Helping Hands – The Know Obstacles Project

As an audiophile, you probably possess a unique awareness of the correlation between the spectrum of the human experience and music.  A couple of notes on the page may just be ink blobs to some, but you hear the accent that gives it breath, and it transforms you.  If you are a musician, music not only transforms you, but gives you the outlet to express yourself when simple words won’t do.

The concept of transformation is at the heart of Know Obstacles, a band whose members are all young adults facing physical and social challenges.  Using the acronym H.O.M.E. (Hands-On Meaningful Expressions), Steve “Oz” Osburn encourages his students to share music in order to facilitate personal growth and social bonds.  He relates that an autistic boy, age 7, walked into his studio over a decade ago and that interaction inspired him to start a group for disabled kids, drawing on help from the families of the Intentional Communities of Washtenaw (ICW).

A band parent, Scott,  explains, “Steve studied the Montessori method…Kids essentially try out a variety of instruments and they tend to gravitate to what they’re must interested in and likely show the most success [in] over time.”  His daughter, Lauren, has Aspberger’s, but she’s extremely high-functioning, smart, and fiercely independent.  “She, like the other band members, connects with and through music more so than any other avenue.”  Know Obstacles gives the kids the opportunity to be creative and outgoing; performing initially for their families on stage at Oz’s Music Experience demystified being in the spotlight and strengthened their confidence.

Live gigs are notoriously difficult to book, “even more so when the social network is already small,” Scott says, “and the continuing challenge is how to assimilate individuals with different music skills and interests into a cohesive unit.”  However, through Know Obstacles new project, recording a CD (sponsored by ICW), some of the challenges presented by differing intellectual abilities has been conquered.

The KO-Project has already logged about twenty hours of studio time recording at Sage Court Studios and Big Sky Studios.  Several locally-renowned musicians and engineers have assisted, many dropping their usual fee, so the group could share a real recording experience.

Every band has to have a mixture of instruments and Know Obstacles is no different. David Ziff is one of the founding members and has participated in the various iterations of the band. He started with the bass guitar but has since transitioned to electric guitar.  His demeanor tends to be more reserved and quiet, but he opens up when he listens to or plays jazz.  Music has really given him another outlet to express himself.   Dylan has cerebral palsy, but lives to rock!  He’d love nothing more than to go out on tour and play rock and roll for a living.  Ashley plays a variety of instruments including the piano and electric guitar, and shares singing responsibilities with surprisingly soulfully-voiced Lauren (who also plays the congas), Megan and Kelli, two recent recruits. The band plays a variety of music well.  Ashley and Lauren like a wide variety of genres, though Lauren’s voice is perfect for the blues. Megan loves anything up tempo!

Of the KO-Project CD, Steve Osburn says, “the sound is already exceeding my expectations!”  He’d like to thank the following artists for their generous assistance:

  •  Peter Madcat Ruth    Already recorded on 2 tracks      Charged us $5  !!!!!
  •  Muruga  Already recorded on 2 tracks      Charged us $0  plus dinner !!!!!
  •  George Bedard  Already recorded on 4 tracks      Charged us $0  plus dinner!!!
  •  Kathleen Moore  Vocal Coach and Song Dev Associate
  • Dan Bilitch    Already recorded on 1 tracks   and  Project Consultant
  • Mayor Hawthorne and Andrew Cohen  are on board too!

They also plan on including another world class harmonica player, Ray Gale, and continue rocking the house!

Intentional Communities of Washtenaw (ICW) was started in 2005 by a small group of families looking to team up and help provide their adult children with disabilities with housing, support, resources, and opportunities to become more independent.  Each resident lives in his or her own apartment in one of the two communities. A Community Builder lives on-site to facilitate meaningful social interaction, like game nights and outings to the zoo or miniature golf, while Coaches focus on living skills, like banking or cooking for guests.  The Know Obstacles band members are either current residents, or have transitioned into another living arrangement but still maintain ties with their friends at ICW.

Spring 2013 is the targeted release date for KO-Project’s debut CD, and Audiogon is happy to provide online sales support.  In the meantime, though, you can check out ICW’s homepage to read more about the community and how you can help.

Audiogon would like to thank Dick Carlisle for shedding light on this great project!

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