The Relaxed Concert featuring James Rowney and the Orchestra of the Swan

UK debut for concert designed by people with autism, in collaboration with THSH and local autism charity, was a smash hit at Town Hall Birmingham on Sunday

Last weekend, Sunday 22 March, saw over 200 people turn out for one of the UK’s first bespoke, especially designed relaxed concert for people with autism – The Relaxed Concert featuring James Rowney and Orchestra of the Swan.

Taking place at Town Hall Birmingham, managed by the charity Performances Birmingham Ltd, people poured in from across Birmingham for what was an excellent performance by ventriloquist James Rowney and Orchestra of the Swan, led by conductor and artistic director, David Curtis.

Designed for families, people with an autistic spectrum condition, a learning disability or a sensory and communication disorder, the concert is part of THSH’s vision to break down barriers in accessing live music. The performance was developed for people with autism, by people with autism, including star of the show ventriloquist James Rowney who himself has autism and families in the Autism West Midlands network, in partnership with THSH, Autism West Midlands and the Orchestra of the Swan.

The popular event saw 20-year old ventriloquist, local student James, take to the stage with Little Jim to guide the audience through a musical adventure all the way from theme tunes they know and love, including Star Wars, Harry Potter, right through to the Last Night of The Proms.

James commented: “From when I was initially asked to be part of the project, and right through to the performance on Sunday afternoon, it has been a wonderful experience, and I have been privileged to work with some fantastic people. If I had to name a highlight of the day, seeing the smiles on the children’s faces as they rode their imaginary horses to the William Tell Overture, priceless.”

Emma Reynolds who attended the event alongside children Darcey and Gerard, Gerard who has autism and other learning disabilities, had this to say: “The relaxed concert was a fantastic idea that was really well executed.

“Gerard felt reassured because we showed him the chill out area before we went into the main hall. The fact that he was allowed to get up and wander about also helped because that meant that his anxiety levels weren’t heightened. He loved hearing “Star Wars” and Little Jim the puppet made him giggle!

“We relished the opportunity that you gave us to go out as a family and not worry about what people around us thought. We listened to a world class orchestra in a very relaxed and welcoming atmosphere and we are very grateful!”

During the performance some of the audience danced and sang, clapped and walked around – celebrating and enjoying the music in a way completely natural to them. And, when they needed a break, they spent time in the quiet area or in the chill out zone, which was complete with dimmed lights, bean bags and toys to play with.

To finish, the 38 strong orchestra and James and Little Jim – who had changed into tux and tails for the performance – held a Q and A where the audience could ask any and every question about the orchestra and the music.

After a few excellent questions from the young audience members, the entire orchestra took their instruments down into the stalls where the audience was given the chance to ask questions and give the instruments a try, together with a chance to meet James and Little Jim.

Chris Proctor, programme coordinator for THSH, said: “We couldn’t be happier or more proud of this weekend’s performance, which we believe to be one of the UK’s first publicly-available performances of its kind in a concert environment, completely bespoke and both designed and directly influenced by people with autism, for people with autism.

“We are passionate about making the arts accessible to all different kinds of people, which means breaking down barriers, changing the way things have been done for decades, even centuries in some cases, to make them more suitable for a variety of different audience needs.

“Whilst we were breaking down barriers to access, it was inspiring to see James breaking barriers and showing people what can be achieved by someone with autism.

“The relaxed performance this weekend was more than a performance; it’s the start of something that could be transformative for the lives of people with autism the world over. Following the success of Sunday’s show, we can’t wait to plan our next and start taking this show on the road!”
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Note to Editors

Town Hall and Symphony Hall are managed together by Performances Birmingham Limited, a Registered Charity No 1053937. Between them, the two halls present an exciting and varied programme of around 800 concerts and events a year, connecting people of all ages and backgrounds to music from jazz, folk, world, roots and classical, to rock and pop. Over 600,000 people visit Town Hall and Symphony Hall annually, and almost 13,000 young people and adults participate in the thriving Education and Community programme.

Funded by Birmingham City Council | Supported using public funding by Arts Council England

Town Hall Birmingham re-opened in October 2007 following a £35m renovation funded by Birmingham City Council (£18.3m), Heritage Lottery Fund (£13.7m), European Regional Development Fund (£3m).

We are extremely grateful for the very kind support of the following Trusts & Foundations:

Birmingham Bodenham Trust, Boshier-Hinton Foundation, Edward & Dorothy Cadbury Trust, Eric W Vincent Trust Fund, Eveson Charitable Trust, George Fentham Birmingham Charity, Grantham Yorke Trust, Henry James Sayer Charity, Lord Austin Trust, Mrs Wingfield’s Charitable Trust, Saintbury Trust, Stephen Clark 1957 Charitable Trust and W. E. D. Charitable Trust.