DENHAM SPRINGS — The Denham Springs High School Band participated in the state’s first United Sound performance during its May 8 spring Wind Ensemble concert, featuring the musical talent of four local students with special needs.

United Sound is a school-based instrumental music club for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their peers. With assistance from student volunteers, who serve as peer mentors, and the school’s music leadership, the new musicians work with their school band to learn to play an instrument of their choice at a personally modified level.

“Music is a language that transcends disability. Students who participate in United Sound programs are learning to be musicians. Making music together is a powerful force of learning, growth, friendship and understanding,” said Carlye Latas, assistant director of the Denham Springs High School Band.

Denham Springs High School Band Director Andrew Hunter learned about United Sound in December at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago and returned to the campus with a passion to begin a local chapter.

“We are so proud that Denham Springs High School is the first in Louisiana to create an inclusive musical learning environment through this program,” Hunter said.

Making their debut performance with the high school band at the Grady Hornsby Gymnasium were Kassi Rice on flute, Brandon Smith on euphonium, Christel Dugas on trumpet and Alexis Archer on marimba. They were assisted in the performance of “Procession of Heroes” by their peer mentors.

The students began their instruction in February, meeting once a week with instructors and the peer mentors to learn how to take instruments out of their cases, make their first sounds, play notes while reading music and playing the piece they performed at the concert.

“I have loved seeing the relationships that developed as a result of this program,” Latas said.

United Sound supports individual music educators in creating their own United Sound ensembles, thereby giving all children “access to meaningful and authentic music education and music experiences,” according to the organization’s website. The program is in 51 schools across 19 states. Over the past four years, more than 3,000 students have participated, including 2,323 peer mentors who worked with 765 students with special needs to become new musicians.

The spring concert featured an array of performances by the Denham Springs High School Wind Ensemble, including the performance of “In My Father’s Eyes” by Julie Giroux, with the assistance of the Livingston Parish Children’s Choir, featuring Sean Parker on the cello.

The school’s concert and symphonic bands presented a separate spring concert the week prior at the Grady Hornsby Gymnasium.

The Wind Ensemble performed earlier this year in the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory Wind Ensemble Invitational at Carnegie Hall in New York. Denham Springs High School was one of three schools invited to participate.