Emily Stefani, a senior in UCF鈥檚 concert band, understands firsthand the challenges individuals with autism face at concerts. Her younger sister experiences sensory overload as she gets overwhelmed by the noise, crowds and bright lights.

However, Stefani鈥檚 sister had a remarkable experience when two UCF classes, including the concert band, joined forces to create a concert that aims to break through these barriers and make live music enjoyable for everyone, regardless of disabilities or differences.

鈥淚 could see them from where I was sitting, and she was having a lot of fun with the glow sticks, moving around freely. She could wiggle and laugh if something was funny,鈥 says Stefani, a biology major. 鈥淚 was able to see how happy she was being able to enjoy a concert without feeling uncomfortable, especially because I know she loves music.鈥

At the Inclusive Knights concert, those on the autism spectrum could freely express themselves through vocalization and movement and the Deaf community could sense the music鈥檚 rhythm through the vibrations of a balloon.

Inclusive Knights: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles marked the second time UCF Celebrates the Arts featured an inclusive event, with about 400 attendees 鈥 many of whom cannot attend other concerts.

For Stefani, seeing her sister鈥檚 joy at the concert emphasized the importance of inclusive spaces in the arts.

鈥淧eople on the autism spectrum and others who may have sensory issues still enjoy music and participating in community events like this one,鈥 Stefani says. 鈥淗aving a concert series like this allows them to enjoy the music however they want. Whether that is covering their ears due to loudness or moving around, it is completely acceptable.鈥

Christine Lapka, UCF associate professor of music education, explained that this concert offers a unique approach to sensory-friendly events, tailored not only for individuals on the autism spectrum but for a broader audience. They coined it 鈥渋nclusive鈥 to cater to anyone who may struggle to engage with concerts adhering strictly to traditional etiquette.

The performance showcased the UCF Concert Band, under the direction of UCF Assistant Director of Bands Dave Schreier 鈥02 鈥10MA, alongside Lapka鈥檚 class, Music and Students with Special Needs. As the band played, the music education students presented a performance filled with costumes, props and much more.

Logan Grzybowski, a sophomore music education student, took part in this year鈥檚 concert as the main narrator. Portraying the train conductor, he guided the audience through the concert experience. He explained that their objective when crafting the skits was to integrate the music performed by the band and ensure a welcoming and interactive experience for all audiences.

鈥淲e did an acting portion for them while the concert band played a piece called Traffic, and we created a scene of famous characters such as Barbie, Lightning McQueen and other well-known characters from children鈥檚 movies,鈥 Grzybowski says. 鈥淲e even had a scene where the Ferrari was speeding and the cop was trying to stop him, which the audience seemed to enjoy.鈥

Miriam Soto, a freshman music education student, also participated in this year鈥檚 concert. Her primary role was to instruct the audience in a rhythm section of a piece that made its debut performance and was composed by student Cameron Cummins, who majors in music performance with a track in composition. Under Soto鈥檚 guidance, the audience clapped and tapped along, forming a 400-person ensemble.

鈥淎t one point the room was split off from right to left and they were in charge of their part, forming a call and response,鈥 Soto says. 鈥淎nd it was so special because the audience was taking part in the performance.鈥

For both Grzybowski and Soto, this concert presented an opportunity to learn and grow as future educators.

鈥淭his shows how important it is to create a space for inclusivity, and it provided me the skills to put a concert like this together in the future as a teacher,鈥 Soto says.

Schreier says that from the band鈥檚 perspective, they don鈥檛 change how they perform the music for this concert. Instead, they help the audience cope and prepare them for what to expect ahead of time.

American Sign Language interpreters and the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) were used as alternative forms of communication. Balloons were provided for the Deaf community to sense music vibrations, and glowsticks were distributed for audience members to conduct along with the music. Attendees were encouraged to bring fidget toys, cushions, or other items to enhance their concert experience.

Lapka, Schreier and the participating students say they were thrilled with the results and the turnout of the concert, and are excited about the positive impact Inclusive Knights had on the community.