Music makers and their audiences made some rare connections at two accessible concerts run by Chamber Music New Zealand this year. They did it without a concert hall, or evening dress, or any of the other trappings of classical music.
The impact of the music took people by surprise. Rebekah Corlett – mother of Sophia, a seven-year-old with autism – found herself at a school concert with a difference in Porirua. “There was a classical guitarist, flautist and saxophonist ... led by a rather rock ‘n’ roll-looking singer with a guitar and dreadlocks,” she later blogged.
“Sophia walked calmly over to me and sat on my knee. She never does that. She took my hand that was tapping my knee to the rhythm of the song, placed it on her chest, and looked me right in the eyes as if to say, ‘I like this’. So I continued to follow the rhythm, this time with my hand on her chest. “It was a moment – a rare but real interaction with my daughter. What a gift,” Rebekah says.
The concerts and preliminary workshops were held in Christchurch and Porirua, both involving people with intellectual disabilities as performers and audience participants. They were staged as part of Chamber Music New Zealand’s Accessible Concert Programme led by community musician Julian Raphael.
Julian and the Menagerie South Ensemble – Tessa Petersen (violin), John Van Buskirk (piano) and Mark Walton (clarinet) – worked with Hohepa residents and staff in Christchurch in April/May. The programme was made up of 10 sessions and a final concert and involved 70 adults over three days.
“That was a wonderful week. I look on it as one of the turning points of my career,” Julian said. “I could see that the music was working in a pertinent way. There was a very, very strong meaningful responsiveness to the music.”
Then in September, at Mahinawa Specialist School in Porirua, Julian aimed for a similar connection with a younger student audience. He led a programme of 12 sessions and concert with Trio Amistad – Simon Brew (saxophone), Rebecca Steel (flute) and Jane Curry (classical guitar).
Trio Amistad’s Simon Brew found the experience inspiring. He said his highpoint came in one of the vocal workshops run at Mahinawa ahead of the concert at the Pataka Performing Arts Space.
“It was the moment when we had stopped the singing and Julian and I were doing some improvising. Julian realised that it was going well and he selected a song that was calming. “The communication and interweaving of the vocals with my improvised saxophone lines was at times meditative and at other times downright raucous. This was something I was not expecting at all; a feeling that you can’t just create, but one that happens in concert, but only a few times in one’s career.
Mahinawa caters for students from new entrant to 21-year-olds. School music therapist Megan Berentson-Glass said the music sessions and concert, attended by around 100 people, had provided the opportunity for everyone to join together in one place for the first time.
“Some of our students find new settings and large numbers of people overwhelming, so the workshops provided opportunities for them to participate in this project even if they were unable to attend the concert on the day. In fact, we skyped in from the concert on the day, and the students who remained at school were able to watch the concert and play along at school, so everybody was included."
Chamber Music New Zealand Education and Outreach Coordinator Sue Jane said they were thrilled with the positive feedback. “These experiences have reinforced Chamber Music New Zealand’s commitment to our accessible programmes.”
IHC Foundation Chair Sir Roderick Deane said the Foundation was delighted to support Chamber Music New Zealand’s initiatives to bring music to people with intellectual disabilities.
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