Spotlight on – Music For Autism @Music4Autism
As a teacher who has had the honor, privilege and pleasure to work with numerous children on the Autism Spectrum, I was ecstatic to see @Music4Autism jump onto the Tsu Platform and join in with the rest of the unbelievable charities we are so fortunate to support here in Tsu.
I’d like to give a special shout-out to @tsupermom (Nancy Burrows) for directing me on my path to speak with both Laura Lazar who runs the @Music4Autism page and the Founder of Music For Autism in the US, Dr. Robert Accordino.
Q) Dr. Accordino, when did you establish Music for Autism and what prompted you to create this particular charity?
I became involved with our UK sister organization when I was a graduate student in the UK. When I returned to the US to commence medical school, I was moved by the number of family narratives of those impacted by autism feeling so shut out of public events and the impact this had on their quality of life. I hoped to create something similar to what we had in the UK to make music accessible to this population to enhance the entire family’s quality of life.
Q) We would love to hear about your charity’s history and where you are based.
John Lubbock and Christine Cairns, musicians and parents of a son with autism, established Music for Autism in the United Kingdom in 2002 to share their love of music with other individuals with autism and their families.
John and Christine were determined to design Music for Autism interactive concerts specifically for individuals with autism and their families. The concerts are held in halls that appeal to people with autism; there is always open space for the audience to react to the music through spontaneous dance and movement. Featuring members of the Orchestra of St. John’s, founded and conducted by Maestro John Lubbock, the unique concerts expose individuals with autism to high quality classical music in an environment designed to make them feel comfortable.
In January 2007, Cherie Blair, wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair, honoured Music for Autism at 10 Downing Street for its service to individuals with autism and their families.
Building on the charity’s momentum, in 2007, I introduced Music for Autism to the United States with a very humble beginning. We gained 501c3 status in the U.S. in 2007. In the U.S., Music for Autism has a national presence with “autism friendly” interactive concerts at The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, 92nd Street Y, The Children’s Museum of Manhattan, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, The Third Street Music School Settlement, and McCarton School in Manhattan, New York; The Westview School in Houston, Texas; the Ivymount School in Washington, DC; the JCC of Staten Island, The JCC of Greater Five Towns, The Shorefront YM-YWHA, Mid Island Y, The Friedberg JCC, The Central Queens Y, in New York; the Brooklyn Heights Public Library in New York; and The Help Group in Los Angeles, California.
Q) What is Music for Autism’s mission statement/goal?
Music for Autism is enhancing quality of life and raising public awareness through autism-friendly, interactive concerts developed specifically for individuals with autism and their families. The concerts, held in the United States and the United Kingdom, feature professional musicians, including Tony Award winners, Grammy-nominated classical artists, and Pulitzer Prize winners. To ensure equal access for all, every Music for Autism concert is fully subsidized. Families note that the concerts help fill a major psychosocial void, enabling them to enjoy enriching activities that are inclusive and to experience the joy and power of music as a family.
Q) Can you please tell us about your interactive concert program and the successes you have seen as a result of what you are doing?
Each hour-long concert has three components to it: Concert time, conducting time, and percussion time. Concert time allows the artists and audience to truly get to know each other, with the musicians pre-selected pieces with some interaction with the audience. The audience members are allowed to get up and dance, sing, really anything they wish. The musicians suggest what the audience might consider doing. Our one–and only–rule is that no person or instrument can get injured or damaged. Conducting time is where the artists demonstrate to the audience how best to conduct them, and the entire audience then conducts together or a few selected individual audience members will take turns conducting. Finally, percussion time is where the audience gets to play along with the performers as we hand out soft percussion instruments for them to use. We also alter the sensory environment of the concert space by “soft” clapping (patting our knees) instead of typical clapping.
We have received hundreds of testimonials from families across the United States about how much their loved one enjoyed their concert experience, and how appreciative they are that they have finally found a place where they feel welcomed. You can read some of these stories on our website here.
We have also heard from multiple artist and volunteers too about the impact the concerts have had on them too. Over and over we hear stories of how they find themselves becoming less judgmental and less quick to stigmatize individuals who appear to be displaying odd behaviors, as a direct result of our concerts. We find our concerts are expanding the compassionate capacity of our volunteers and musicians in addition to the capacity of families to enjoy live, high quality musical programming.
Q) Who are some of the artists that participate in your concert program?
Our programs have featured a wide variety of acclaimed artists, reflecting Music for Autism’s commitment to excellence. Recent performers have included Glee’s Brad Ellis; the Grammy-nominated Enso Quartet; Latin Grammy-nominated Quattro; members of the National Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra; Pulitzer Prize Winner in music Caroline Shaw; and several repeat performers from popular Broadway shows including Pippin, Matilda, Jersey Boys, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and Motown. On the experience of performing at one of our concerts in January, Tony Award Winner Victoria Clark stated, “We got a lot more than we gave.”
Q) Aside from funding the concerts, what other types of activities does Music for Autism support?
We frequently act as consultants to other organizations who are seeking to expand their disability-friendly spaces and/or programming. The best example can be typified by this article here from The New York Times.
Q) From my experience in using the Tsu Platform, I have come across a large number of people whose lives have been touched by autism… In addition to donations, are there also other ways for us to become involved with your charity?
Yes! In New York you can sign up to volunteer with us through New York Cares. You can also just help us spread the word – about who we are and about our concerts. If you work with individuals with autism in the cities in which we conduct our programming, our website has flyers for upcoming concerts. You can also email us at email@example.com with any questions. We are also always looking for technical and development expertise on a pro-bono basis, so if you would like to volunteer some of your time and talents, we are more than happy to help determine if your skills are a good fit for what we need!
Q) Please add anything else you feel would be beneficial towards educating the “Tsu Nation” about Music for Autism. And also, please include your main website address for those who wish to make donations or become involved in your program outside of Tsu.
We are truly trying to help expand the definition of what it means to be inclusive to a range of disabilities. Our hope is to be a catalyst for a more welcoming and inclusive world, in all areas of life – the arts, culture, education, health, and so on. Please contact us with any questions whatsoever! We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org – any time.
Our website is http://www.musicforautism.org/
Robert E. Accordino MD, MSc
Music For Autism
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