Music can be a powerful tool that compels, captivates, and connects people of all ages and abilities together. Bella has always enjoyed a variety of music, as it has opened many doors for her to activate her personal and interpersonal skills. Bella is non-verbal, and music has always worked as a great motivator to prompt her to make requests to communicate with us. On her iPad, she has a folder that helps her access her favourite songs for us to sing, and is beginning to learn how to ask for Alexa to play her favourite jams!
In March, I wrote about Feeding Her Sensory Diet and shared how the music on Bella’s headphones help her integrate into new environments and keep her calm. I also shared how the use of a sound-based intervention called, Therapeutic Listening helped give Bella a developmental and sensory integration perspective in her gross motor skills during her emerging stages of walking.
This past Saturday, my family and I had the opportunity to take part in a powerful musical experience. We were invited by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) to attend a concert called, Let’s Dance! as VIP #MomBehindTheLabel guests. This is TSO’s first relaxed performance. Matthew Loden, Chief Executive Officer explains, “Relaxed Performances will help the TSO to reach a group of Torontonians who may have been unable to attend concerts in the past, and enable audience members to enjoy a concert in a low-stress environment, we are creating new ways to bring the joy of live orchestral music to our many constituents, and TSO remains committed to developing opportunities for inclusion wherever possible.”
I was excited to accept this blogging opportunity in hopes to share this accessible event that met the needs of a neurodiverse audience with my readers. As our family entered the Roy Thomson Hall, we were immediately welcomed by the TSO staff. It was nice to be reassured that all our special needs would be accommodated for. In the front lobby there was a resource station with a variety of tools to ensure the best concert experience: rubber coil bracelets for fidgety hands, squeeze toys in the shape of a music note to ease feelings of anxiety, sunglasses for light sensitivities, and also headphones to reduce loud noises.
We were then given a tour by a TSO usher to visit their quiet room, as I was interested to see how they accommodated people who needed a break from the concert. This quiet room was a large space with dimmed lights. Kudos to the staff at TSO for creating a physically and emotionally safe place for people to calm and focus themselves. Petie was most interested in the table of sensory activities… you can’t go wrong with Crayola’s Model Magic!
As we wheeled our way back to the main floor, we could hear the muffled sounds of the orchestra warming up their instruments from afar. To paint the ambiance of the auditorium for this concert, the lighting remained at a low level of brightness and we were also welcomed to move to the back of the auditorium to get a different view or enjoy the music at a quieter level at any time.
Before the performance began, we were welcomed by the Canadian conductor, Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser. Here is a sneak-peak message from Daniel himself...
Daniel thanked the audience for attending TSO’s first relaxed performance, and also recognized the families who live with disabilities, and the challenges we have when attending public concerts. What I loved most about Daniel was his way of engaging the audience. Before each song, he would provide a brief overview of the origin of the music, instruments to highlight and to listen for, and the changes in noise level so that we we knew what to expect. He definitely captured our attention, especially when he invited us to clap, laugh, and “dance with (our) body and dance with (our) face” as we all have many ways to show how music moves us!
If you are interested, here is the repertoire of songs that were played at the concert...
I can definitely say that my family enjoyed this multi-sensory approach to orchestral music. This was an innovative way to showcase music and dance styles around the world. Here are some highlights from the concert that got us to clap to our own beat, grooving to our own rhythm, and smiling from ear to ear!
Tchaikovsky: Waltz from Swan Lake Suite, Op. 20A, No. 2
A pair of ballet dancers tip-toed across the stage to the plucking of the violins, cellos, and the bass.
Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars/arr. Larry Moore: "Uptown Funk"
One of Bella's favourite songs to move and scream to is Uptown Funk (as it is also one of the songs used as a reward when she is successful on the toilet). Right when she heard the song begin, she got out of her seat and started clapping! Thank goodness, there were no pee accidents ;)
Anderson: "Irish Washerwoman" from The Irish Suite
When Daniel introduced this song, he told the audience to keep an eye on the dancers' feet because Irish dances always make sure that their toes never touch the ground. This song got everyone clapping, and someone from the audience even got up on the stage to join the Irish stepdance! The audience cheered while giving a loud applause all around.
This was our family's favourite song in the concert. Matthew Cuff is the dancer in this piece. He helped introduce Vouge internationally by being featured on So You Think You Can Dance Canada on CBC Arts. Matthew's passion and creativity got everyone Vogue-ing to our own beat. Towards the end of the song Daniel turned around to do his own rendition, getting the audience to join in by following the moves, "shoulder-shoulder-sunshine!"
Nauroz Tanya: Kurdish Dance
This song had plenty of fast paced notes. The ascending sounds of the instruments playing together paired very well with the dancer's angular movements. The flowing red skirts definitely caught Bella's eyes!
Liu Tieshan & Mao Yuan: Dance of the Yao People
This soft melodic song is a traditional Chinese instrumental composition inspired by the long drum dance. This piece is a form of traditional festival music of the Yao people of southern and southwest China. The dancers wore beautiful traditional clothing. Their movements and facial expressions came together with the playing of the drums and cello.
James Poyser/arr. Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser: Hip-hop Dance
This piece was one of Petie's favourite. Daniel gave some history of the hip-hop culture, and how this piece was based on an 8-count beat. The beats played by the percussion section of the orchestra, was represented in the dancer's freestyle movements. Many kids in the audience were flossing, orchestral style!
Traditional/arr. Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser: Hlolonofasta
African culture and life is closely interwoven with rhythm and dance. In this piece sudden changes in instrument groups from winds to brass to strings made this piece colourful. The athleticism of the dancers' moves were choreographed to the upbeat rhythmic drumming. The audience joined in unison, "Hlolonofasta"!
Thank you TSO for inviting my family and I to see this wonderful performance. It was great to participate in an engaging concert that welcomed people living with autism, sensory and communication disorders, learning disabilities, and anyone who just wanted a more relaxed orchestral experience. We look forward to seeing more inclusive concerts in the near future!