Music For All
Dan Zanes And Claudia Eliaza Champion The Sensory Friendly Music Movement
On Dec. 22, Dan Zanes, Claudia Eliaza and Pauline Jean performed their first annual Sensory Friendly Holiday Sing Along at City Winery in Boston. The music was child-friendly, and the performance was constructed to be accessible to adults and children of all abilities. The group arranged the space, lighting and sound with special-needs kids in mind.
“The general idea is that conditions are slightly modified to make the experience more comfortable for special-needs viewers,” says Zanes. “When you realize how easy it is, you always try to have that. There’s no reason not to have sensory-friendly shows.”
The musical group was born when Jean introduced Zanes and Eliaza, based on their mutual musical interests. Zanes, a Grammy Award Winner, was a part of the rock band The Del Fuegos in the 1980s. After having his first child, he became interested in children’s music. Eliaza directed the music therapy program at the Community Music Center of Boston and had used some of Zanes’ children’s music in her programming.
When the two musicians were introduced, there was an instant connection. “From the moment we met,” says Eliaza, “we made music together.” Zanes jokes, “And then I decided we should do everything else together too.” The duo married not long after. Their first show together was, by chance, a sensory-friendly one. Zanes’ performance partner wasn’t able to attend and Eliaza subbed in at the last minute. The show was so transformative that they decided all of their music-making should be accessible.
“When we say sensory-friendly, we don’t mean that this is only for kids with special needs,” says Eliaza. “But it has to be more inclusive. We need to open the door wider.”
Zanes recounts a concert when a father and his differently abled daughter approached him after the show. The father said it was his daughter’s first live performance. She was 12 years old. The duo says it’s moments like that one that make their work worth it.
In addition to making music accessible to people of all physical and neurological abilities, the group works to incorporate all cultures as well. Eliaza is Haitian-American, as is their matchmaker Jean. This heritage led Eliaza and Zanes to make a songbook of 64 multicultural folk songs from around the world. The songbook is meant both to educate children about different cultures and to give them the opportunity to make their own music.
The duo’s music can be found on danzanes.com as well as on Spotify, Apple Music and Bandcamp. They are based in New York but hope to make the Boston holiday show a yearly event. Zanes and Eliaza express hope that the sensory friendly music movement will continue to grow, saying it’s important to make space for everyone to enjoy the performance at their own comfort level.
As Zanes puts it, “Some people are dancing, some people are clapping, some people are rolling on the floor. It’s a way of saying all behaviors are welcome.”