In a recent blog post, “The Whole World,” I talked about the STL Symphony’s relationship with new arrivals to our city through our Music Without Boundaries program. The MetLife Foundation provides support so Symphony musicians can bring chamber concerts to the International Institute community. The MetLife Foundation support also makes it so that many of the refugees that the International Institute serves can come to Powell Hall for Family Concerts. Video intern Nicola Muscroft and I sat down with Osama Idrees and his son Zaid following the last Family Concert of the season for this video blog. Osama shares what the music means to him–the light at the end of a long tunnel.
The final On Stage at Powell concert of the season was also a celebration of the Hispanic community in St. Louis. With Cortango Orquesta performing, pre-concert tango lessons in the foyer and tango dancers on stage, and a post-concert milonga in the foyer, Powell Hall attracted an international audience from Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and other Latin American countries.
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.”
The St. Louis Symphony welcomed families from the International Institute to Sunday’s Family Concert. A small yellow bus delivered families from all over the world to Powell Hall to hear Beethoven’s New Groove. Whatever brought them to St. Louis–and I spoke with people from Somalia, Sudan and Iraq–International Institute is their entryway to a new home and a better life. In the process, St. Louis becomes a better place for everyone. The St. Louis Symphony regularly visits the International Institute to play chamber concerts as part of the Music Without Boundaries program (underwritten by MetLife Foundation and Daughters of Charity Foundation St. Louis), but what better way to welcome new arrivals to our city than with a visit to the Symphony’s home?
Many kudos to Anita Barker, VP Director of Education of the International Institute, and Maureen Byrne, Director of St. Louis Symphony Community Programs, for helping to make Sunday such a joyful event.
Another group from the International Institute came to Powell Hall for the Zany World of Dr. Seuss Family Concert on Sunday afternoon. Dr. Seuss seems to translate into any language and cross all cultures. And music is always a great way to say “Welcome.”
Although children shouted for joy when they saw the snow coming down and learned of the school closings throughout the region this morning, I’m willing to imagine that a few thousand schoolkids that were scheduled to bus to Powell Hall for the Tales of Shakespeare Education Concerts were somewhat disappointed. I know everyone at Powell Hall was.
But the St. Louis Symphony hardly ever stops. Musicians have been playing music and teaching music here, there and everywhere morning, noon and night over the last few days. Director of Community Programs Maureen Byrne, one of the busiest women in show business, has been with them every stop of the way and provided these photos.
The St. Louis Symphony partners with some of the best people and organizations in the community. Monday morning Director of Community Programs Maureen Byrne joined some of the Symphony’s friends from the International Institute and the St. Louis Zoo for an outing with refugee families who recently have arrived to the city from Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan.
Maureen described the connections between International Institute, Zoo and these families new to St. Louis: “The Zoo was one of our great St. Louis cultural institution partners for this season’s Family and Education concert series at Powell Hall, and we had the pleasure of hosting International Institute students and their families at all four Family Concerts. We were able to help take these fun family outings one step further–thanks to a supporting grant from the Daughters of Charity Foundation of St. Louis and the awesome staff of the International Institute–and arrange for field trips not just to Powell Hall, but to all of our Family Concert partner sites as well!”
The St. Louis Zoo will be collaborating with the Symphony on another Family Concert in October, “Hoot & Howl at Powell,” and the International Institute is always on the Symphony’s community concert list. The next visit is June 4 for a concert that is arranged under the theme “American Music Comes from Everywhere.” Just like Americans.
The first Education Concerts of the season filled Powell Hall with schoolchildren on Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, here’s a look back at the Sunday Family Concert, in which children from the International Institute received books and a show. Many of the children in this photo are from Mauritania. A big thanks to the Institute and the Met Life Music Without Boundaries program for helping to make this happen.