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.


MUSIC AND HEALTH RELAXED PERFORMANCE BRINGS Barriers Down VIVIEN FELLEGI Boy dancing at TSO JAG GUNDU Roy Thomson Hall is humming today as parents, children and an autism service dog troop in to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s matinee performance of “Let’s Dance,” featuring moves from ballet to hip-hop. Most make a beeline for the Resources Table, stacked with goodies. There are sunglasses in funky pink, orange, green and yellow; headphones; ear plugs; and hair spirals to stretch when you’re anxious. All of these help to channel arousal. A gangly, soft-spoken tween and his mother join the swarm. Michelle Saunders is excited about the upcoming show but isn’t sure her son will last through it all. Emerson loves music, but struggles to block out ambient noise and focus on the tunes, says Saunders. Sometimes he shuts down, and the pair have to leave. It’s tough emotionally and financially for both. “But as a parent of a kid with autism, you get used to abandoning plans,” she says. Emerson may or may not make it to the end today. “But in this environment, that’s OK,” says Saunders. He grabs some ear plugs, while his mother scoops up a fidget toy shaped like a musical note to tone down her own tension. “Just in case,” she says. Fortified with the freebies, they head into the auditorium. It is April 27, 2019 and this is the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s first Relaxed Performance, geared towards people living on the spectrum, or anyone with sensory or communication sensitivities. These shows feature a laid-back atmosphere, where spectators’ issues are addressed so they can relax and enjoy themselves. Hypersensitivity to sensations is one of these issues. Those who live with autism have unique ways of processing signals from the environment, says Relaxed Performance consultant Rachel Marks, who worked with the TSO to shape today’s recital. Many have trouble filtering out extraneous stimuli from those they’re trying to concentrate on. The barrage of sensory input from typical concerts can be so overwhelming and anxiety-provoking that many people on the spectrum will forego these occasions. But nerves aren’t the only problem. Parents of typically developing children often make snap judgements when a child on the spectrum has a meltdown from sensory overload. “They make not-so-friendly comments about the ‘bratty kid,’” says Marks. Caregivers wanting to shield their loved ones from these negative comments avoid public places like theatres. Relaxed Performances began in the United Kingdom in response to these concerns, and have spread to theatres across Canada, including Mirvish Productions, Soulpepper, Stratford and Young People’s Theatre. Some shopping malls and restaurants are also sensoryfriendly, offering periods of reduced sound and lighting. “People are becoming more open and inclusive,” says Marks. Relaxed Performances accomplish this goal by tuning in to the audience’s concerns. Detailed guides, for instance, available long before the show, allay fears about the future. These visual aids reassuringly lay out the nitty gritty details of the upcoming experience, from where to park to who will take your ticket. “A prepared person is more confident,” says Marks. Reducing the sensory stimulation also helps patrons on the spectrum to unwind. Anyone wishing to retreat from the noise can relocate to the unbooked back rows or escape to a quiet room equipped with colouring books, modelling clay and other soothing activities. Self-expression is another aspect of the new project. Many children on the spectrum have developed unique ways of coping with anxiety, including vocalizing or performing repetitive actions like rocking or flapping their arms, says Marks. In addition to these actions, called stimming, some children living with autism have coexisting attention deficit disorder, which provokes constant motion. While these behaviours are frowned on during traditional concerts, they’re expected at Relaxed Performances. Parents benefit from these concessions as much as the children. It’s comforting to know that everyone is there for the same reason, says Marks. “They’re able to enjoy that moment so much more because they’re not worried about inconveniencing other families.” Today’s Relaxed Performance is an extension of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s general commitment to accessibility, says Aaron McFarlane, director of education and community engagement. The orchestra has the largest outreach to elementary students in Canada. It’s also long offered accessible seating, assisted hearing devices, back supports, and accommodations for service animals. Last year the TSO pooled their expertise on the Relaxed Performance and set the date for its premiere. McFarlane had experience working with children on the spectrum, while guest conductor 8 | October 2019

Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser was a veteran of the relaxed initiative. McFarlane consulted a series of experts on autism (including Rachel Marks) and reached out to over 75 community groups serving neurologically diverse children, rapidly selling out the show’s over 800 seats. Those who missed out on a ticket needn’t fret. “I see this as a transition to one day when all performances will be accessible to those with sensory issues,” says McFarlane. Bartholomew-Poyser is equally dedicated to the enterprise. Face beaming, he strides to the front of the stage and invites the crowd to feel at home – they can vocalize, flap their arms, or dance in the aisles. “You’re welcome to take care of your needs,” he says. The audience cheers. Bartholomew-Poyser is clearly in his element. He’s been conducting Relaxed Performances with the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra since 2012. They got positive feedback after the first one, and developed a large and loyal following for subsequent spinoffs. “Both children and parents were so grateful to have a place to come without fear of judgment,” says the conductor. Bartholomew-Poyser is tinkering just a little with today’s numbers. He’s toning down the percussion section and also warning the audience of any sudden loud noises. “There will be no surprises,” he promises. But most importantly, he’s making the spectators feel safe under his wing. Saunders and her son are both touched by the conductor’s attitude. Emerson is used to environments where he has to work so hard to stay still that he can’t appreciate the show. “For him to know that he could enjoy himself – that was a child balloon,” says his mother. Thursday, October 17 at 8 pm QUARTETTO DI CREMONA Boccherini, Verdi, Puccini, Respighi VIVIEN FELLEGI Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser The conductor’s words are equally reassuring for Saunders. “Normally in performances I have to put a hand on his knee to remind him to calm his body and quiet his voice,” she says. But not today. “We’re both relaxed – that’s the beauty of it.” It seems like the other spectators are equally at ease. They’re singing, rocking, and running up and down the aisles. One girl stands up and pretends to conduct. As the concert progresses, kids skip down to the front row, where they twirl and bounce alongside the professional dancers. One teenager with a grey hoodie makes an impromptu debut, leaping onto the stage where he kicks his long legs in perfect tandem with the lithe Irish jiggers. He ignores his caregiver who’s frantically beckoning to him. Emerson is intrigued by the boy’s bravado, watching the breakout star with wide eyes as the tween wriggles around in his seat. The younger boy worries that the show crasher is headed for trouble. But when the teen hops gracefully back to the floor at the end of the number, the auditorium erupts in applause. Emerson joins in, relieved. “Nobody freaked out – everyone enjoyed it,” says Saunders. “That’s what a Relaxed Performance is all about.” The children’s joyous reaction to today’s music doesn’t surprise professionals in the field of autism. Many individuals on the spectrum are musically gifted, says Rachael Finnerty, psychotherapist, music therapist, and founder of the Ontario Music Therapy Academy. According to one study, kids on the spectrum had better pitch, Tuesday, October 22 at 8 pm PIANO SIX NEW GENERATION GALA with Marika Bournaki, Daniel Wnukowski, David Jalbert, Ian Parker, Angela Park, Anastasia Rizikov 27 Front Street East, Toronto Tickets: 416-366-7723 | October 2019| 9

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