The Light at the End

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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 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

Welcome, World

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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?

off the busbig kidsfamily in foyerenteringcellopercussionhis chairfather & sonMany 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.