News Article Details

Sensory-friendly performance announced for NMSO's latest concert

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal - 1/24/2019

Jan. 24--TUPELO -- North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra's January concert will have an added bonus this weekend for audiences who may benefit from it.

The organization will present its first-ever sensory-friendly concert designed for audiences of all ages and abilities, including individuals on the autistic spectrum and those with sensory sensitivities.

The performance enables audience members to be who they are and enjoy music together with family and friends, said NMSO executive director Lisa Martin.

"Sensory-friendly performances are designed to create a welcoming environment for families with children and adults who may have sensory sensitivities and anyone who may benefit from being in a more relaxed environment," Martin said.

The free concert will be Saturday at Link Centre in Tupelo at 2 p.m. ahead of the symphony's regular performance that evening at 7:30 p.m. with guest cellist Allison Eldredge.

Staff from the Autism Center of North Mississippi, who is partnering with NMSO on the event, will be on-hand to help with amenities for the performance, which include a shush-free concert (making noise and verbalizing is OK), flexible seating, lights at a lower level, cool down space and quiet room, fidget toys and noise-cancelling headphones and earplugs.

"We're committed to increasing access to the symphonic art form by providing full orchestra experiences in an inclusive environment," Martin said. "The NMSO understands and recognizes that there are families who are unable to experience the music in a typically formal environment.

"Many parents shy away from performing arts events for fear that their child's symptomatic behaviors, including sound and movement, will be disruptive. We see this concert as a way to connect with those families and provide them an opportunity to experience the NMSO and music as a family, allowing children and adults to enjoy the music as they see fit, without having to confirm to the typical social norms of a public outing."

Martin encouraged her organization to explore the possibility of a sensory-friendly concert after experiencing a musical theater performance with her son, Jack, on the Disney Cruise Line last summer. The 12-year-old is on the autism spectrum and until then, they had not attended a professional performing arts event together as a family.

"Jack wanted to see the 'Beauty and the Beast' performance and I was bound and determined to find a way for us to do that. We scoped out the theater and found box seats that allowed Jack to stand and move. He requires space to rock back and forth and we needed to do that away from the general audience. With his noise-reducing headphones and space to move freely, we were able to enjoy the performance together as a family for the first time and it was a wonderful and unique gift," Martin said.

Martin and NMSO music director Steven Byess researched other orchestras that were offering sensory-friendly performances across the country and decided this was something they could offer the region.

Martin also believes music can have positive behavioral effects on children with disabilities.

"Music is a powerful thing. Many children on the spectrum are non-verbal, but react to music on a deep level," she said. "Jack was 5 when he began receiving treatment at the Autism Center and shortly thereafter, found his voice and said 'Mama.' Within a few weeks, one of his first words was 'Firebird' referring to his favorite musical episode of 'The Little Einsteins.' He listened to it repeatedly and it served as a calming effect for him. It's still his favorite seven years later."

In addition to the Autism Center, NMSO is partnering with Tupelo Quality of Life for the performance.

"For many, this will be the first venture they have together as a family at a live music performance. Everyone is welcome to be who they are here. We hope that it will provide a magical memory and that this will become an annual offering from the NMSO," Martin said.

For additional information, call (662) 842-8433. Twitter: @wderekrussell


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