For some, a musical performance can become a nuisance or even a nightmare with loud noises and bright lights.
It’s a problem the board of The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook village understand. Tom Manuel, president and founder of the venue, said since its opening two years ago, the board has wanted to do something to serve the community. Manuel said the board will achieve that goal May 19 when The Jazz Loft presents a sensory-friendly performance geared toward those with autism and special needs. He said the production will kick off future sensory-friendly workshops and more performances.
The venue will be able to achieve its goal due to a $5,000 donation from The Ann Schermerhorn Foundation, a nonprofit established after the death of its namesake. Manuel said community members can also help by going to The Jazz Loft’s website, www.thejazzloft.org, and clicking on the “Sensory Friendly Events” tab to sponsor an instrument to be used in the workshops.
Gillian Poole, whose 16-year-old son has autism, connected the Loft with the foundation, of which her father, Peter Allen, is executor. She had attended the venue’s Young at Heart performances with her mother who has dementia, and she appreciated the welcoming and inclusive environment.
“We thought it would be such a great way for my son and other children like him to listen to live music without being looked at or shushed,” Poole said. “Because he has his way, and other kids with autism all have their ways of enjoying and appreciating the things that they enjoy. It doesn’t always follow the norm of quiet and then clap at the end. They kind of express themselves when they’re excited and be loud and yell out and have trouble regulating their behaviors and noises.”
“We thought it would be such a great way for my son and other children like him to listen to live music without being looked at or shushed.”
— Gillian Poole
Manuel said there is a need for music and art programs for those with special needs in the community, especially for those who have aged out of public school. During the May 19 performance, the venue’s president and founder said musicians will play acoustic and softer than usual. The room will be darker than normal and a quiet room will be available downstairs if anyone feels overwhelmed and needs a break from the music. He said during the show audience members can walk around, stand by the musicians and dance at any point. He said not needing to conform like they would have to do at a usual performance could be a relief for parents and aides who sometimes feel that they have to restrain their child or patient.
The Jazz Loft had its first experience with a sensory-friendly show in November when the Nassau Suffolk chapter of the Autism Society of America hosted a sensory-friendly performance at the location featuring Loft musicians. Michele Iallonardi, assistant director with the society, said when NSASA organized the event she wasn’t sure at first how the children would react, but the kids enjoyed the music and parents were able to relax and talk to each other. She said she was happy to hear of The Jazz Loft’s plans, especially since all ages are included, as older children with special needs often have nowhere to go with many activities geared toward younger kids.
“It’s fulfilling a social need,” Iallonardi said. “It’s fulfilling just giving the kids a meaningful activity to do where most of our kids on a weekend are just home, they’re not doing anything. There just aren’t enough activities for them to do.”
“It’s fulfilling just giving the kids a meaningful activity to do where most of our kids on a weekend are just home, they’re not doing anything.”
— Michele Iallonardi
Laura Landor, director of education and community outreach at The Jazz Loft, said the upcoming performance will help the board figure out what the community needs as far as what types of workshops and at what frequency. She said the hope is to conduct group and one-on-one workshops.
“It’s not about what the Loft is going to do,” Landor said. “It’s about what we’re providing for our local community and family members that we think the services will be really beneficial for. It’s not going to be beneficial if the scheduling and services don’t meet their needs.”
Landor saw the success of sensor-friendly performances and workshops when she developed a program at Ward Melville High School more than 10 years ago. She said programs can include exploratory music, dancing and playing adaptive drums and hand chimes.
“My philosophy as a music educator is to open the doors to as many music lovers as possible,” Landor said.” “I don’t think music should be exclusive.”
Manuel said The Jazz Loft’s sensory-friendly services have been approved to be covered by major insurance plans. The May 19 performance is scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. Tickets are $5 per person. The Jazz Loft is located at 275 Christian Ave., Stony Brook. For more information, call 631-751-1895 or visit www.thejazzloft.org.