Barbara Yahr has spent much of her music career conducting orchestras around the country.
But it’s been the other hat she’s worn that has opened her eyes to the possibilities that music can bring to others. Yahr is also a music therapist, who has worked extensively with special needs children.
Years ago, she was fascinated when she became aware that children on the autism spectrum and others with various challenges, including some who were non-verbal, were able to relate to others by listening and playing music.
“It sort of confirmed what I always felt, that music is a type of language, it’s just a non-verbal language,” Yahr explained. “The neuroscientists can explain all the real reasons, I guess, but music kind of takes up a big part of your brain, all of your brain, and it stimulates your emotions, your rational thoughts, your physical being, everything. It’s part of why we all love music but for an autistic kid, for example, or for kids with lots of different problems, it really makes it possible to actually share something with people whereas language is very threatening.”
This Saturday afternoon, Mar. 9, Yahr will be conducting The Chappaqua Orchestra in its next concert, “Together in Music,” at the Chappaqua Performing Arts Center. It’s an interactive family program that will also feature the performances of seven special needs children between seven and 16 years old, including four from the area. Some of the young musicians will be playing percussion while others will be performing on the piano, she said.
The roughly hour-long concert, in partnership with New Castle’s Everyone Person is Connected (EPIC) Committee, will be conducive for children with sensory sensitivities so parents who might otherwise hesitate to bring their children to a concert are encouraged to attend, Yahr said.
Among the selections is a Rossini overture, a piece from Prokofiev, Bach and part of Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” she said. In addition, there will be an original piece from a local composer. There will be times when the audience will get up and stomp their feet but there will also be some quieter moments, Yahr said. About 50 musicians affiliated with the orchestra will be on stage.
“It’s a very exciting thing for kids who work hard to be side by side with professionals and that to me is the whole concept,” said Yahr.
David Restivo, executive director of The Chappaqua Orchestra, said the program is not just for the special needs community. It is one of the orchestra’s traditional family concerts and can be enjoyed by music lovers of any age, he said.
With her specialty in music therapy, Yahr, one of five finalists vying for the permanent conductor’s position, was a natural fit to lead the concert.
“It’s opened my eyes and just the amount of excitement for kids to have this opportunity to do this…is a wonderful thing,” Restivo said. “It’s great to see the excitement of the parents in that group and hopefully it gets out that the kids in that community will be able to participate in the concert.”
Restivo said he hopes this program can be presented annually or at least once every other year.
“We really need, we really hope people come out for it because it would really make a difference for the concert, a nice, excited, supportive audience,” Yahr said.
The concert is scheduled for 4 p.m. Tickets are $15 each; children three and under can attend for free.
The Chappaqua Performing Arts Center is located within the Chappaqua Crossing campus at 480 Bedford Rd. For tickets or more information, visit www.chappaquaorchestra.org.