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Creating Inclusive Spaces

April 12, 2024
Families attend a CMS Kids program in CMS’s Rose Studio. These relaxed performances are designed for children ages 3–6 and accommodate neurodiverse audiences.

CMS Leading The Way

Classical music, with its rich history and tradition, has the power to captivate and inspire. However, many find classical music difficult to access, which poses a barrier for potential enthusiasts. As our world evolves and audiences diversify, it is vital for performing arts institutions to create environments that welcome newcomers and seasoned concertgoers alike. Among the organizations leading this charge is the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS), committed not only to exceptional performances, but also to providing spaces where individuals feel valued and welcomed.

For those new to the world of chamber music, especially children, taking the first step into the concert hall can be daunting. Recognizing this, CMS offers Chamber Music Beginnings, a series meant to demystify the genre and make it more accessible to young beginners. Designed for children in third through fifth grades, the program offers a yearlong series of interactive demonstrations in schools by our Teaching Artists, along with curated concert experiences, both in partner venues and at New York City schools. Exceeding pre-pandemic levels, the program now serves 3,500 students per year from Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. Chamber Music Beginnings provides young people with the knowledge and confidence to fully appreciate the beauty and complexity of chamber music.

Young audience members enjoy a CMS performance at the Police Athletic League in the Bronx in February 2024.

For young listeners with various needs (including sensory, communication, movement, and learning needs), a traditional concert with a formal structure may not be the most accessible. Given the nature of chamber music— performed by only a few musicians, often in intimate venues—CMS possesses unique capacity to provide such inclusive programs in its Rose Studio. During CMS Kids performances, tailored for children under six, participants enjoy an immersive musical experience in a relaxed format and a non-judgmental environment. Each session caters to various needs while offering an interactive encounter with classical music in under an hour. Performances like these cultivate early engagement with the art form, nurture curiosity, and foster appreciation, exploration, and discovery among young audiences.

CMS musicians perform at the Police Athletic League in the Bronx in February 2024

At the heart of CMS’s mission is a dedication to extending its service beyond the confines of the concert hall and towards the wider community. A newly launched program to bring chamber music into New York City neighborhoods beyond Manhattan—made possible by the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Initiative for Music and Community Engagement— embodies this dedication.

Collaborating with partners such as the Brooklyn Public Library, Harmony Program, Police Athletic League, and New York Edge, CMS offers free concerts in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn, enriching lives and forging profound connections with new audiences. In collaboration with host venues, and in direct response to community needs, these performances integrate instrument petting zoos as well as thoughtfully curated and hosted shows. Performing musicians also provide insights and context throughout the concerts. Furthermore, many of these performances are complemented by community meals, cultivating a sense of shared experience around the art form, and staying true to the original ethos of chamber music, which was enjoyed by family and friends in the home.

For the more seasoned enthusiast seeking a deeper understanding of the repertoire, CMS offers Inside Chamber Music, a series combining lectures, discussions, and performances.

Livestreamed from the Rose Studio, the series currently features CMS’s Resident Lecturer Bruce Adolphe joined by musicians on stage for investigations of masterworks from our season programming. These gatherings provide audiences with unique insights into the history, structure, and interpretation of chamber music masterpieces, fostering a sense of belonging and shared knowledge among fellow music lovers.

Audience members of all ages try out musical instruments at an instrument petting zoo before a
concert at the Brooklyn Public Library in December 2023.

As the world continues to embrace digital innovation, the future of classical music undoubtedly lies in the expansion of programming into digital spaces. The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is poised to lead this evolution by leveraging technology to reach even more audiences. Through live-streamed performances, virtual workshops, and interactive educational resources, CMS aims to break down geographical barriers and make chamber music accessible to people around the globe. Such digital platforms expand CMS’s reach and allow for diverse audiences to engage with classical music on their own terms. In this digital landscape, the boundaries of the concert hall dissolve and classical music becomes a truly universal language, uniting people from all corners of the world in appreciation of its timeless beauty and emotional depth.

As cultural institutions are evolving to meet the needs of our changing society, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center remains committed to inclusivity and innovation. CMS’s varied programs both uphold the rich heritage of chamber music and ensure its relevance and accessibility to audiences from diverse backgrounds and age groups. By nurturing the next generation of classical music enthusiasts and prioritizing community responsiveness, CMS aims not only to meet the needs of today, but also to adapt to the ever-changing classical music landscape of tomorrow.

Emily Harper is Director of Education & Community Engagement at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.