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Issue Date: March 2008 Issue

All Access

Heide Aungst
A trip to Starbucks last August gave Callista Koh the jolt she needed — and it had nothing to do with caffeine. As she walked out, she paused to read the quote on her cup. It was from Dr. Oliver Sacks, the famous neurologist and author:
“Music can lift us out of depression, or move us to tears; it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more. It can provide access, even when no medication can. To movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.”

Shortly after reading the quote, Koh decided that it was time to create a place where individuals with special needs and their families could attend live music concerts free of charge. A classical violinist, Koh had always dreamed of taking her 6-year-old son, Evan, to a concert. But since he has special needs, she knew his expression of appreciation for the music — clapping and vocalization — might distrupt a formal orchestra audience. She envisioned a place where everyone could clap, dance, sing or speak without anyone saying a negative word.

“There’s an energy that you can’t quite catch from a studio recording,” Koh says.

She named her dream Accessible Arts and held an inaugural concert in December at the Cleveland Music School Settlement, where she is a member of the Suzuki violin staff.

Charlie Lawrence, president and CEO of the Cleveland Music School Settlement, saw the program as a perfect way to help fulfill his vision for the 95-year-old University Circle institution as a place that benefits the entire community.

“I’m excited to be part of the original partnership that helped make this program happen,” says Lawrence. “I see no reason why something like this couldn’t become a model that’s done nationally.”

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