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.”
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.
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.”
Cinematographer Joshua Dobkins and I met with composer and St. Louis Symphony violist Chris Woehr to talk about letter writing. As you’ll hear, Chris’ father was a musician and a calligrapher. As the son of a man who made part of his living through the deft skill of putting ink to paper, I thought Chris would be a good subject for exploring themes in Brett Dean’s violin concerto, The Lost Art of Letter Writing, which will be performed at Powell Hall November 21-22. How have we changed, what has passed from our lives as we have given up the act of putting pen to paper and left behind the clackety refrain of the typewriter?
An ensemble of about a dozen St. Louis Symphony musicians were not done with their music-making day after the Lindenwood University concert on Sunday afternoon. They made their way to Ferguson and the Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church for a Symphony Where You Worship concert. Featured on the program was music by Symphony violist Chris Woehr, who gives more and more of his time to composing each season.
The evening included two pieces from Woehr’s growing body of work, the premiere performance of The Five Seasons, featuring Jennifer Nitchman on flute, and The Bartholomew Concerto, featuring Phil Ross on oboe and a storyline by Dr. Seuss. Woehr conducted.
The concert also served to celebrate the 50th anniversary of longtime St. Louis Symphony fans Maeve and Dave Horton. They commissioned The Five Seasons from Woehr, a nice 50-year gift to themselves, their community, and to music.