Nothing stands between musicians and their audience in the Sensory Friendly Concerts, “Music and Autism.” Sponsored by the LOGAN Center, South Bend Symphony Orchestra and the Shea-Kim Duo, the concerts are created with the goal of making classical music accessible to those who have difficulty with a traditional concert setting.
Yerin Kim, the adjunct assistant professor of piano at Notre Dame who started it all, passionately believes that music is something universal, powerful enough to connect everyone with empathy and emotion. She saw this firsthand while teaching piano lessons to a student with nonverbal autism. When unable to communicate in words, the student chose to speak through music: “It was eye-opening,” Kim said. “Even in the most different or difficult settings, we have music in common.”
Kim wanted to share her experience with others because she was concerned about the accessibility of concerts. “If you have a family member who is autistic or on the spectrum, it is really hard to get out and enjoy classical music,” she said. Kim was inspired to work with others to create Sensory Friendly Concerts that addressed this problem head-on.
In the concerts, Kim focuses on making everyone comfortable with their involvement, taking into consideration all spectrums of autism. “What’s unique is that we have two concerts at the same time.” The audience is encouraged to travel between the rooms, discovering which they enjoy best and giving them control of their involvement.
“I thought it would be very important to have one space where they could go sit and listen — we have chamber music in that room — then we have another room where people are encouraged and asked to participate.”
In this second room, the South Bend Symphony Orchestra provides the instruments for an ‘instrument petting zoo.’ “We encourage them to come play with us,” Kim says, “They can try the instruments out: they pluck the strings, they can come and tap and hold, we have a bow for them.”
Though the most recent concert, held on April 26, was the first in South Bend, it was Kim’s fifth time sponsoring the event. She hopes to increase the number of concerts and expand them, aiming specifically for student involvement, wanting to share how “Teaching music, playing music, anything related to music can have an impact and create empathy. It’s a very powerful experience when you realize that what you like to do can have a big impact on others who need the music.”