Finding their voice

Jon Dalgarn is up there, guitar in hands. He’s ready to rock.

“One, two, three …” he shouts, then launches into a wildly eclectic set of songs.

As he starts singing, his steady voice carries the band: “They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway.”

By the third song – Smash Mouth’s “All Star” from the “Shrek” soundtrack – he’s got plenty of backing from his group, Voices of the Village, and from loyal fans.

It’s not your typical rock band.

Voices of the Village showcases the talents and enthusiasm of people with developmental disabilities.

Band members come from Village Community Services, an Arlington-based nonprofit organization that provides about 150 disabled clients with residential help, career training and job placement. Some have Down syndrome or autism, others have severe physical disabilities.

The crowd gathered Friday afternoon had at least one thing in common – they were into the music.

The venue was Arlington United Church, where the group plays during a weekly music program that serves as band practice and a freewheeling jam session for other people with disabilities.

“What happened was a happy accident,” said Dalgarn, 52, who contracts with Village Community Services to run the music program.

Dalgarn, of Bow, used to work with the disabled in the agency’s workshop, helping people do assembly work and learn job skills.

“I was managing the shelter workshop, but prior to that job I’d been a musician for over 30 years,” he said.

Several years ago, he decided to bring a guitar and play at lunchtime.

“The whole vibration of the place shifted when the guitar came out and I started to play. Over the course of a few weeks, it was palpable. I started bringing rhythm instruments, tambourines and maracas,” he said. “And across the board, everybody jumped on the opportunity to play.”

When he introduced microphones, Dalgarn said that even people considered nonverbal wanted to sing.

“It dawned on me,” he said. “Everybody’s got a voice.”

He now runs his own business, Out of the Ashes, and works with another group of disabled musicians in Mount Vernon.

Voices of the Village has performed in coffee houses, including Zippy’s Java Lounge in downtown Everett, and at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, the Sultan Shindig and other events. A week ago, the group took top honors at an Everett Elks Club talent show.

“It’s an intangible thing, joy, happiness, something to look forward to. If you’re connected to something or somebody, you’re good to go. The real tragedy is not being plugged into something, and the Village Community parents are all about that. They want their kids plugged in,” he said.

Vicki Adams is one of those parents.

She has two sons, ages 41 and 38, who work at Village Community Services.

Jimmy has Down syndrome and Sean has cerebral palsy. They come to the music program and play tambourines.

“Just the change you see in them, it’s unique,” Adams said.

Margaret McClure brings her children, 26-year-old Thomas and 22-year-old Jamie, to music every Friday.

“It’s way more than music. Folks learn so many things – cooperation, waiting, and an approach to adulthood,” said McClure, who’s also on the Village Community Services board and organizes the program.

Michelle Dietz-Date, the agency’s resource development manager, said that basic funding comes from the state, but that parents and fundraising support the music program, which costs about $2,000 a month.

Clients, all over 18, live in their own homes, or in group homes or housing run by the agency. “We provide support for people in our program,” Dietz-Date said.

A Taste of Decadence dessert auction, set for 6:30 p.m. Friday in the Smokey Point Community Church auditorium, will raise funds for music and other programs.

“Our goal is $20,000; that’s a significant amount for us,” Dietz-Date said. “There are things the state doesn’t cover, such as a fleet of vehicles for people who can’t take the bus and the music program.”

Members of Voices of the Village don’t concern themselves with funding worries or transportation costs. On Friday, they were immersed in the music business.

Chris Shaw, in his Elton John hat, kept the beat on a bongo drum.

Tim Spadaford put his own stamp on a rockin’ rendition of “American Pie.”

Gloria Poole put all her energy into playing the keyboards.

Matthew Geraghty said he’s no Sinatra, but he sure belted out “New York, New York.”

And on “Come Together,” James Jennings played a mean saxophone solo.

Ed Wetzel’s daughter, 39-year-old Sandee, does a Hawaiian medley.

“The greatest part is what it brings out in them,” Sandee’s 80-year-old father said.

“Music is like air,” band leader Dalgarn said. “It’s that important.”

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or

The music group Voices of the Village will perform at Taste of Decadence, a dessert auction to benefit Village Community Services.

The event is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday in the auditorium of Smokey Point Community Church, 17721 Smokey Point Blvd., Arlington.

To reserve a spot or make a donation, call 360-653-7752.

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