With excitement shining in his eyes, a 17-year-old student holds the trumpet in his hands. He does his best to blow but no sound comes out. Finally, he looks up and says two words, “Help, please.”
“The boy’s teachers were amazed,” recalls Elizabeth Simpson, French Horn player with the NAC Orchestra and facilitator of the NAC’s Music Circle. “At the Ottawa Technical Secondary School Autism Program, up until this point the student had been non-verbal.”
Inspiring moments like this are a big part of the reason Music Circle, which is run in collaboration with the Lotus Centre for Special Music Education, has been expanded to reach even more children and adults living with autism and other developmental challenges. There is also a huge need. As Elizabeth says, there are very few music programs like this one out there, especially for adults.
“Parents and caregivers have expressed a need for this program. Without it, many people with special needs can’t fully enjoy something that comes so naturally – listening to live music,” Elizabeth explains. “The main goal of the Music Circle is to help prepare the participants to come to concerts. In some cases, they also have the opportunity to perform for their families and friends.”
The program begins with a series of workshops designed to familiarize participants with a family of instruments. Youth and adults get a chance to hold and play the instruments. The workshops culminate in a special concert at the NAC in a space where participants can feel comfortable since many people living with autism have a difficult time in a new, noisy or crowded environment.
“The field trip to the NAC gives participants the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the building so they can feel more at home here in the future,” explains Elizabeth. “Ideally, we want concerts for everyone. Music brings calmness and enjoyment into our lives.”
That’s why Elizabeth is so pleased that the Music Circle is expanding. In 2016–2017, over 120 youth and adults with special needs took part in this free, hands-on program. And, she is grateful to NAC supporters who help make it possible. “It’s a gift to be able to offer this program,” says Elizabeth. “I’m thankful to everyone who is a part of it.”