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Group calls WSU concert ejection 'a big misunderstanding'

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 16 2011 7:05 p.m. MST

OGDEN — The Weber State Symphony Orchestra conductor who asked a disabled audience member to leave a performance for making noise plans to apologize to the girl and her family, officials said.

C.R. Oldham, executive director of HopeKids in Utah, calls the incident Sunday night "a big misunderstanding" and says he has no hard feelings toward the university.

About 25 people with HopeKids attended the concert at the invitation of WSU's Department of Performing Arts, Oldham said. The nonprofit group provides opportunities for kids suffering from life-threatening medical conditions to experience events and activities with their families.

According to several accounts, conductor Michael Palumbo became agitated during the performance because of noise in the audience and ultimately asked those responsible to leave.

Several people described the noises as sounding like a child crying, and children under age 8 were not allowed at the concert. Oldham said the noises were made by an 11-year-old girl who suffers from Schizencephaly, a neurological disease caused by abnormal development of the brain.

The girl is mostly non-communicative and is not able to use language. "She just happens to love music," Oldham said.

The noises the girl was making, he said, are the types of noises she makes when she's excited about something.

"She was trying to express her appreciation (for the music), but that's probably not what it sounded like to everybody," Oldham said.

Oldham said he's talked with Palumbo and understands the conductor's reaction.

"I'm honestly just really sorry that it overshadowed the concert," he said. "I totally support Dr. Palumbo's desire to ask any disruptive individual to leave. It just didn't turn out the best way."

The family of the disabled girl who was asked to leave was embarrassed by the ordeal, Oldham said. The girl's mother "was in the process of taking her out when things got ugly."

"In the end, everybody lost," Oldham said. "The performers lost, the conductor lost, the audience lost and this poor family lost."

The concert Sunday night was one of many Weber State events HopeKids has attended over the years, he said, and the only one where members of the group had a negative experience.

Oldham said he wasn't aware that children under 8 weren't allowed at the concert prior to the event. He said he'll make sure parents know if there are any restrictions on who can attend future HopeKids events.

Weber State spokesman John Kowalewski said the university received multiple complaints about the conductor's behavior. Others at the concert complained about the noise, he said.

University officials are reviewing the situation in hopes of avoiding a similar outcome in the future.

Attempts to reach Palumbo and Caril Jennings, marketing director for Weber State University's Department of Performing Arts, for comment were unsuccessful.

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com

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