For centuries, music has been used to bridge relationships despite obstacles such as language and culture, and is used time and again to connect people who may otherwise not be friends. Music has a language all it’s own; it can heal, inspire, and bring people together reaching across borders and into our hearts. If you’ve ever sang in a choir or played an instrument you know the joy that comes from creatively expressing your self with sound. Of course not everybody has a chance to participate in music and that is what spurred Tanner McCellan to create a place to “sing, laugh and make memories”. The Best Buddies Friends Choir at Miami University brings together students to sing, support, and become friends with those who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.
What inspired you to start Best Buddies Friends Choir and what steps did you take to start this particular journey? For as long as I can remember I have been passionate about two things, music and helping others. Throughout my life I have been fortunate enough to be in many different choirs, productions and ensembles without realizing that these opportunities are not available for everyone. When I was a freshman at Upper Arlington High School I was sitting in the auditorium during a dress rehearsal when I noticed that there was a student with Down syndrome singing with the sophomore choir and having a great time. And at that moment, I realized that everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy music the same way that I have always been able to. During my junior year, my friends who were seniors at the time, Kelsey and Audrey, started a choir for a few peers with special needs at the high school. I loved the idea and the next year I ran the choir for my senior capstone project.
I came into Miami University full of ideas of everything I wanted to accomplish, but starting the Best Buddies Friends Choir was not one of them. Honestly, I did not think I was capable of completing such a daunting task. However, I wanted to continue volunteering and being a part of the special education community, so I signed up for Best Buddies at the Mega Fair and became an associate member. Best Buddies is an international organization that creates friendships between individuals with disabilities and individuals without disabilities. Being an associate member was fun, but I still felt that I was missing something. It was then that I decided to try to create the choir. After two months of emails, phone calls, and chaos, the choir became a reality.
Every Saturday I drive to the Hamilton branch campus of Miami University, where I meet with the Best Buddies Friends Choir from 11am until noon. Our first practice was on March 23, 2013 and I could not have been more nervous or excited. There were 6 members at the first rehearsal, and less than a year later there are now 15 buddies who come to practice, as well as many college peer volunteers! During our hour together, in an open, energetic and supportive environment, we learn different songs, create friendships, and enjoy being a part of an ensemble where everyone genuinely loves being there together.
What started as an idea quickly became something that required a lot of my time and energy, but I absolutely love every minute I spend on the Best Buddies Friends Choir. Over the last year and a half, we have accomplished so much! In the spring of 2014, we became an official Miami University Student Organization and were awarded the “I Am Miami” award for being the student organization that most embodies the Miami University Code of Love & Honor. We have performed at the MU Thon, Relay for Life, the Miami University Collegiate Chorale Spring Concert, and the Just Duet Spring Concert as well as various other events.
We also have many high hopes for the upcoming years as well. We are looking to start two new chapters of the Best Buddies Friends Choir. One chapter will be at the University of Dayton and one will be at Hamilton High School. This is going to be the first step in the quest of becoming a national organization. We are also always looking for new performance opportunities. I also hope to put on an a Cappella awareness concert on campus which would give the choir not only another chance to perform, but also a chance for the members to speak to students about what Best Buddies Friends Choir and Best Buddies means to them and raise awareness to eliminate the use of the word, retarded.
What was or are the hardest obstacle(s) to overcome to meet your goals and what is your proudest accomplishment so far in relation to your work? While starting the choir was a very tedious process that included over a month of phone calls and emails, the hardest obstacle that I had to overcome was becoming an official Miami University student organization. This process included creating an executive board, finding a faculty advisor, writing a constitution and an interview.
I am also extremely proud of the fact that we are working to make two additional chapters of the Best Buddies Friends Choir. I know that this will be very challenging process, but I am so excited that others, both buddies and volunteers, will be able to experience the pure joy that I am lucky enough to experience every Saturday morning.
How can people get involved either with Best Buddies or in their own communities?
Best Buddies is an international organization found at many universities and high schools! My best advice is to see if there is a chapter near you and to get involved. If there is not a chapter located near you, then you can start one with the help of Best Buddies!
Best Buddies Friends Choir is currently only at Miami University, but we hope eventually have chapters around the country! If you are interested in starting one, please feel free to contact me on the Best Buddies Friends Choir website.
I started the Best Buddies Friends Choir when I was a freshman at Miami University with hard work and persistence. If you are looking to start an organization to better your community, you can do it. It will take some time and patience, but it will be one of the greatest experiences of your life. The Best Buddies Friends Choir has been the best part of my college career, and arguably one of the best of my life and I could not be more thankful for it.