Did you know that for over 20 years the PSO has performed concerts at the Allegheny Valley School (AVS)? AVS is a nonprofit that offers “community residential environments and therapeutic programs for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”[i] Ever since August 1993, the PSO has regularly visited AVS’ Pittsburgh campus to share classical music with the resident clients, and last night it brought another evening of musical enjoyment to the AVS clients and staff.
Before last night’s concert I had the opportunity to speak with Cherrie Parker, an AVS Program Director who has helped organize the PSO’s visits for seven years. She commented, “I’ve noticed that their [the PSO’s] music and what they do for our clients is phenomenal. They bring out smiles and emotions from people who we usually don’t see anything from. They [the residents] are totally different here than they are in the classroom. Here you see them swaying and moving more, because that’s how they respond to the music.”
Although the audience at AVS may respond to a classical concert differently, though no less enthusiastically, than the typical Heinz Hall audience, most symphony-goers would find the content and structure of an AVS concert familiar. Suzanne Perrino, the PSO’s Senior Vice President of Education & Strategic Implementation, explained that “the most important thing to keep in mind is that this audience is really receptive to almost any kind of music as long as it doesn’t have really extreme dynamics. We don’t want to program down for this audience. At these concerts we play works like full symphonies, just as we would at any other outreach concert. We tend to follow a typical concert format of overture, concerto, and symphony.”
Cherrie believes that the PSO’s approach to programming has worked for residents. She told me, “It seems like our clients respond especially well to this type of music, and the faster, more upbeat, and lively the music is, the more they respond to it. That’s what they really enjoy.”
To illustrate the impact of the PSO’s AVS concerts, Cherrie shared the story of one client’s first experience seeing the PSO. According to Cherrie:
There is one individual who wasn’t on the list to come to the concert the first time. I invited him to a later concert, and the whole time he had a big smile on his face and moved his arms in the air like he was conducting. I hadn’t expected that at all. His response to hearing the music was unbelievable. Needless to say, he’s been on the list to come ever since.
Last night’s concert led to some remarkable responses as well. The PSO’s Assistant Conductor, Fawzi Haimor, programmed a fabulous concert with Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville, the third movement of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, and Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major. Over 100 people attended, and after witnessing the concert, I have to agree with Cherrie’s assessment that “the smiles on the clients’ faces are just priceless.” Kudos to Fawzi and the PSO for a great performance, as well as the clients and staff of AVS for being a great audience!
[i] “About AVS.” Allegheny Valley School. Allegheny Valley School, 2014. Web. 5 Mar. 2014.