A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to attend one of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's (MSO) free classical music concerts. My husband and father-in-law have attended these concerts on a number of occasions, and consider themselves aficionados of classical music. On the previous occasions I had not accompanied them, partly due to assumptions about limited accessibility at the venues.
On this particular occasion, my husband decided he would set about investigating venue accessibility so we could both attend the concert. The venue this time was the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. I was unfamiliar with the location, apart from a vague memory of attending a Carols by Candlelight rehearsal there as a young child. I knew the venue was in a large hilly park, which did not fill me with confidence.
We were pleased to find that there were golf buggies available to ferry patrons with a disability from a set meeting point in Linlithgow Ave to the venue proper. There is also disabled parking available near the meeting point. Alternatively, Flinders Street station is nearby and wheelchair hire can be booked through the Arts Centre. On his way to find parking, my husband came across the lady in the golf buggy who kindly picked me up and drove me to the gate of the Bowl. We walked down the hill to seat ourselves on the lawn, but the staff quickly informed us that our chairs were too high and would block the view of other concert goers. To my surprise, I was then offered a wheelchair and escorted to the back row of seating inside the Bowl. This row was especially reserved for concert goers with a disability! Soon after, numerous people tried to take those seats, but they were quickly told by staff that they were reserved. Reserved signs were then put up to ward off other opportunistic patrons.
Enjoying the orchestra
Well seated, we were able to relax and enjoy the concert. First, the RAAF band performed a variety of instrumental pieces with some singing then at 7 pm the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra took the stage. The impressive orchestra was led by accomplished conductor Benjamin Northey. The first piece was Mozart's La Clemenza Di Tito and after the intermission, we were treated to Mahler's Symphony No. 4. It was a wonderful atmosphere. As the stirring music rang through the air, the sun set slowly behind us and bathed the stage in light.
A special item was featured at the end of the program. Nineteen year old Matthew appeared as a guest conductor courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Matthew has Cerebral Palsy, epilepsy and vision impairment and received the wish due to increasing complications related to his conditions. He has a passion for classical music and finds the sound of the music a particular pleasure, especially with his reduced vision. Conducting the Marriage of Figaro was an experience he had long dreamed of and appeared to absolutely relish.
Sadly, the night was then over. One of the staff offered me a wheelchair ride back to the gate and after a short wait, the buggy drove me back to the street and dropped me only metres from my car. It was a great night of music and one of the most accommodating experiences I have ever had in terms of accessibility. MSO concerts are also held at a number of other venues, such as Hamer Hall and Melbourne Town Hall. I would thoroughly recommend the MSO concerts to others looking for accessible events.
Attached is some further accessibility information about the concerts: http://www.mso.com.au/2013/sidney-myer-music-bowl-venue-information/ and http://www.mso.com.au/your-visit/faqs/