Detroit SO welcomes special-needs kids to its opening session

Detroit SO welcomes special-needs kids to its opening session


norman lebrecht

September 27, 2015

When a disabled audience member cried out with joy and an audience member objected during a philharmonic concert in Gothenburg, Sweden, it sparked an international debate on concert etiquette.

This weekend the Detroit SO launched a pilot scheme by opening its first rehearsal of the new season to a group of students with special needs from Glen Peters School of the Macomb Intermediate School District. The initiative was held in memory of Nathan Suida, who passed away at DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan in June. A music lover, Nathan’s desire to see the DSO live sparked a conversation about ways to make performances at Orchestra Hall more accessible and enjoyable for individuals with special needs.


slatkin disabled

Way to go.



  • Leonard Slatkin says:

    This was the most inspiring moment one can imagine. The young man, Connor, who is autistic, was assisted by his father when coming to the stage. He clutched a security pillow with both hands and was slumped over when I handed him a baton. I assured him that the orchestra wanted to see him and all of a sudden, he stood straight up.

    About mid-way through “Stars and Stripes Forever” Connor let go of the pillow. The palpable joy on his face, the tears from the members of the orchestra and the sheer delight of his father said it all.

    It was a moment in time that will replay itself over and over in my mind. I am certain that the same thoughts will be in the heads of our musicians. And young Connor, well, we do not know how this experience will affect him. But for a little while, he was the king of the world.
    We could not ask for a braver leader.

    • Brian Hughes says:

      Bravo Maestro Slatkin and the members of the DSO (the homeland I left much too long ago. This project should be an inspiration to many others.

    • Petros LInardos says:

      Very moving. Mr. Slatkin and the DSO, you are setting a great example.

    • El Grillo says:

      I met a King this afternoon!
      He had not on a Crown indeed,
      A little Palmleaf Hat was all,
      And he was barefoot, I’m afraid!

      But sure I am he Ermine wore
      Beneath his faded Jacket’s blue —
      And sure I am, the crest he bore
      Within that Jacket’s pocket too!

      For ’twas too stately for an Earl —
      A Marquis would not go so grand!
      ‘Twas possibly a Czar petite —
      A Pope, or something of that kind!

      If I must tell you, of a Horse
      My freckled Monarch held the rein —
      Doubtless an estimable Beast,
      But not at all disposed to run!

      And such a wagon! While I live
      Dare I presume to see
      Another such a vehicle
      As then transported me!

      Two other ragged Princes
      His royal state partook!
      Doubtless the first excursion
      These sovereigns ever took!

      I question if the Royal Coach
      Round which the Footmen wait
      Has the significance, on high,
      Of this Barefoot Estate!

      (Emily Dickinson)!

  • Robert Levine says:

    The latest issue of Symphony magazine has an article on orchestras doing concerts for those with autism; it’s worth a read.

  • Jerry Suida says:

    September 24th was a magical moment for Nathan’s mom & I. To have the opportunity to see his peers enjoying the powerful feeling of witnessing their favorite music live was priceless. Seeing the orchestra members lock eyes with the students as they played brought tears to our eyes. Thank you again to all of the members of the DSO (musicians & staff) that made this happen. We’re glad you were finally Abe to meet some of your biggest fans!