What happens on stage, whether that stage be at Powell Hall or a child’s hospital room, takes a lot of hands and hearts and minds to prepare. And I’m not even talking about the orchestral concerts.
For example Mrs. Silva gave up a few hours to make a fork for Max of Where the Wild Things Are to use in the Tiny Tunes concerts for pre-K kids from Grace Hill Head Start.
It took three St. Louis Symphony Volunteer Association members to create leaves for the children to wave during the concerts.
Meanwhile, the students at room13delmar, just across the street from Powell Hall, with Ilene Nodhouse, made this swell boat for Max, and a cool set too.
But that’s just one show. Meanwhile, on Monday Community Programs Director Maureen Byrne was with Claire “The Clown” Wedemeyer and Symphony violinist Angie Smart working on some new bits to perform at children’s hospitals as part of SymphonyCares.
For one of the skits, it looks like Claire is doing a Joan Jett impersonation.
Those are just a few of the things we do around here when we’re not playing Bach.
The Symphony musicians continue to make the rounds of places where people get together, whether sick or well, old or young. It’s kind of like the Symphony’s marriage with the community: in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer.
On Wednesday morning a patient at SLU Cancer Center received final chemotherapy leading up to his bone-marrow transplant. A patient going through such a procedure is, and this is more than metaphor, being reborn. The old bone marrow dies, new living tissue enters the system. The staff at SLU have developed a small ritual for such an event, a kind of birthday celebration.
The St. Louis Symphony SymphonyCares program has been partnering with SLU Cancer Center for a number of years. Musicians visit its infusion room once a month and perform for patients receiving chemotherapy. After the program got going, patients began to plan their treatments according to the concert schedule.
With the infusion-room concerts being such a success, Maureen Byrne, Director of Community Programs, thought if there was a birthday party going on at the Cancer Center, the Symphony musicians needed to be a part of it as well.
So for the first time, Wednesday morning, musicians from the Symphony played a requested song on the occasion of one patient’s bone-marrow transplant. Principal Harp Allegra Lilly and First Violin Ann Fink performed Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” in an arrangement by composer and Symphony violist Chris Woehr.
“It was a magical experience” Byrne told me afterward. “For all the logistics, all that went into making this happen … the patients, the staff, the musicians, all were stunned when it was over. It was deeply meaningful, and it was personal.”
SymphonyCares goes to places not known for a lot of joy. But once musicians from the St. Louis Symphony have played for just a few minutes in those places, joy fills the rooms.
Thursday afternoon Cortango visited the atrium of the Siteman Center at Barnes Jewish Hospital. Cortango is made up of Symphony musicians Cally Banham (English horn), Asako Kuboki (violin), Dave DeRiso (double bass) and from the Sarasota Orchestra, where he is principal oboe, pianist/vocalist Adam De Sorgo. For this gig the Symphony’s Melissa Brooks joined on cello as well.
Wherever Cortango goes, tango dancers follow. And that included the Siteman Center on Thursday.
Before long the Siteman atrium had become a dance floor. Patients with their families and friends laughed and swayed to the tango rhythms. Hospital staff smiled and laughed and watched and took pictures. An oncologist hung her jacket on a tree and tangoed. You could feel anxiety empty out of the space, with that emptiness filled by the rhythms of tango. Of life.
SymphonyCares, under the direction of Maureen Byrne, brings clown acts to children’s hospitals, string duets to the infusion room. At Barnes Jewish she partnered with Sarah Colby, who is the hospital’s Arts & Healthcare Program Coordinator.
As there are more and more medical studies being published showing the benefits of such activities for improving health and well-being, we all know intuitively–music makes you feel better. Tango makes you feel better than that. You could see people in their wheelchairs feeling the rhythm of the dance. A little Piazzolla, and no one feels confined.