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Boston Pops debuts sensory-friendly holiday concert

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Boston Pops debuts sensory-friendly holiday concert
The Boston Pop’s sensory-friendly holiday concert was child-focused. PHOTO: MICHAEL BLANCHARD

On Saturday, Dec. 7, the Boston Pops decked the halls for a whole new audience in their first-ever sensory-friendly holiday concert. The concert was designed to allow families with members on the autism spectrum or with other sensory sensitivities to enjoy the same musical holiday tradition that the Pops orchestra has been bringing to Boston for over a century.

PHOTO: MICHAEL BLANCHARD

PHOTO: MICHAEL BLANCHARD

Leah Monder, operations manager for the Boston Pops, has two children on the autism spectrum and brought them both to the concert. “For a lot of families that have kids with autism and sensory sensitivities, they’re not able to create those family traditions,” she says. “This allows them to celebrate the holidays with their loved ones and not have to worry about disturbing the rest of the audience.”

Many of the modifications made for the performance were on the front-of-house side. Symphony Hall, which usually seats around 2,200 guests, was limited to 1,200 or 1,400 audience members so that families could have personal space to get up and move if necessary. Lights and sound were also dimmed in the space and stress fidgets, glow sticks and headphones were available to keep audience members relaxed.

PHOTO: MICHAEL BLANCHARD

PHOTO: MICHAEL BLANCHARD

More than 20 credentialed Autism Behavioral Specialists from Juvo Behavioral Health of Massachusetts were on hand on a volunteer basis as a resource for families during the concert. Other local partners included Autism/Asperger Network of New England, Wheelock Family Theater and Autism Speaks New England.

“Programmatically we’re not making many modifications. We’re shortening the program, but it’s still the program we’re doing for our audience,” says Monder. “The important thing for us is that we make available to this community what we actually provide Boston in general with.”

That 60-minute program included festive holiday sing-along classics, a selection from “The Polar Express” narrated by Boston-based actor Jeremiah Kissel and sung by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and the opportunity for children to take photos with Santa.

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This is the second sensory-friendly concert the Symphony has put on; their inaugural program was launched in June. Two more sensory-friendly programs will debut in 2020, the Concert for Very Young People on Feb. 1 and the Family Concert on March 14.

Monder says she loves seeing the families — parents and children alike — relax when they walk into the sensory-friendly space. “The population of people that have either a formal autism diagnosis or any other kind of sensory sensitivity is a lot larger than people realize. And this enables us to reach a broad audience,” she says. “What we do is for everybody. It’s not just for people who can sit still for two hours.”

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