Merit School of Music

Hundreds of Families Turn Out for Merit’s Sensory Friendly Concert

It was a morning filled with music, dancing, laughter, and cheer at Merit School of Music’s Sensory Friendly Concert earlier this month.

Over 250 families with children of all ages gathered in Gottlieb Hall to experience Merit’s Wind Symphony and students from The Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts) band perform fun, familiar favorites such as “Harry Potter Symphonic Suite” by John Williams, selections from The Music Man by Meredith Willson, and more.

Sensory friendly events have all the makings of a standard event but also provide support for those with sensory processing difficulties. At Merit, audience members were provided with earplugs, earmuffs, and fidget spinners and were encouraged to move, make noise, clap along, and take breaks as needed as part of an open and friendly environment. With these extra efforts, sensory friendly events create a fun, welcoming, and positive environment for everyone to enjoy.

“Sometimes things say that they’re ‘sensory friendly,’ but to actually go the extra mile and have the materials to make it sensory friendly is amazing,” says Sitlaly G., a parent who attended the event, about the overall experience. “My kids love music and it’s great to finally be able to bring them to something without having to worry too much.”

sensory friendly concert child

“My kids love music and it’s great to finally be able to bring them to something without having to worry too much.”

– Sitlaly G., parent

In addition to many guests from the West Loop and the established Merit community, Merit welcomed 30 residents from Chicago’s Misericordia, Heart of Mercy, an organization dedicated to supporting children and adults with developmental disabilities to the concert.

An audience member closes his eyes to “see the colors in the music” as conductor, and Merit Wind Symphony Director, Chip Staley, suggests to the audience.

“I want to thank you for having us at the concert on February 25th. The concert was beautiful; they did an excellent job,” said Delia, a Misericordia resident. “76 trombones led the big parade, with 110 cornets close at hand! P.S. Thank you for letting us dance!”

Sensory Friendly Concert Group
sensory friendly concert group

Concert attendees move and clap along to the music while socializing with Merit’s Wind Symphony & ChiArts students.

The band at Merit’s Sensory Friendly Concert performs “76 trombones.”


Topping off the final piece of the concert, “Mambo Greats”, arr. Stephen Bulla, which had the whole audience on its feet dancing, members of the band invited guests to the stage to learn about the various instruments that they were playing.

Children of all ages thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to see flutes, trumpets, timpani, clarinets, and more up close and personal. One youngster quickly learned that the “big clarinet” he was interested in was actually a bassoon!

We were thrilled to engage with so many families and community members by celebrating neurodiversity at a performance that is designed for all to relish and experience. At Merit, incorporating sensory friendly events is important to us because we aim to be an inclusive institution in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood in every way possible.

With concerts like this, Merit is a destination where young children can be introduced to classical music AND everyone of all ages, abilities and backgrounds can feel a sense of belonging. We can’t wait for the next sensory friendly concert at Merit!

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