Last week I shared my personal feelings about music and how it brings people together. This week I have the pleasure of introducing someone who agrees, and decided to do something about it.

Marilyn Abel was a special education teacher at Lexington High School and a professional musician when she first became aware of the need for her students to have a social life.

“We would come in on a Monday morning and talk about what we did on the weekend. All my students could share was a TV program they watched or the fact that they were home all weekend. They needed social activities outside of school, but there weren’t any for them.”

Marilyn knew something had to be done.

A Chorus Begins

Marilyn spoke with her close friend Judy Goldner, also a teacher and professional musician, and they decided to start a chorus.

In November 1982, the Special Needs Arts Programs (SNAP), formerly known as the Special Needs Arts Fund, began with the Sing Along Chorus. Today the chorus has 21 members and 4-5 high school volunteers that meet every Monday night.

Over the years, the programs expanded as additional needs were met.

In 1984 the Sing Along Singers began for older adults with approximately 30 participants still meeting every Wednesday night. For children, the Special Musicians was established in 1985 and continues today under the leadership of Andrew Gentzow, a certified music therapist.

But the thing is it isn’t just about the singing.

“The choruses have become such an important part of their lives; I never dreamed everyone would become so close, including the parents. Over the years when they drove their sons and daughters to chorus, the parents stayed and started their own support group. They are a family. We are a family.”

The Community Sings Along

Yet again, it didn’t stop there. Marilyn and Judy wanted the choruses to share their love of singing with others through community service.

“One of my favorite memories was when the choruses sang in the chapel at Youville, a senior citizen community in Lexington. When we started singing Jingle Bell Rock, some of the prim and proper ladies in the audience joined the choruses singing and dancing in the aisles. It was so heartwarming.”

After 29 years, Marilyn and Judy passed on their management role to Marsha Martin, the current director, in a seamless transition. Marsha’s energy and passion ensure a successful future.

If you or a person you know with a disability like to sing, check out the video SNAP has on their website at

I guarantee you will be singing along in no time.

5 Comments on Special Needs Arts Programs Share a Love for Singing

    • Hi Pam.
      It would certainly be wonderful if there were more programs like SNAP in Massachusetts!

      I called Arc Community Services in Fitchburg. There are music therapy programs there but not chorus. The gal I spoke with suggested calling Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner. The “Theatre at the Mount” program there is inclusive for those with disabilities. I do not know if it is only open for students. For additional information, call Donna Thibault, Disability Coordinator at (978) 632-6600.

      There are a few more music choral opportunities in Massachusetts which will be featured in week four this month’s blog.

      • Gail Steele,the director at Theatre at the Mount was able to relay the following info.

        Theatre at the Mount is a community theater and is open to all. There are open auditions throughout the year for plays and musicals. While they cannot always accommodate disabilities (depending on the casting requirements and complexity of the show) they have had persons with disabilities in their productions in past years. A young blind boy and a young women with Down’s Syndrome have both participated in the shows. They also have a summer drama programs for children and teens and have had students with a variety of disabilities participating. Info on auditions available at

  1. My son was a member in the early years, and he still remembers the fun he had there. When he moved out of town, we were hoping to find something as good as this. I’m happy to see it spotlighted in this blog.

  2. Music is a great way to bring people together as they all share in the joy of music as well as the remembrances that music brings to those of every generation.

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