The executive director of the New Albany Symphony believes that exposing children to music and the arts does wonders for brain activity.

The executive director of the New Albany Symphony believes that exposing children to music and the arts does wonders for brain activity.

That's why Heather Garner always includes several kid-friendly performances in the symphony's schedule. The organization is doing everything it can to welcome families to the Saturday, Feb. 6, performance of Peter and the Wolf at the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts in New Albany.

That performance will be a condensed, specially adapted concert designed for families with children with special needs, including autism, and for young children. The symphony will offer a longer, more traditional - yet still very kid-friendly - performance on Sunday.

"All of us in the arts could do better at providing opportunities for our friends on the autism spectrum," Garner said. "The atmosphere can be intimidating - not only for children on the autism spectrum but for families with young children. We want to provide a concert where all of those barriers will be removed."

During Saturday's hour-long concert, the lights will be dim but not as low as they normally are, she said. The performers - a mix of professionals, community members and students - will be prepared for children to be talking and moving around. The lobby will be set up with chill-out zones for kiddos who need a break.

The symphony consulted with VSA (Very Special Arts) Ohio, Helping Hands Center, the Autism Treatment Center of Nationwide Children's Hospital and the Autism Society of Central Ohio about what accommodations to include. It also will have sign language interpreters at the show and downloadable storyboards on its website.

The McCoy Center will even open Friday evening for a "Meet Your Seat" event where families can scope out the venue in advance of the performance.

Garner said she was inspired to organize the event because she has family members on the autism spectrum.

"I know that these kids love music," she said. "They light up for music and the arts. It's simple for us to offer something like this."

Peter and the Wolf, written by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, makes a wonderful introduction to the symphony, Garner added. The piece tells the story of young Peter, who encounters a variety of animals in the forest near his grandfather's house. Each animal has a particular musical theme and is represented by a different instrument.

Through Peter's musical contest against the wolf, audience members become familiar with the many sights and sounds of the orchestra.

-Melissa Kossler Dutton