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From TMA Co-Founder Sunny:
“The Musical Autist strongly believes and encourages self-advocacy through musical performance. When I think of Roar by Katy Perry I think of self-advocacy, when she says “I’ve got the eye of the tiger, fighter”, I think of an autistic person fighting for their rights.”

Sunny Plays "Roar" by Katy Perry - YouTube
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The Musical Autist by The Musical Autist - 2w ago

How many times have you heard therapists tell their clients, “Quiet hands. Quiet body.” There have been many occasions in my life where I was told to sit still, stop rocking, and stop moving my head. I realize that autistic people do not always have autonomy over their bodies. I know that it might look strange to others when we move our bodies differently in professional or work settings.

People always tell me there is a time and a place for movement. The motto for The Musical Autist’s sensory friendly concert is “hand flapping allowed,” and in our concerts people can move around in any way that they choose. In typical concert venues, people on the autism spectrum are forced to sit still and to clap when they are supposed to. If an autistic person vocalizes or makes any slight movements, the manager of the concert may ask them to leave. This puts an autistic person at a higher risk for a meltdown and fear of attending typical concerts. In our concerts, we allow dancing and moving freely as the person chooses.

As I have served on The Musical Autist’s executive board for eight years, I have come to the conclusion that movement is important for autistic people. The human body was created and designed to move from the very beginning. Think about this for a moment. When a baby is in utero, the baby starts kicking at the later stage of pregnancy. As the child grows, it learns to crawl and walk. The point I’m trying to make is that movement starts from inside the mother and lasts throughout life.  Movement helps us calm down when we are in stressful situations. It is important that we make wise choices when it comes to how we move our bodies. When we can, it is important to try to keep our bodies regulated, and moving to music can be a helpful way to do that. Not only does The Musical Autist promote movement during our Sensory Friendly Concerts, but we also promote movement in Empowerment Jam Sessions and Troupe. There’s not a single person in our programs that sits still during musical experiences.

I believe it is very important for autistic people to have autonomy over how they move their bodies, whether it’s flapping their hands or dancing or shaking their heads. Movement is healthy for everyone whether you are on the autism spectrum or not. If we were constantly sitting still, we would look like we are frozen and rigid. 

I challenge everyone on and off the autism spectrum to keep their bodies moving. When we keep our bodies moving, we are giving health to our bodies because movement is a sign of life. Moving our bodies is just one way that we can live life to the fullest, and be productive in everything that we do. I want to encourage everyone to keep on moving. Dance to your favorite song and stand up and always keep the life flowing through your veins.

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We are so excited, less than one week before the Troupe summer program begins! As we are finalizing our enrollment, I am very pleased to share with our community that we will have 8 high school interns with us this summer, from the Performing Visual Arts magnet program of Anne Arundel County Public Schools. This is a very competitive, county-wide program that requires an audition and acceptance into the music or theatre departments of Broadneck or Annapolis High Schools. Some of these students already know that they want to pursue a career in music therapy, and it is my honor to share with them my journey in becoming a Board Certified Music Therapist.

Here is the best part about how The Musical Autist will be working with the PVA students. It will allow Troupe to be a true Community Music Therapy program at its finest. Meaning, our therapeutic goals are in the realms of social justice. Our goals are not to “normalize” or “mainstream” Troupe participants that have disabilities. Rather, our goals are IN the community, to raise awareness of disability rights, neurodiversity, how to truly presume competence in individuals even if they are non-speaking or have socially non-conforming behaviors. And not just “awareness” of these concepts, but to then teach allyship, and the fact that being an ally is not something that can be claimed, but rather it is granted by the community you are aiming to serve. I cannot think of a better group of future leaders and change-makers in our community, to help us accomplish these goals, than our PVA students who will be making music with us this summer!

Classes are every Tuesday at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. June 18th to August 13th.

We have 2 more spots open in the 14 yr old to young adult class (12:30-1:45pm) and 3 spots left in the 8-14 yr old class (2-3:15pm).
If you know of anyone that is interested in learning more about self-advocacy, building relationships, and making music (no training required) with others that celebrates self-determination, acceptance and respect for diversity, please have them sign up soon! We also still have scholarships available!

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On Sunday, June 2, my co-founder (CJ) and I had the pleasure of attending an Azure Family Concert at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. Azure Family Concerts are one of the programs put on by the non-profit organization, Our Joyful Noise Baltimore. Similar to The Musical Autist, Azure Family Concerts are sensory friendly. At the concert, there was a trio that consisted of a beatboxer, a piano player, and a viola player. Just like The Musical Autist’s Sensory Friendly Concerts, there were noise reduction headphones, a quiet room, and scarves to help people move and dance. Joyful Noise Baltimore believes that autistic vocalization is to be accepted at these concerts. It was apparent that this organization celebrates neurodiversity because individuals of all ages were encouraged to dance, vocalize, and move freely.

The executive director of Joyful Noise Baltimore invited me to attend the concert and speak about what music means to me. After the trio played two songs, I spoke to the audience about why music is meaningful to myself and others on the autism spectrum. I also shared about the mission and vision of The Musical Autist. I took the opportunity to talk about how we celebrate neurodiversity and promote self advocacy through music. Speaking at the concert provided my co-founder and I with many opportunities to network with the volunteers and parents after the performance.

I enjoyed attending the concert because it gave The Musical Autist an opportunity to partner together with Joyful Noise Baltimore. We share similar values which is why we want to support one another in our mission.  Azure Family Concerts are a fantastic example of how Sensory Friendly Concerts can be replicated in other communities. I think it’s very important for organizations like Joyful Noise Baltimore and The Musical Autist to advocate for accessibility in concert venues. Normally, a typical concert venue is not accessible for people on the autism spectrum. This organization did a fabulous job providing all the sensory accommodations that are needed in a sensory friendly concert.

I hope to attend more Azure Family Concerts and continue spreading the word about The Musical Autist to the Baltimore community.  I think it’s very important for every organization that works with autistic individuals to realize the importance of being sensory friendly.  Sensory Friendly Concerts, whether done by The Musical Autist or Azure Family, are just another way to promote equal access to the fine arts. I personally want to thank Joyful Noise Baltimore for allowing me to come and observe their wonderful event.

Join TMA for our next program offering: our summer 2019 session of Troupe!

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Many thanks to CJ, who was able to raise funds for Troupe scholarships with her birthday fundraiser on FB!

We are now able to accommodate 8 new Troupe members! 4 people in the 14+ class (12:30-1:45pm) and 4 people in the 8-14 yr old class (2-3:15pm).

Classes are every Tuesday at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. June 18th to August 13th.

There are 9 weeks total in the summer class cycle, but we understand people have summer travels. Contact C.J. at themusicalautist@gmail.com if you’d like to participate but have questions about scheduling.

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On Thursday, May 9th, The Musical Autist hosted an Empowerment Jam Session at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, which is a local venue in Annapolis. The jam session took place in the cafe. Because of this, we had to shorten the jam to 45 minutes due to the cafe’s closing time. There were approximately 20 people at the jam session. The Musical Autist recently purchased small instruments that we could use for different events; these include egg shakers, frame drums, tambourines, etc. We were excited to provide these instruments for the attendees. The Jam Session leaders played the guitar, bassoon, and piano. We also had a new attendee play a song on their tuba. During the jam session, we played our opening song, 12 bar blues, 6 jam along songs, chanted an empowering phrase, and ended with our closing song.

We wanted to have a jam session at Maryland Hall so that we could reach a bigger audience and be more inclusive. I believe we are on our way to reaching this goal because we had visitors stopping to listen during the jam. I mentioned in previous blog posts that I enjoy hosting jam sessions because they help me become a better leader. I feel that I am improving my leadership skills when helping people make music together. When I am leading jam sessions, I feel very happy and enjoy myself. I especially felt great when I encouraged other members to lead their own songs. I like to open the floor for others to practice being a leader. I am currently mentoring a younger person on the autism spectrum to step into a leadership role. When I host Empowerment Jam Sessions, they give me an opportunity to help younger people on the spectrum develop leadership and advocacy skills.

I believe that chanting empowerment phrases can be a helpful tool in developing one’s self-esteem. Having healthy self-esteem is important when developing leadership skills because a leader is responsible for their followers. This is exactly why I prepare empowering phrases for jam sessions. These phrases give people opportunities to say empowering things that oppose what they may have been told their entire lives. I purposefully incorporate empowering phrases into these sessions because I want people to know that they can do things. For 8 years of my life, I was constantly being told the things that I couldn’t do. After being diagnosed with autism, people on the spectrum are often immediately told things that they can’t do. These empowering phrases affirm the individuals as well as everyone around them. People that may have been told things such as, “You can’t do this” or “You’ll never learn to do that” for most of their lives, can affirm truth over themselves by chanting something like, “I can do anything!” or “I have learned great things!” I believe chanting empowering phrases captures The Musical Autist’s vision to create platforms for self-advocacy.

I would like to continue hosting jam sessions at Maryland Hall because it was a welcoming venue.  Maryland Hall is also the location of other Musical Autist programs which is convenient for attendees.

Jam sessions are opportunities for everyone to hang out, improvise musically, and have fun together in a relaxed and social environment. It is my vision and my dream to replicate jam sessions in communities beyond Anne Arundel County because I believe it is important for people with and without disabilities to experience this type of inclusive atmosphere. Please stay tuned for information about when the next jam session will take place. If you are interested in participating in a Musical Autist program, you may contact me directly through our website.

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I graduated from Maryland School for the Blind in 2007 and then I was placed in a sheltered workshop, where I stayed for eight years. In 2015, I left the sheltered workshop and was introduced to self directed services, which is a program that allows disabled individuals to choose what they do on a daily basis. When I was in the sheltered workshop, I didn’t have the opportunity to work on job skills or do things that I enjoy.  An average day at the sheltered workshop would look like me walking into the facility to see people watching movies, playing with children’s toys, coloring, or some other activity. We had scheduled snack and lunch times and was at the mercy of someone else telling us if there was work for the day.

There is a better alternative to sheltered workshops. Since I’ve left the sheltered workshop, I have experienced that meaningful programs are the alternative. I believe that meaningful programs for individuals with disabilities are very important and they should always be valued when it comes to finding jobs and doing recreational activities. Individuals with disabilities should not be forced to sit in a segregated environment because it is not productive or stimulating.

Since I started working in self directed services, I participate in two programs with an organization that supports adults with disabilities. I participate in a music class on Mondays and a dance class on Wednesdays. Both of these programs help me when it comes to finding a job in many ways. The music class helps me with work skills because it teaches me how to be on time, how to make friends, how to be patient, and how to be a leader. The dance class helps me exercise, socialize in a large group, and helps me memorize different dance moves to certain songs that we perform. Both of these programs, and others, are meaningful because they encourage individuals with disabilities to learn how to find work and increase their job skills.

The Musical Autist has three meaningful programs; we have Sensory Friendly Concerts, Empowerment Jam Sessions, and our newest program, Musical Autist Troupe.

Like the programs I talked about previously, the Musical Autist programs also help individuals improve their life skills. These programs help individuals learn what it means to work together as a team and communicate with each other. Sensory Friendly Concerts give people an opportunity to socialize and engage musically. Empowerment Jam Sessions help create an atmosphere that is stress free and encourages individuals to express themselves through music. Musical Autist Troupe promotes individuals to work on songs and communication skills. All three of these programs help to enhance the mission and vision of The Musical Autist, which is to create equal access to the fine arts and platforms for self advocacy.

The continuation of meaningful programs is important for individuals with disabilities so that they can find work and be contributing members to their communities. If these programs are cut, an individuals quality-of-life can decrease from the lack of assistance in facilitating community.

So let us keep these programs going so that individuals with disabilities can live full, healthy, and productive lives.

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Hear Sunny Cefaratti, TMA Co-Founder, share her thoughts on Autism Acceptance Month. She writes: “Please listen what I have to say about celebrating the gifts of autistic individuals. In the video, I talk about the fact that every person on the spectrum has a gift, including those people who are non-speaking. They DO have gifts. They just need support to find them.” At The Musical Autist, we’re proud to celebrate and support people on the spectrum through our music programs.

Sunny Celebrates Autism Acceptance Month 2019 - YouTube
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On Sunday, April 7, we had a Sensory Friendly Concert at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland. In the past, we’ve always had our concerts at Anne Arundel Community College, so this was a new location for us. About 150 people that attended the concert! Our headline performer was The Bulliet Trio, which includes a cello player, a double bass player, and an oboe player. Each member of the trio introduced themselves and their instruments by performing both classical and today’s modern music. Towards the end of the performance, two autistic pianists played a piece. One pianist performed, “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong. The other played a song by DJ Snake and “Hall of Fame” by The Script. Then our new program called Musical Autist Troupe played “High Hopes” by Panic! at the Disco, which was the grand finale.

After the performance, I was interviewed by a reporter from The Baltimore Sun. The reporter asked me questions about music, perfect pitch, and autism. The music therapists that facilitated the concert were also interviewed by a panel discussion comprised of Peabody students. It was very exciting for The Musical Autist to be interviewed at the concert because that has never happened before. The article will be a teaching opportunity for people who have never heard of Sensory Friendly Concerts.

We’re really proud because the article was featured on the FRONT PAGE of the Baltimore Sun last week!

Read the article here: https://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/arts/bs-fe-peabody-sensory-concert-20190325-story.html

Our concert was also featured in an article on Johns Hopkins University’s HUB: https://hub.jhu.edu/2019/04/05/sensory-friendly-concert-autism-spectrum-neurological-differences/

I enjoy going to these concerts because they give me the freedom to be myself without being judged. I feel that I can move and stim in my own space, which is rare in my life. When I am always told to keep still, I feel awkward because it forces me to try to fit in with the rest of the world. When I’m around other people on the spectrum, I feel empowered and supported because we understand each other. This level of understanding is important because it helps us work together effectively and efficiently when we perform music.

The Musical Autist would like to continue having Sensory Friendly Concerts at Peabody Conservatory to reach a bigger and more inclusive audience. Reaching an inclusive audience helps us to fulfill our mission of creating equal access to the fine arts and platforms for advocacy. We will let you know when the next concert will take place at Peabody. If you are interested, please check back on The Musical Autist website for updates and sign up for our newsletter!

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  1. Sensory Accommodations: Our sensory friendly concerts provide accommodations for people on the spectrum. These include noise reduction headphones, a sensory quiet room, foam blocks, and scarves. We do not use a house public address system, so the only sound that you hear is coming from the front of the room. Our motto is “hand flapping aloud”. We allow autistic people to move around and vocalize. Autistic vocalization is to be respected and accepted at these concerts.
  1. High-Quality Music: We ask professional performers to come and play music at our concerts. The performers usually play classical and jazz music. At our next concert, we will have a trio from Peabody Conservatory and two solo musicians perform during the show. One of our programs, which is called, Musical Autist Troupe, will perform a song called “High Hopes” by Panic at the Disco, at the end of the concert.
  1. Programs: We always pass out printed programs before the concert. These programs will help the audience know who is performing and what songs they will perform.
  1. Donations: We always have a basket for donations when you come in to the concert hall. We ask that people make a donation of any amount so that The Musical Autist can continue hosting Sensory Friendly Concerts.
  1. Filling out a survey: We ask that every participant fill out a survey at the end of each concert so that we can collect data to see how we can improve the events. This data will help us continue our concerts while better serving the participants.

Our next Sensory Friendly Concert will take place THIS SUNDAY, April 7 at 2pm at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. We hope to see everybody there! We hope that this concert will be an opportunity for autistic people and non-autistic people alike to have fun and enjoy a good show.

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