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20 Aug 2019

The Universal Language: Jason Nutter Uses Music to Help Special-Needs Students Communicate and Connect

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Jason Nutter. Jason Nutter.

Jason Nutter wouldn’t tell me his age; all he’d say is that he’s been doing music for a long time.

He’s played music since his childhood—and now his love of music spills out to the community. Not only is he a musician who plays regularly at venues including Tonga Hut in Palm Springs; he’s an educator and the founder of Music Heals Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to getting musical instruments into the hands of autistic and special-needs students.

His beliefs in music as therapy and the inherent value of every person motivate the work he does with Music Heals. Moreover, Nutter is convinced that everyone has musical ability. He is interested in helping parents and students recognize the benefits of music and the positive role it can play in the lives of people.

Though he’s lived in the desert full-time for eight years now, Nutter is originally from Beaumont. Before he moved to the Coachella Valley, he commuted to the desert to play shows, including a gig every Friday at the Village Pub for three years. He worked with the Banning Unified School District’s special-education department as an educator, but as the battle for education funding waged, Nutter eventually decided to open a music school on his own.

A non-verbal student began attending his classes—and it wound up changing his life.

“She was a very shy, meek girl, about 15 years old, and though she would only observe, one day, I saw her tapping her foot—and it was in time,” Nutter said. “I gave her a pair of drum sticks and discovered she could keep the rhythm to anything I played.”

This discovery led Nutter to the path he is on now. He started by dedicating one class a week to students with special needs. The students would all learn to play instruments, eventually learning popular songs, writing songs, making music videos and holding concerts. Nutter soon made another realization: Everybody loves the spotlight.

“Everybody wanted to be the singer, even if they were non-verbal and did not have ability to talk,” Nutter said.

He began letting the students all take turns singing their favorite songs, with the rest of the class learning to play them—and whenever a student struggles with the ability to sing, the rest of the class jumps in to help. While the participants in his programs vary in ability, Nutter finds an opportunity for everyone to participate.

“Even if they can’t play a guitar, they can still play a bongo, tambourine or shaker,” Nutter said.

After falling in love with the desert and receiving a generous donation, he made the leap and moved to Palm Springs full-time. He is in the process of opening a classroom and building a stage—for learning to occur, and for bands to play. The philosophy he developed in Banning continues here in the desert: Students with autism are encouraged to learn how to play their instrument, play songs and eventually begin writing their own material.

As the summer winds down, and the temperatures decline, Nutter will hold concerts featuring his students once a month during the Village Fest on Thursday nights, in front of his record and collectible store, located at 280 N. Palm Canyon Drive.

In addition to his work with the desert’s autism community, Nutter has continued his successful music career, most recently releasing a country-folk song in collaboration with Jesika von Rabbit titled “Joshua Tree,” and securing a Thursday-night residency at Tonga Hut.

Nutter said the demand for the services that Music Heals provides is overwhelming. He said the best way to support him is to donate records and music memorabilia to his shop, which he sells in exchange for donations in order to purchase music instruments for the program’s participants. If you would like to donate, please call 909-435-9705 to make an appointment to have your donation items reviewed.

Nutter has formed a partnership with Desert Arc, another desert-based organization that provides resources to people with special needs. He currently has two adult-transition workers helping at his record store.

Mr. Nutter remains determined to make a difference and help people—especially non-traditional musicians—realize the benefits of music. It’s an uphill battle, but he has the vision and desire to succeed.

For more information on Music Heals, visit the store at 280 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs; call 909-435-9705; or visit www.facebook.com/musichealskids.

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