'Silence Optional' in special needs-friendly concert

If Maria Corley takes her son to a classical concert, she doesn't know how he might react. He might be talking quietly to himself or making shapes with his hands.

"When you're a mom of a special-needs kid," said Corley, whose son is on the autism spectrum, you become "hyper aware" of how people are reacting — if they are being open or accepting.

But she knows there are certain expectations in a traditional concert hall, one of those being silence.

So when Corley found a Canadian string quartet that offered Xenia Concerts, aimed primarily at people on the autism spectrum, she jumped at the chance to offer similar concerts in her own town.

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Corley performs with Sara Male as Duo Chiaroscuro, with Male on cello and Corley on piano. Both originally from Canada, the duo met in Lancaster in 2010. 

They are bringing their special needs-friendly concert to York City at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 21, at St. John Episcopal Church, 140 N. Beaver St. 

St. John holds a free concert series with nine events each year, and concert committee member Gretchen Dekker, whose daughter takes cello lessons from Male, suggested the duo. 

Series coordinator Brian Moul said the committee decided that in the fourth year of hosting the series, "(it was) time to reach out to an audience beyond our typical concert audience and make music accessible and available" to those who wouldn't normally be able to attend.

Concert: It will be the duo's second performance of "Silence Optional," which will run for less than an hour — a shorter length of time than a typical classical concert — and employ visuals to go along with the show's theme, "The Great Outdoors."

The idea is to create a more relaxed atmosphere to enjoy the music, Corley said. It's not to encourage people to roam about during the show or make a lot of noise, but to be a safe place for those who might not be able to maintain silence.

"If you can’t maintain completely silent decorum, it’s OK," she said. "The fact that you have these challenges isn’t a barrier."

Visuals will be curated by Male's daughters, who attend Lancaster Catholic High School, and the duo will say a few words about each piece in between performances.

Duo Chiaroscuro's previous concerts were held at Church of the Apostles in Lancaster.

Along with "The Great Outdoors," the duo incorporated two other themes for a three-part series, which were "Song and Dance" and "All About Feelings."

"All About the Feelings" looked at movements of famous pieces that the duo felt conveyed or reminded them of different emotions.

Corley's 18-year-old son Malcolm came to all three concerts in the series and seemed to enjoy them, she said.

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"He sees me play all the time," she said, but usually in rehearsal, so getting to see an actual performance was a little different.

Getting the word out: Moul said the committee has reached out to as many local organizations as they can, including The Arc of York County,  Autism York, Brain Balance Center of York and the Center for Creative Arts and Play Therapy.

Moul is hoping to get the word out to those on the autism spectrum so that they will be able to come experience and appreciate the music.

Corley said she hopes to expand the concert series to more locations.

She believes there are others on the autism spectrum in surrounding areas, such as students from autism-focused schools in Hershey, Dauphin County, who might enjoy the concerts.

But the concerts do not have to be limited to those with autism or other special needs, she said. 

"(Classical music) seems like something people can’t find accessible, and I’ve never found it that way," she said, adding that she would love for another audience to discover it.

"It’s hopefully a way for people to come as a family and enjoy music," she said of Sunday's concert.

The church offers free parking for the concert in the lot across the street. Freewill offerings will be accepted but not required. For more information, contact the church office at 717-848-1862.