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Southern Oregon University's Music Department presents accessibility-themed choral concert

Southern Oregon University presents concert geared toward those with disabilities and neurodiversity challenges.
Steve Babuljak
Southern Oregon University presents concert geared toward those with disabilities and neurodiversity challenges.

SOU's final choir concert of the season is designed to appeal to general audiences who enjoy choral music AND those with disabilities or sensory sensitivities. JPR’s Vanessa Finney recently spoke with Dr. Jerron Jorgensen, SOU’s Director of Choral Studies, about the concert.

Vanessa Finney: Dr. Jorgensen, with your concert, there's sort of two components: There's the content or the repertoire, and also the format. So let's start with that. Tell me what it takes to structure a concert to be more accessible.

Jerron Jorgensen: I mean, we've been asking a lot of questions. I have been asking a lot of questions of myself about how we traditionally format and structure our concerts. And are we really, truly doing so that they are accessible to as wide and diverse of a population of people as possible? And the answer is resoundingly No. We do some things traditionally, but it's so clear that we can do a lot more. So just to name a few of the things that we're attempting to do that has nothing to do with music: We will have Braille programs available for any member of the audience that reads Braille and would benefit from some assisted reading for the programs. We will have a live audio describer, who will be speaking into a closed circuit system, so that anyone who's blind or has visual challenges will still get a good understanding of what's happening on stage in front of them. We will have supertitles for any spoken word, as well as any of the texts of the songs that we're singing, so that anyone who might have hearing challenges, or who are deaf can always see the text - as well as two interpretive signers that will be signing during the entire concert. And in each choir, we’re learning one song with sign language as well. So we're trying really hard to just think about all the different touch points that we can insert into our concert logistically or structurally that will make them as accessible as possible.

VF: So would you say Southern Oregon University, like a lot of schools and performing arts organizations, have made certain attempts, but that a lot of this is new territory for them?

JJ: It’s certainly new for me. I think it's new for a lot of us. And the idea, I suppose, isn't necessarily that every single event that we do will offer every single thing. But I think through the exploration and the learning that I have gone through structuring this concert, I've learned just how far we have to go and what's possible. And I hope that our students, many of whom are going to be future music educators and performers, will take a little bit of what they learned throughout this process and apply it to their future concerts and events.

VF: Now let's get into some of the content. Tell us about the song “Inside."

JJ: Yeah, “Inside" is by the composer Amy Scurria. She is a composer that lives with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and being a female, she was diagnosed with it late in life. And she disclosed to me that that's quite common for women, that they tend to get diagnosed later. So as a result, they don't always have the support services that their male counterparts may have earlier in life. And so as she's really just coming to grips with her identity and how this diagnosis suddenly shines light on a number of things that she's always felt, but never really quite was able to put a finger on, she was very eager to share that with her words.
It''s not a poem. A lot of times when a composer is commissioned to write something, they usually will set a preexisting text to a song, but she's writing out her own experiences in her own words and then manifesting that with an extra layer with her music. And I think as the students and I have been working on it, it's been just a joy to watch it come to life. I hope that you would all agree: premiering a piece and supporting a living composer - it's like one of the greatest things to do.

This is an excerpt of a conversation originally aired on the Jefferson Exchange segment "The Creative Way." The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Vanessa Finney hosts All Things Considered on JPR and produces two segments for The Jefferson Exchange: My Better Half and The Creative Way.