”

Taylor has big aspirations for Prism in the future. He has planned out ten years’ worth of themes and music for marching band shows and has even started to pursue performance opportunities for the future, like trying to book a performance of the National Anthem at a Cincinnati sports game in 2021 or 2022.

Kinshuk Tella, a first-year who is working as the low brass director for Prism, says that Taylor’s dedication to Prism is one of the reasons the project has moved so fast, and one of the reasons he jumped into the project before he even got to Miami.

“I got on board before the semester started,” Tella said. “At first, I thought it would be high demanding. I was impressed with the idea, but I didn’t know the logistics, but [Taylor] is very passionate about this, which made me very motivated, too. From there, we’ve just been getting more passionate. Colby has impressed me quite a bit with the amount of work he’s put in.”

There are other special needs marching bands around the country, but most require participants to be 21-years-old or older. Prism will work with students over the age of 13, which Taylor believes is the youngest of any special needs band in the country.

Taylor and the rest of the Prism staff know they will face many challenges in advancing the project to where they want it, from getting Prism officially registered as a non-profit to eventually spending eight hours on Saturdays teaching students how to play music. 

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Jacob Lorkovic, a first-year student and the assistant director of Prism, says that part of the reason they have held off on holding rehearsals so far is so the group can create more lesson plans and learn more about working with special needs students from Taylor in order to be better prepared.

Despite the challenges to come, however, Lorkovic hopes it will be a rewarding experience for both the staff members of Prism and the students who play in the band.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for us since we’re music education students and I feel like we’re really giving back to the special ed community,” Lorkovic said. “Marching band is a pretty extensive and fairly difficult activity, but giving special needs kids the chance to participate in a big familial group, it’ll bring them happiness, and that’s what we strive to do.”

Taylor has a similar view. He hopes to one day take Prism from a marching band and turn it into a school of music for special needs students. For now, though, he’s ready to do what he can to lay the groundwork for a successful program in the future.

“As an 18-year-old, it’s really hard to start a program like this,” Taylor said. “But starting this now and thinking about where it could be in four years is better than starting in four years and being where we are. I was just so excited about it I wanted to start right away. Plus, what’s a challenge? If life didn’t have challenges here and there it would be boring.”