The Whole World

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A gymnasium served as a concert hall, with the audience coming from all parts of the globe wearing many-colored hats, shawls and scarves. The band was Strings of Arda, a world-music ensemble made up of St. Louis Symphony musicians, returning to the International Institute as part of the Music Without Boundaries program. Violist Chris Woehr, who arranges much of the music they play, as introduction called out the name of the nation or region of a tune’s origin (often adding “I found this on YouTube”): Somalia, Macedonia, Syria. And members of the audience raised their hands or shouted out with joy. I hear such names and think “war torn,” “civil war,” “massacre,” “migrant crisis.” The new citizens of St. Louis think those words too, but they hear the music and also think “home.”

At the International Institute
At the International Institute

The International Institute has been helping to transform the lives of new arrivals for the better for many years. In so doing, St. Louis has been transformed for the better as well. The staff provides guidance, counseling, a helping hand to peoples fleeing from homes that have been turned into desperate places–unrecognizable, dangerous, hopeless places. Homes where music was once freely played.

The audience at the International Institute
Members of the audience at the International Institute

Following the concert, many members of the audience came up to the musicians to thank them individually for the hour of respite from the many worries that come from being a stranger in a strange land. Violinist Becky Boyer Hall, whose family came from Ireland a couple generations ago, said “Whenever I play here I know why I do what I do. The people come from some of the worst situations on the planet, and during one concert we may make them smile.”

Strings of Arda
Strings of Arda
Chris Woehr
Chris Woehr
Alvin McCall
Alvin McCall
A native of Bosnia, Amir Salesevic, with the whole world in his hands
A native of Bosnia, Amir Salesevic, with the whole world in his hands

Photos by Zach Schimpf

“Do You Spend Time with Your Family?”

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With The Godfather in our midst, it’s hard not to say out loud classic lines and do bad imitations. Second violinist Becky Boyer Hall, playing mandolin for those Nino Rota-made Italian folk phrasings, brought along a Godfather motif rather than muttering “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes” during rehearsal break. She had an orange with her, because oranges are an ill-omen throughout the film. Watch for it.

Diane Keaton as Kay
Diane Keaton as Kay

Also look for how young these actors were. Al Pacino (Michael Corleone), James Caan (Sonny Corleone), Robert Duvall (Tom Hagen), Diane Keaton (Kay Adams, who becomes Michael’s wife)–none of them were stars at the time. They are fresh-faced and new on Powell Hall’s big screen, which makes the performances even more exciting. None of them had developed a film persona as yet. Only Marlon Brando had already been a major star, and reclaimed his career with this performance playing the aging patriarch Don Vito Corleone. Brando was not yet 50.

I specifically chose a still shot of Diane Keaton above, because Godfather is often thought of as being all about the men. But Keaton and Talia Shire are lonely, haunting presences on the screen, most memorable for being powerless, and yet trying to achieve some dignity. They don’t have lines people imitate. Although Kay has one line she says many times to her husband Michael: “Is it true?”