This year, the Longmont Symphony will be presenting our second annual “Gentle Nutcracker” performance (Dec. 7, 1 PM) in addition to our regular pair of performances of Tchaikovsky’s timeless holiday classic, The Nutcracker (Dec. 7 & 8). Our Gentle Nutcracker has been constructed for a neuro-diverse audience; we have truly gone to great lengths to make this a genuine sensory-friendly production. We have reduced the performance duration to under one hour, removed all violence from the plot, and have an open seating plan with limited ticket sales while reducing the price of admission. Also, for the comfort of all audience members, we will be leaving the house lights at 35%, will have a quiet room for any overstimulated patrons, and will have EMTs on-site.

As many of you know, my wife and I welcomed our first child into this world just a few weeks ago. We often find ourselves expressing gratitude for having a healthy child — and imagining just how different our lives would be if we had a child with special needs. I have spoken with parents of neuro-diverse children who express to me how petrified they are of taking their children to live performances. Sadly for them, the most common solution is to simply forgo attending live events. Alternatively, they split their family up into those who can attend such events and those who cannot. Therefore, while our Gentle Nutcracker is for a neuro-diverse audience, it is also a performance that is designed to allow families to be just that: families!

Our Gentle Nutcracker audience knows that this performance offers a safe space for them and that actions such as “vocalizing” are wholly accepted by our orchestra musicians, dancers, and audience. There are several anecdotes that I found very moving from last year: One parent decided to leave early with their child, who was being “too disruptive.” Our ushers spoke with the parent to let them know that this behavior was expected and was okay. The parent returned to the performance with her child, staying until the end.  She found me after the performance, and, with tears streaming down her face, commented that she was constantly leaving events because her autistic child was being too disruptive. Her gratitude for being allowed to be “just like a normal family out in public” knew no bounds!! Another parent wrote to us about her 20-year-old son, who has the mental capacity of a 6-year-old; she was so relieved to be in a safe space where she could assist him in the ladies’ restroom without judgmental glares from onlookers. It is my hope that by exposing their children to these experiences, that they may eventually be able to have more experiences like this as families.

I need to add here that our Gentle Nutcracker wasn’t just great for the audience, but was also exceptionally moving for our musicians. One of our orchestra members commented to me how — after 30 years of performing this in the pit and never having seen the production — he finally got some idea for what was going on onstage by the exclamatory shouts of our audience members!  He said that hearing the excitement of our audience members made him want to give more to his performance!

As the music director of an organization that has committed to championing a performance of this nature, I am proud to be touching the lives of our neuro-diverse citizens. I look forward to leading our second annual performance of the Gentle Nutcracker as we continue to our goal of impacting all lives in our community through music.