Our Music for Autism workshops – Orchestra of St John's | Taking classical music out into the community

Our Music for Autism workshops

Recently one of our Trustees observed a Music for autism workshop day in Oxford.  This is from his report:

I went to the Iffley Academy last Thursday for my first first-hand experience of MfA. It was wonderful; and I thought it was worth sharing some impressions.

John was fantastic with the children, interacting with them in an effortlessly empathic and very personal way, always finding ways of enabling them, individually and collectively, to take an active part and engage with the music.

The school staff, many of whom very young, were invariably welcoming, appreciative, upbeat and brilliant with the children. Made one appreciate just what an amazing job they do day-in-day-out in challenging circumstances.

And now for the most important part of all this – the children. It was lovely to see children of all ages (this was a secondary school, so 11 – 18 year olds) enjoying the music and the sense of active participation that John gives them by simply inviting them to take turns to ‘conduct’. Some were eagerly willing, others self-consciously reticent but, one way or another, and with John’s help and encouragement, pretty much everyone took part. It was lovely and moving to watch – though I should say that John made sure that the atmosphere was light-hearted with lots of laughter too.

Two particular highlights come to mind. One was of a relatively young girl who conducted with some gusto before suddenly parting her arms so decisively that the musicians stopped playing mid-piece. For a moment it wasn’t clear who was more surprised: the players at being instructed to stop mid-flow or the conductor herself, taken aback at the effect her (almost certainly ad hoc) gesture had had! At least it showed, as John said at the time, that the musicians were watching the conductor.

The other was of an older girl who, at least outwardly, appeared to be the most severely autistic of all the children we had seen. When sitting down, she rocked vigorously back and forth in her seat shaking her hands manically as she did so. It all looked physically exhausting – until she got up to conduct. Instantly, the violent, jerky movements gave way to a gentle, rhythmic sway and well controlled hand movements. And, at the final note of the piece, she leapt up in the air in spontaneous exhilaration with an audible, yet very personal, cry of ‘Yessss!’.

MfA, and John’s and the musicians’ enthusiastic commitment to it over so many years, are just fantastic…

See videos of MfA workshops on YouTube HERE

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