Human Instrument and a Soul to the Universe
by James Kim
Jun 18, 2019 | 7125 views | 0 0 comments | 655 655 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Queens native James Kim is executive director of BEAT Global, a LIC-based nonprofit organization that provides unique hip-hop-based educational programs to NYC's schools and communities.
Queens native James Kim is executive director of BEAT Global, a LIC-based nonprofit organization that provides unique hip-hop-based educational programs to NYC's schools and communities.
For two break-taking minutes, tens of millions of Americans were spellbound by Kodi Lee’s awe-inspiring rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “A Song For You” on America’s Got Talent on May 28.

As Howie Mandel exclaimed, he had all four judges and everyone in the room up on their feet. Julianne Hough couldn’t stop crying.

“Everybody needs a voice and an expression,” she said. “I heard you and I felt you.”

“I don’t know what it’s like to live in Kodi’s world,” Simon Cowell remarked. “I’m going to remember this moment for the rest of my life.”

And this year’s first time judge, Gabrielle Union, used her first golden buzzer, which will advance Kodi all the way to the finals in Hollywood.

“You just changed the world,” she exclaimed.

What made Kodi’s flawless performance even more inspiring is that he is blind and autistic. His mom Tina mentions that music unlocked something special in Kodi outside some of his physical limitations that allowed for her to see his true potential.

“We found out that he loved music really early on,” she said. “He listened and his eyes just went huge and he started singing, and that’s when I realized ‘oh my gosh, he’s an entertainer,’” Tina said. “Ultimately, it saved his life.”

Kodi’s performance showcased that music is not only a conduit to his creative expression, but also a springboard for him to overcome some of the challenges he and many others with disabilities face.

We here at Bridging Education and Arts Together (BEAT Global), a LIC-based nonprofit organization, have witnessed the transformative power of music through a decade of teaching beatboxing via our BEAT Rockers program to more than 700 students, most notably at the Lavelle School for the Blind in the Bronx.

We’ve seen how students, many with multiple disabilities, are able to transcend the conventional limitations. After years of learning beatboxing, one of our most successful students, Revelino, unleashed his own talent and recently performed on Broadway as one of the cast of “Hairspray” at the Jerry Orbach Theatre.

Our work and impact was recently captured in a mini-documentary titled “We Speak Music: When Art Meets Therapy,” presented by Nokia Bell Labs and featured on Swissbeatbox, the world’s largest beatbox platform.

The 13-minute film poignantly highlights how beatboxing and vocal experimentation helps young people communicate beyond their visual and developmental challenges.

In the clip, comments, “Something that tapped into our students that I hadn’t seen before,” said Lavelle principal Diane Tucker in the film. “They would just participate and realize, you know, they weren’t so different.”

Evidently, beatboxing is an equalizer in unlocking the creative potential of the youth beyond the normal confines of traditional language. Think about a kid who’s blind, in a wheelchair and has autism - none of that matters for him to beatbox.

All he needs is his voice. He is his own instrument, and something magical happens when he realizes he has the power within him.

Sophie Scott, a professor at University College London and deputy director of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, couldn’t have summed it up better.

“When I hear beatboxing I hear ambition and skill and creativity and delight and hope,” she said. “Our voice is our first, fully fledged musical instrument."

In fact, studies have shown that beatboxing increases brain activity in the primary motor cortex, just as playing a guitar. And science can’t deny the euphoric benefits of music.

As Dr. Anne Fabiny, editor-in-chief of Harvard Women's Health Watch wrote, “listening to and performing music reactivates areas of the brain associated with memory, reasoning, speech, emotion, and reward.”

We’re passionate about teaching beatboxing to our youth because we believe that it can uplift and heal their bodies and minds. Our mission is to empower the students with a tool to creatively express themselves, using nothing else but their own “human instrument,” which is free and accessible regardless of one’s background, socioeconomic status, nationality or (dis)ability.

The possibilities always start with awareness. The world needs to see more stars like “America’s Got Talent” contestant Kodi Lee and BEAT Rockers alumnus Revelino shine on stage despite their physical challenges. Our societies need to recognize the importance of music education and provide more funding to the schools.

We at BEAT Global are proud to do our part in sharing the art of beatboxing and the joy of music with students in New York City’s underserved communities.

As Greek philosopher Plato famously said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”

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