Accessibility, Arts, Sport and Culture. Skoog at the Special Olympics

As the commonwealth games gets into full swing I was reminded of the amazing work that Joy Vamvakari did bringing the Skoog to the Special Olympics in 2011. I realised the piece she wrote with fellow musician Tasos never found a wider audience so I thought it was long overdue that it should feature on the Skoog blog. The post describes the various workshops that Joy ran throughout the Special Olympics world games in Athens in 2011, celebrating Sport, Culture and accessibility.

Skoog team

Special Olympics World Games 2011- Athens: The Skoog was there! By Joy Vamvakari and Tasos Mavrolampados


The Special Olympics are a non-profit organization founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of John F. Kennedy, and the only officially authorized to use the term “Olympics”. Their mission is to inspire peace in the world community, change attitudes, encourage through sports, develop programs for global health, encourage research, and educate society about how they should address and behave towards people with intellectual disabilities. Athletes competing in the Special Olympics are from all ability levels and have intellectual disability, cognitive delay, or significant learning or vocational problems, occasionally alongside physical disability.
In 2011 the Special Olympics games took place between the 2th of June and the 4th of July in Athens. There, 7500 athletes from 185 nations competed in 22 Olympic-type sports,  with the help of 2500 coaches and 3000 technical officers, with the support of 40000 people from Special Olympic families and 25000 volunteers, while 3000 media representatives covered the events.

Given the wide range of people participating and visiting and the great significance of this event for the hosting country and the world as a whole, in building towards understanding and integration of people with special needs, the Skoog had to be present and support this important cause.

Skoogmusic contributed to the Special Olympics Summer Games, by hosting Skoog workshops at the Festival, by participating in the Motor Activities Training Program (MATP), by hosting a Skoog Concert on the Special Olympics Festival stage, and by its presence in the official welcome reception for the Great Britain Special Olympics team.

The Special Olympics Festival took place between the 26th of July and the 3rd of July, in the surrounding area of the Olympic Athletic Center of Athens, including various workshops and cultural events, alongside concerts and presentations. There, the Skoog held a series of open workshops for the participants and visitors of the Special Olympics, in the Delegation Entertainment area, at the Skoogmusic stand. The aim of these workshops and our constant presence in the festival was to provide the opportunity for everyone to have a go and experience music with the Skoog; making music available to everyone!

During these workshops athletes, family members, visitors and volunteers enjoyed playing with the Skoog, played along popular tunes, and created their own, contributing to the noticeably joyful and  fun atmosphere of the Delegations Entertainment area.

Specifically, the Skoog workshops took various forms and incorporated different ways of playing, depending on the player’s needs and desires. During our workshops two Skoogs were used, alongside a Macbook and a large TV screen, projecting the image of the desktop, and a portable and rechargeable speaker, alongside a Wowee vibrating speaker when necessary (e.g. hearing impaired players). This equipment allowed us to enhance the sound and visual elements of the Skoog experience, making it even more fun and enjoyable!

The Skoog was used as means to play along popular tunes, improvise with musical instrument sounds, trigger sounds forming popular songs, and we also played duets, engaged in games of imitation, and recorded the music we created. The tunes we played along to were popular tunes, mainly in English or Spanish, as well as Greek songs, as a tribute to the host country, and from most musical genres; these tunes were chosen with the intention of being both fun and recognizable, and providing a safe and fun context within which the participants could express themselves, communicate, feel the significance of their musical contribution and develop their creativity.



You can watch some video excerpts from the workshops via this youtube playlist.

The sets of notes for these tunes had been prepared beforehand, making the use of these tunes very easy and allowing immediate adaption to each participant’s needs and desires. The songs we used were Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”, “Loca” by Shakira, the instrumental “Le valse d’Amelie”, various Greek rebetiko and traditional songs, “Smoke on the water” by Deep Purple, Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”, John Lennon’s “imagine”, “Hit the road Jack” by Ray Charles, “Born this way” by Lady Gaga, “Mas que Nada” by the Black Eyed Peas, and many many more.  You can access free Skoog resources such as this here: SKOOG RESOURCES

Our role in these workshops, having already organized the workshops and the material to be used, was mainly as operators of the Skoogmusic software and animators, demonstrating the Skoog’s abilities, encouraging the players and occasionally engaging in duets and playing games of imitation, where the two participants try to copy each other’s moves and sounds produced.

The Skoog was also present at the Motor Activities Training Program (MATP), which is designed for severely handicapped people who are not able to participate in official Special Olympics sports, and emphasizes training and participation rather than competition. Believing in this great cause and aspiring to support it, the Skoogmusic team held a group workshop in the athlete’s lounge on the 3rd of July and before the opening of the program for the Greek MATP athletes, aiming towards their activation, motivation and, of course, using the Skoog as an enjoyable and fun way to “warm up”. This workshop was similar to the Special Olympics Festival workshops, but was designed to occupy more people simultaneously and was based around the sea as a main theme, as this was also the main theme of the MATP program as a whole.

The songs and sounds used were related to the sea (ocean animals and birdsong, songs about ships and travelling etc) and there was also a PowerPoint presentation of images of the sea and marine environment, to give the athletes inspiration and contribute to a more holistic experience. During this workshop the athletes had a chance to try out the Skoog, were able to express their excitement about their participation in the project and channel all their energy and anxiety for the games about to begin.



Furthermore, the Skoogmusic team organized a concert which was held on the 2nd of July on the Special Olympics stage. During the concert, or “Skoncert”, that lasted for over an hour, two Skoogs performed, mainly as soloist instruments, alongside community musicians playing guitar, accordion, violin, keyboards and a group of the festival’s volunteers as singers. However, the most important performer of the event was a young athlete from the Greek MATP team, who joined the band on one of the Skoogs for most of the concert. The audience actively participated with excitement during the performance, playing percussion instruments that we distributed, singing and dancing. The repertoire played consisted of international popular songs, instrumental pieces, and Greek traditional and popular songs. The concert succeeded to illustrate how the Skoog can be used as a main instrument in any band and is able to cooperate musically with all other “traditional” instruments on equal terms, overcoming “traditional” difficulties and enabling everyone to take part in group music-making.


As mentioned above, the Skoog also had a dynamic presence at the Special Olympics GB team welcome reception on the 27th of June, hosted by the HE British Ambassador to Greece Dr. David Landsman of Winchester, in celebration of the GB team’s participation in the Special Olympics World Summer Games. During this, the GB team athletes, family, friends and supporters had the chance to play and experiment with the Skoog playing along tunes they know and love. Other guests present that had the opportunity to get to know the Skoog were representatives of the Greek Government, academics, the media, special education experts and NGO’s, sponsors and members of the Special Olympics Athens Games organizing committee. Furthermore, after his inspiring speech, Special Olympics International CEO Tim Shriver, took some time to join us and learn all about the Skoog by playing “Eye of the tiger” and improvising on “Knocking on heaven’s door”, one of his favorite songs, while the British Ambassador, Dr David Landsman also joined us, with his lovely wife, who played the Skoog and spent time reading all the provided information and articles concerning the invention and development of this new innovative instrument.

The Skoogmusic team’s presence at the Special Olympics World Games was constant and dynamic and we were delighted to be able to offer the opportunity to so many people, from so diverse backgrounds and origins, to get to know and experience the Skoog. As the British Ambassador, Dr David Landsman said:
“Special Olympics is not just about sport, but about saying loud and clear that everyone can have the opportunity to do their best; and Special Olympics doesn’t just say it, it makes it happen.” We believe in this cause and that is why we chose to support the purpose of the Special Olympics World Games, by being there and making it happen, all thanks to the help and support from our wonderful volunteers and fellow community musicians, but most of all because of the amazing people involved in the Special Olympics, the athletes, coaches and families, who showed us what it means to never give up! Thank you everyone and we’re looking forward to seeing you all at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Korea in 2013!

Once again a massive thank you to Joy, Tasos and the rest of the volunteers who made this possible. We are proud to have been a part of this awesome event.

Skoog is now available online from the Apple Store in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish and Portuguese. 

Thanks to all our international Skoogists from around the world, and if you have a Skoog story don’t hesitate to get in touch. Happy Skooging folks