It’s late Wednesday morning and about a dozen members of the San Diego Symphony’s string section have taken the stage within the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad. On the floor in front of them is a group of children, each one seated on a colorful piece of square carpet. This is the first in a series of sensory-friendly concerts, launched by the San Diego Symphony’s Kinder Koncerts program and aimed at families with children on the autism spectrum.
According to The Musical Autist, sensory-friendly concerts are “performances of the fine arts, which include those with disabilities who may not be able to sit still in a traditional concert venue, such as a symphony hall.” Some adjustments include flexible seating options, comfortable lighting, and lower volumes.
“We wanted to provide an opportunity for these families to come and just be who they are and feel welcome, to feel like they can engage with the music in whatever way feels natural for them,” says Adrienne Valencia, the Symphony’s director of youth education, and the driving force behind the new initiative.
After a welcome song led by music therapist Julie Guy, the orchestra opens up the performance with a sensory-friendly rendition of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik. Throughout the concert, the children are encouraged to experience the music using different toys, such as balls and streamers, and by moving, dancing, and clapping along.
“We were really excited about presenting a concert performance where the children in the room felt free to simply engage with the music,” says conductor Sameer Patel. “Whether it’s an educational concert or a masterworks concert for adults, you want people to feel like they’re able to respond to the music in some way.”
According to Adrienne Valencia, only a handful of orchestras around the country are currently doing these types of concerts. In San Diego, the initiative is following in the footsteps of The Old Globe’s sensory-friendly performances of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and Into the Woods, which were designed to create a safer and more enjoyable experience for families with special needs.
Wednesday’s concert was the first of three this week. The next two are planned for Saturday, February 18, at San Diego’s Ballard Parent Center. They are free and open to children with autism and other sensitivity issues, as well as their families. Spots are limited, so those wanting to attend are encouraged to email Adrienne Valenica at [email protected] to reserve their seats.
The San Diego Symphony has introduced a lineup of sensory-friendly concerts as part of its Kinder Koncerts program. | Photo courtesy of San Diego Symphony