A Noteworthy Twist on the Reno Music Scene

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The Note-Ables: Changing the face of disability with musical ability.

A Note-Ables show is not to be missed — there is no other band in the community quite like it.

From left, Jeanine Mooers and Rachel Michaelson are two of the founding members of The Note-Ables. They are shown performing recently at Renown Regional Medical Center.
From left, Jeanine Mooers and Rachel Michaelson are two of the founding members of The Note-Ables. They are shown performing recently at Renown Regional Medical Center.

Maybe you caught the band at a recent Knitting Factory show. Or, you saw them playing at a packed Artown event. Maybe it was at 2012’s heart-pounding, spell-binding Artown opening show when the group joined Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart at Idlewild Park.

Since its inception, the Note-Ables has grown in popularity and garnered a loyal following. But more important, the band has changed the face of disability in our community.

The journey began in March 1999. Manal Toppozada moved to Reno from California with a master’s degree in music therapy and decided to start classes for adults with disabilities. The group was born from those classes and had ambitions very early on.

“The class members were saying, ‘This is all well and good but we want to get out in the community and show people what we can do,’” Toppozada recalls. “So, within two months of the class starting we were writing our own songs and started to put together a set. “

Summer 1999 saw the newly dubbed Note-Ables — a name coined by the original members — entertaining patrons at a local farmers’ market. By 2003, The Note-Ables were part of an official non-profit, Note-Able Music Therapy Services, of which Toppozada is founder and executive director.

“They are shattering the stereotype that people with cognitive and physical disabilities can’t do music,” Toppozada proposes. “They are also broadening the concept of disability. It isn’t just someone who is blind or in a wheelchair.”

Frank Mackin (left) and Michael Lahnala (right) join guitarist Mark Geeson in some harmonies during a recent performance at Renown Regional Medical Center.
Frank Mackin (left) and Michael Lahnala (right) join guitarist Mark Geeson in some harmonies during a recent performance at Renown Regional Medical Center.

The Note-Ables’ musical selections reflect their own view of the world. During a recent show at the Tahoe Tower Lobby at Renown Regional Medical Center, The Note-Ables performed an exuberant and upbeat set of rock and pop tunes from artists such as the Beatles and Bob Dylan — but they didn’t perform just the hits. The breadth of pop knowledge the group possesses is apparent as it plays deep album cuts and somewhat obscure songs that perfectly suit their rich harmonies.

“I think they are much more versatile than other groups in town,” Toppozada says. “They go from the Kinks to Frank Sinatra.”

The current Note-Ables lineup includes three founding members:  vocalists Michelle Emrick, Rachel Michaelson and Jeanine Mooers. Other singers include Rebecca Shipley and Frank Mackin. Instrumentalists include drummer Leif Christensen, guitarists Mark Geeson and Jeff Bloyd, bassist Michael Lahnala, and vocalist/bassist Tony Martin.

The band’s biggest show is always in February. “A Note-Able Evening of Romance”  will feature famed local jazz singer Cami Thompson performing with the group and the Reno Jazz Orchestra. It takes place Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Reno Ballroom,401 N. Center Street. “This one is our 10th anniversary, so it’s going to be a big blowout,” Toppozada says. “We usually have 450 people in the audience.”

The Note-Ables also get something out of their band experience beyond professional work and a following. The group fosters independent living and community inclusion. “We give them as much responsibility as we can, and that’s all a part of the perception we want,” Toppozada says. “We don’t want to be thought of as the token disabled group in town — we want to be respected as musicians.”

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