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Autism Advocacy Series: Chicago Premiere Production

“I want to see the world, not by the whole, but by the all too beautiful small things.” -Ryan Harris


The above quote inspired Lynx Project’s Autism Advocacy Series (AAS). Ryan has autism and is nonverbal, but the outward presentation of autism belies his true capabilities. Ryan and his peers communicate by painstakingly spelling out words on a letterboard or iPad. Lynx Project’s AAS takes poetry and prose written by youth like Ryan and commissions composers to set their words to music for voice and piano. AAS advocates for the importance of every voice, expands the art song canon, and brings diverse communities to contemporary classical music.

The AAS brings youth who experience nonverbal autism into an artistic project of the highest quality created with and designed to accommodate communities with special needs. In addition to building awareness of the stigmas and preconceptions about those with nonverbal autism, Lynx Project also uses this opportunity to build unexpected audiences for contemporary vocal music.

This 2020-2021 project marks the first-ever full iteration of the Autism Advocacy Series in Chicago.

In 2020, Lynx Project will hold a call for poetry from Chicagoland autism communities. Composition students from North Park University will have the opportunity to write the compositions for the 2020-21 project. A fall workshop will take place involving all writers, composers, and performers to build community connections between all participants and ensure the highest quality of artistic output. Performers will be Lynx Project’s Chicago artists.

The world premiere concert will take place in spring of 2021 at the Poetry Foundation, with an additional performance at North Park University, and outreach events will lead up to the performances. Sensory accommodations are provided at all events.

Lynx Project seeks support for this project’s commissioning, recording, and performer fees associated with the workshop and 2021 world premiere events. By disseminating these works via recording and an upcoming anthology publication by NewMusicShelf, Lynx Project hopes to bring attention to the myriad of composers who have been commissioned through this project–many of whom are at the early stages of their career–as well as the abilities and voices of the extraordinary young writers.

For the young writers, AAS is a platform that not only shares their voices with neurotypical audiences, but also empowers them and their peers by celebrating their abilities. For its composers and performers, the project is a challenge with immense impact, where their music holds the potential to change audiences’ thoughts and biases around people experiencing nonverbal autism. And for its audiences, AAS is a one-of-a-kind exercise in empathy, where music has proven to open the hearts and minds of those otherwise unfamiliar with the autism community. AAS will reach hundreds of individuals through concerts and educational outreach events in Chicago, and has the potential to touch thousands of lives via online dissemination of recordings.

Neurodiverse communities experiencing the arts alongside each other is a radically inclusive format that Lynx Project has seen unite communities. AAS brings together musical communities and those with disabilities, going beyond entertainment to change lives via inclusive musical experiences.

Project Media

Excerpt of songs written for 2018-19 project by Tariq Al Sabir (mvmt. Sixth Extinction)
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Features: Lynx

Begin at 2:30 for Sixth Extinction.
Composed by Tariq Al Sabir with poetry by Kenta Mignot (age 13), this piece is an excellent example of the wide range of textual themes in this work (as well as compositional styles). Some are about the experience of living with nonverbal autism, some are about hopes and dreams, and some are poems any youth might write.
“It’s like my words being translated into a universal language. It goes straight to the hearts of people.” -Kenta Mignot

Excerpt from Was/Am/Will be by Joel Balzun for the 2018-29 Autism Advocacy Series
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Features: Lynx

Begin at 8:20 for March 27th: Lucky
The text from this work comes from 9-year old Luke Burke’s Facebook page, “Different, not less – Luke B.” Joel Balzun composed this work as a structured improvisation between the piano and voice, using repetition and fragmentation to capture the frustration of nonverbal autism, notated as a graphic score. Performers are Kseniia Barrad, piano, and Keely Futterer, soprano.
“I am thinking that I will never forget this experience… Hearing my words was definitely the coolest feeling ever.” – Luke Burke

‘beautiful small things’ by Emily Cooley (written in 2017), as performed at the AAS 2019 World Premiere
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Features: Lynx

“beautiful small things” written by Emily Cooley in 2017 is set to Ryan Harris’s text that inspired the Autism Advocacy Series. In addition to capturing the poignant beauty and hope within Ryan’s text, this work (alongside the above three) gives an indication of the large variety of compositional styles and textual themes celebrated through this project. Performers for this piece are Megan Moore (mezzo-soprano) and Florence Mak (piano).

Start and End Dates



Chicago, Illinois

Project Created By

Chicago, Illinois
Lynx is a nonprofit organization amplifying diverse voices through new art song commissions. We link communities through inclusive concerts and educational programming. 


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