STRIKING A CHORD: First-Time ‘Relaxed’ Orchestra Concert Centers Inclusivity
upcoming show a partnership between C.V. Symphony, UWEC’s Department of Special Education and Inclusive Practices
The Chippewa Valley Symphony Orchestra, in partnership with Dr. Kirstin Rossi, associate professor in the UW-Eau Claire’s Department of Special Education and Inclusive Practices, is preparing for its first “relaxed concert” on Saturday, Oct. 7, at the Pablo Center at the Confluence (128 Graham Ave., Eau Claire). The “American Tapestry – Relaxed Concert” will include a selection of tunes by American composers, including Aaron Copland, Duke Ellington, and John Williams.
Unusual for a symphony orchestra concert, showtime is slated for 10:30am. The early start and shorter length are part of what will make the concert relaxed. Designed to be more accessible and inclusive than traditional classical musical performances, the symphony will also leave the house lights on dim throughout the performance.
The lights being on is an important part of making the concert feel less intimidating. Attendees are explicitly invited to move around and in and out of the venue as needed throughout the performance. “There are many barriers in a typical performance to a wide range of individuals and families in our community,” Dr. Rossi said. “This is not done in intentional ways, but rather is the product of some of the more traditional expectations during musical performances.”
Dr. Rossi consulted with CVSO on the design of the performance, providing training sessions on inclusivity, and also helped design practice sessions so musicians could become more comfortable performing in an environment with additional noise and movement. She encourages people to think of inclusivity through the analogy of a set of stairs and a ramp.
I applaud the organization for being a leader in thinking about making our community a more inclusive place.
It is not always easy to think about the barriers around what we do, [and] it is not easy to make changes to the norms our society has upheld for a long time.
Dr. Kirstin rossi
Associate Professor in UWEC’s Department of Special Education and Inclusive Practices
“If we have stairs into a building, this supports those that fit within the ‘typical box’ if you will, where many people are. However, it isn’t until you do not fit in that box that you realize how many people can’t get into the building with just stairs,” Dr. Rossi said. “Instead, build a ramp, (and) then so many more people have access to the building, (like) those that are pushing strollers, those with a broken leg, those that are in a wheelchair, and older adults who have a hard time getting up stairs … to name a few. ...
“The more ramps we build, the more people can be actively engaged and involved. If you can’t get into a building, how can you have an opinion on the décor or setup? If we invite more people in, we have a much more diverse and robust conversation which leads to even more amazing ideas and opportunities!”
Other aspects of CVSO’s relaxed performance include providing seating choices based on sensory needs, a quiet space for breaks from the main venue space, and encouragement of support tools such as noise-canceling headphones and hand-held fidget devices.
“I applaud the organization for being a leader in thinking about making our community a more inclusive place. It is not always easy to think about the barriers around what we do, (and) it is not easy to make changes to the norms our society has upheld for a long time,” Dr. Rossi continued.
This is especially so because “social expectations can be overwhelming and exclusive,” she said. “However, when we step up and look into the mirror to see where we are putting up barriers, often unintentionally, we then invite more groups to have a seat at the table.”
“Isn’t that what community is all about?” Dr. Rossi concluded.
Learn more about the Chippewa Valley Symphony Orchestra's “American Tapestry – Relaxed Concert” and purchase tickets at pablocenter.org.