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A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO EXPERIENCE BEAUTY: FORT WORTH PERFORMANCES FOR AUTISM by Edward Brown

Clarinetists Stas Chernyshev and Ann Hung had just finished warming up when their eager audience arrived. Around a dozen 2-to-5-year-old children walked by, gazing in wonder. Many of the kids were barefoot. One small girl carried a brown teddy bear that was easily twice her size. As the young audience members settled in at Hope Center for Autism’s activity room, Chernyshev started the afternoon program.

audiences, Chernyshev and Hung play within a limited sonic range. Other aspects of their outreach programs are designed to work with kids in general, meaning each musical excerpt is generally only two to three minutes long.

For busy parents who are working and raising an autistic child, planning concert outings may not always be within reach.

“The reason I bring [Chernyshev and Hung] in is One activity seemed especially engaging that early because everyone deserves to have exposure to such afternoon. The two guest musicians involved their audience beautiful music,” she said. “I’m always looking for things in a music writing activity. Hung asked the children whether that will bring them joy. How many of those kids have the piece they composed should be loud or soft, happy or ever heard a clarinet? Providing them with different “We’ll start by playing some music,” he said before sad, and slow or fast. Not surprisingly, most requests were for experiences is important to me.” launching into a jazz duet by composer Bob Zottola. happy, loud, and fast music. As each child picked a musical Chernyshev and Hung plan to slowly but steadily grow The intermingling jazzy melodies set many of the kids direction, Hung circled the corresponding word on a small the program throughout the city. The outreach program to swaying. When they finished, the room of teachers and poster she brought that faced the children. Chernyshev then will be managed through Opus Nova, a chamber music students gave a hearty applause. Chernyshev and Hung created a tune based on their requests. The kids seemed to series the two founded last year. Reaching autistic students (who are married) then introduced themselves before get a kick out of it. Bach, Telemann, Pachelbel, and few other within Fort Worth’s public schools will allow more students giving a primer on their woodwind instrument. Chernyshev composers were introduced before the program ended. to emotionally connect to the rich legacy of classical music. demonstrated how the clarinet can play high, low, fast, and “Thank you for composing with us,” Chernyshev told his slow. Hung followed by introducing two concepts to the The afternoon performance marked the third time Hope audience just as they were beginning to fidget. onlooking kids. Center for Autism students have heard the new program. Susan Wood, Hope Center for Autism executive director, Whenever the clarinettists have a new program, Wood said “All the music we will play today is either call and told me that the children at her nonprofit have always she’ll pencil in time for their visit. response or cannon,” Hung said before describing the responded well to Fort Worth Performances for Autism. musical terms. “With a cannon, one person starts while the “These two musicians have a real heart for this,” she said. While the regimented academic and therapy programs at other waits. Then they play together. Who wants to play a the center leave scarce downtime for the kids there, Wood game? I’ll clap something and then I want you to clap the always welcomes activities that enrich and add beauty to rhythm back.” the lives of her students. Finding the right guest artists takes The duo alternated songs with activities over the an understanding of the unique needs of autistic children, next 30 minutes, maintaining a brisk pace that kept the she said. onlookers’ attention. The outreach program, Fort Worth “You may have noticed that when we started today, Performances for Autism, developed out of a love of several kids covered their ears,” she said. Chernyshev and working with kids who are diagnosed with autism, Hung “stayed within the kids’ [auditory] comfort level. The Chernyshev and Hung told me. The two taught autistic kids knew they were in a safe place.” children in their previous home of New York City. That experience has given them an understanding of how to Beyond any educational and therapeutic benefits that best interact with the youngsters’ special needs. Autistic may come from hearing classical music, Wood believes children are particularly sensitive to loud sounds and every child has a fundamental right to experience beauty. bright lights, for example. When performing for these

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