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Korean “Autism Orchestra” visits Yale Child Study Center for special performance

April 23, 2024

On Friday, April 12, 2024, approximately 60 Yale and New Haven community members gathered at the Yale Child Study Center (YCSC) for a special mini concert performed by the Onnuri Sarang Chamber Orchestra and conducted by Yale alum (and violinist) Angela Inkyung Sohn.

Co-hosted by the YCSC and Yale’s Office of International Affairs (OIA), the event was organized by YCSC staff members Sydney Anderson, Belmana Ponjevic, and Gitta Selva in close collaboration with OIA Director for Asia Jieun Pyun. Harris Professor in the Child Study Center James McPartland delivered opening remarks, Emily Fraser Beede Professor of Child Psychiatry Kasia Chawarska provided introductions, and audience participation was provided by YCSC Postgraduate Fellow Marcia Questel and others.

The performance involved a mix of classical, spiritual, and popular music, with solos by Heewong Kim on cello and Yerim Lee on violin. Highlights included the chamber concert string quartet – consisting of four students with autism – playing entirely from memory along with “Baby Shark” played toward the end of the concert, with audience participation (as pictured).

Sohn (Yale School of Music, DMA) established the Onnuri Sarang Chamber Orchestra in 1999, when it began as a modest “Music Room for the Disabled” at Onnuri Church in Korea. It has since grown into a full chamber orchestra comprising 35 members with an array of intellectual and developmental disabilities including Autism Spectrum Disorder and Down Syndrome.

Over the years, the Onnuri Sarang Chamber Orchestra has performed over 600 concerts at hospitals, senior welfare and rehabilitation centers, and numerous churches and charitable organizations throughout Korea. The orchestra has also been invited to perform in the United States, Hong Kong, Japan, Germany and Czechoslovakia – as well as at the (Presidential) Blue House in Seoul, Korea, and alongside motivational speaker Nick Vujicic.

Since 2013, the orchestra has been sponsored by the Hyosung Group, a Korean corporation also led by a Yale alumnus. Orchestra members have participated in the Teaching Class Program by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, and recently performed at a private concert held at the Yongsan Presidential Office. The group visited Yale during Autism Acceptance Month, while they were on a tour of New York and New Jersey.

Submitted by Crista Marchesseault on April 19, 2024