4 years ago

Volume 25 Issue 2 - October 2019

  • Text
  • Performing
  • Orchestra
  • Symphony
  • Musical
  • Concerts
  • Arts
  • Jazz
  • Choir
  • October
  • Toronto
Long promised, Vivian Fellegi takes a look at Relaxed Performance practice and how it is bringing concert-going barriers down across the spectrum; Andrew Timar looks at curatorial changes afoot at the Music Gallery; David Jaeger investigates the trumpets of October; the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution (and the 20th Anniversary of our October Blue Pages Presenter profiles) in our Editor's Opener; the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir at 125; Tapestry at 40 and Against the Grain at 10; ringing in the changing season across our features and columns; all this and more, now available in Flip Through format here, and on the stands commencing this coming Friday September 27, 2019. Enjoy.

hythm and recollection

hythm and recollection for melodies than their typically developing counterparts. This natural aptitude can be harnessed to address verbal and nonverbal communication difficulties, which are common in this population, says Finnerty. Many children living with autism are uninterested in conversing, and produce stilted learned phrases rather than off-thecuff answers. Music, however, is an alternate language. Like the spoken tongue, it has its own set of rules – passages often echo each other, and harmonic structures give phrases predictable endings, says Finnerty. The give and take of improvisational music simulates the patterns of spoken conversation. These parallels between music and speech can help children grasp the fundamentals of social communication, says Finnerty. During music therapy sessions, Finnerty will echo a child’s mood on an instrument. For instance, if he’s running around the room, she might play a series of rapid notes as a gesture of empathy. “This demonstrates that I see you, I’m with you,” says Finnerty. Creating music together can teach other social skills such as listening, responding appropriately, and taking turns. Music can also help children on the spectrum express themselves creatively. While they might toil to articulate their thoughts and feelings, they can compose song segments on the spot. “In music, answering a question isn’t a struggle – they hear the melody and just respond in that moment,” says Finnerty. Music not only enhances social communication, it can also change the functioning of the autistic brain. A Canadian study published in 2018 was the first research demonstrating the ability of music to modulate neural pathways, boosting social interaction. The skill of sensorimotor integration was the key to this effect. This coupling of perception to action is critical in order to make sense of our environment and to operate on it, says the paper’s lead author, Megha Sharda, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Montreal. For example, as children learn to walk, they fuse sensory input from their joints with data from their balance organs. These messages are synthesized to create a picture of the child’s relation to space. This in turn dictates her/his next movement. This coordination between sensory and motor functions (sensorimotor integration) is a necessary building block for language and social skills which develop later in life, says Sharda. For instance, when you’re having a conversation, you have to simultaneously listen to the other person, ignore extraneous sounds, plan your response, then actually say the words. This normally smooth process is undermined by faulty connections in the brain, says Sharda. The hearing processing area (auditory cortex) and the movement area (motor cortex) are inadequately amalgamated, and this disconnect limits the synchronization of information necessary for social interactions. Music, which engages all our senses and links them to movement, can address this impairment, says Sharda. In her study, 45 minutes of singing and playing instruments over an 8-to-12-week period improved children’s social communication. Simultaneously, brain scans showed an increase in connections between the auditory and motor areas. Though music might be beneficial in the long run, some children halfway through today’s recital need a break from all the fun. Emerson’s earplugs have helped him ignore background noise, and the games on his mother’s iPhone have let him zone out for a while. And though he hasn’t had to escape to the quiet room, just knowing it existed has been heartening, says Saunders. The quiet room currently has only two occupants – a five-year-old boy sporting yellow headphones and his father are enjoying a moment of solitude. Even after covering his ears, the child is agitated by the loud melodies and the large crowd and has had to take a breather. Luckily, he’s been thoroughly prepped for this eventuality. The 40-page visual guide, which became a favourite bedtime story, detailed the options to decompress, including watching the program on a screen in the tunnels or chilling out in this sanctuary. “It really helped him to prepare and made him excited about this show,” says his father. Now the boy dives under the “fort” created by a table draped by a floor-length black cloth. One foot is sticking out. “Guess where I am,” he challenges his dad. Back in the auditorium, the hour-long interlude ends all too soon. Bartholomew-Poyser takes a bow, and the audience jump to their feet, clapping, whistling and yelling “Whoo! Whoo!” They don’t seem to want to leave. A crowd gathers around a violinist crouching at the edge of the stage. She’s giving the children some lessons, letting them grasp her bow as she plays Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. In the lobby, three boys are tossing around the fidget toys, while a girl with feathers in her hair dances with her mother. As Bartholomew-Poyser heads out of the auditorium, several parents thank him for giving their families a sense of security. “People felt good in their skin, just as they were – it was heartwarming to hear that,” he says. Saunders also leaves on a high note. Her son made it through the performance, which meant that she got to enjoy her first uninterrupted idyll at the symphony. Today’s success shows that it’s not a big deal to accommodate people with differences, she says. And the effort matters. “It was a phenomenal demonstration of leadership and compassion,” she says. “It really made the autism community feel part of Toronto.” Saunders and Emerson exit Roy Thomson Hall and brace themselves against the biting wind of this early spring day. They’re still smiling. Vivien Fellegi is a former family physician now working as a freelance medical journalist “Relaxed Performance” as an emerging practice is spreading across the performance arts. Here, in no particular order, are some recent and/or upcoming examples; Banff International String Quartet Competition, in partnership with Autism Calgary and Xenia Concerts, presented a relaxed concert, by 2016 Competition winners, the Rolston Quartet, on August 31, 2019, at Calgary’s Indefinite Arts Centre at the close of this year’s competition. The National Ballet of Canada presented a relaxed performance of YOU dance, the company’s community engagement program, at the Betty Oliphant Theatre Saturday, September 21, 2019 at 5:30pm. YPT (Young People’s Theatre) has two relaxed performances in every run. Looking just at their next two shows: for A Million Billion Pieces, these performances will be Wednesday, December 4 at 10:30am, and Sunday, December 8 at 2pm; and for The Adventures of Pinocchio they will be Friday, December 13 at 10:15am and Saturday, December 14 at 2:30pm. Soulpepper theatre company has had one relaxed performance already this season (Betrayal, September 15), and another two have been scheduled for the upcoming run of Peter Pan (December 19 at 11am and December 22 at 1pm). Shakespeare in the Ruff, in partnership with Autism Ontario, offered relaxed performances of their production of The Winter’s Tale, in Withrow Park, Toronto, on August 20 and 27, 2019. The Stratford Festival is offering a relaxed performance of The Neverending Story at the Avon Theatre, October 2 at 2pm. Toronto Symphony Orchestra has announced two further relaxed performances during the 2019/20 season now under way: February 22, 2020, and May 24, 2020. Details of both can be found in the concert listings on their website under the heading Relaxed Performances. In closing, a request: if you are aware of other examples of relaxed performance practices or opportunities, either recent or upcoming, please let us know at That way we can keep track of efforts being made to raise awareness not just of the barriers, but to the ways they are coming down. October 2019| 11

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