Jamie’s Concerts return to UK for carers of autistic children

In April and May 2015, the Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa will give her next two Jamie’s Concerts in the UK. Jamie’s Concerts form an ongoing series that started in 2004, designed specifically for parents and carers of children with autism.

The unique events aim to create a relaxing, supportive and calm environment in which carers can enjoy listening to the music and make connections with others in similar roles.

The first Jamie’s Concert of 2015 will be on 22 April 2015 at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, as part of the venue’s Ravel and Rachmaninov festival (of which Noriko is associate artist). The second will be on 5 May at the Milton Court Concert Hall of the Guildhall School.

Jamie’s Concerts were inspired by an experience early on in Noriko’s career as a pianist, while spending time staying in the UK with a family of musicians whose son was diagnosed with autism.

The shows are designed to fit around the demanding schedules of parents and carers, beginning at 11am and ending before the school day is over with a relaxed meeting and networking session for audience members (a rare opportunity to get together in a non-institutionalised setting).

‘Autism is one of the most difficult disabilities to understand, and the toughest to cope with,’ says Noriko. ‘A child has to be 2 years or older to be diagnosed, and parents have to come to terms with serious matters long after the celebration of childbirth. The most significant characteristic in autism is a lack of flexibility; the family has to live their lives to fit around the autistic person’s needs.

‘It’s amazing how many people with autistic children tell me first-hand that they used to attend concerts but couldn’t anymore. This is why the concerts should be straightforward, with programmes of a high standard. In order to attract the target audience, it’s vital to have good rapport with the venue and promoter; doors opening at 10:30am means military-style preparation on the day.’

The first Jamie’s Concert was held in 2004 at Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall in Japan, and subsequent concerts quickly sold out – the 12th Jamie’s Concert was held there on 7 October 2014. Three of the concerts have been held in the UK to date, with the most recent – at the Barnstondale Centre in Feb 2013 – meeting with great success in terms of reception and fundraising.

Noriko will also perform an awareness-raising concert on 9 April at St Peter’s Eaton Square (part of the Eaton Square Concerts Spring 2015 series). The show will mark Noriko’s official inauguration as a Cultural Ambassador for the National Autistic Society.

‘The root of the Jamie’s Concerts idea is to provide a musical occasion,’ explains Noriko. ‘According to each venue and its needs, the business side can be flexible, either selling tickets or putting on a free concert. This can be a good way to find hidden audiences – many people can be stuck in the house for various reasons. I hope that, eventually, many venues agree to hold the concerts.

‘Through help from the NAS, I can reach out to more people in the country with these performances. I see wonderful changes in the faces of primary carers in the audience [as they] exchange stories with each other and network proactively. I strongly feel there are many more potential audience members and venues, and eventually I would like Jamie’s Concerts to spread more widely.’