Salem – Massachusetts (USA)
Where were you in 2016? If you happened to be living in the US, you could have been one of the 549,928 people experiencing homelessness (2016 annual homeless assessment report). You could have been lucky enough to be among the 68% who stayed in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs, or safe havens, but you could also have been among the ones who spent the nights in unsheltered locations (38%).
Having proper shelters is nowadays a major need for some North American populations in the US. Some of these shelters are not only giving a roof, but are also changing behaviours and providing hope and resources to its guests to improve their lives. Every month, Shelter Music Boston brings classical music to Lifebridge Shelter in Salem (MA), contributing to the creation of an environment where people can transform their life for the best.
John is a guest at the Lifebridge. He has been living there for 5 years, after his life took a sudden change; “I got married in 1975 and I stayed married for 36 years…then it all broke up and I ended up at the shelter.”
Lifebridge is more than just a shelter. It offers different services adapted to the needs of homeless and disadvantaged adults, focusing on education, employment and self-sufficiency. John is one of the most active members of the place. He takes care of the garden, welcomes new guests, showing them around, and participates in many activities. “The shelter has done wonders with me and so I would like to try to give back in any way I can.”
One of the activities Lifebridge hosts are the Shelter Music Boston (SMB) concerts. SMB is a non-profit organization that offers classical music concerts to shelters around the Boston area. They are performed by professional musicians to present concerts to people that aren’t usually exposed to live classical music experiences. Julie Leven is a professional violinist and the Founder of SMB. She explains on the organization’s website, “In December 2009 I read in the New York Times about violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins, who plays in homeless shelters in Manhattan. Immediately I realized that we needed that in Boston” According to her, “performing in environments of great need is a natural evolution of the role classical music should fill in modern society”
John has been regularly attending the concerts offered by SMB. He shared that “the concerts have opened my eyes to different things, to experience music in a different way. For instance, I have discovered that classical music really helps me with the severe anxiety I suffer.” John is almost 60 years old and he feels glad to finally be having these experiences, but also wonders what would have happened if he had access to live classical music earlier. “During my childhood, I had a very low level of attention at school and unfortunately, I took the wrong road and I started drinking and doing drugs at a very young age. I think that if as a child I would had been more exposed to these arts, I might have taken another road. But well, is never too late, right?”
During the SMB concert, there’s a special atmosphere. Everybody seems to be carefully listening, both to the music and to the explanations that precede every piece. The musicians talk about the instruments they play, about specific facts of the composers, etc. And at the end they answer with passion to the questions raised by the audience. “I can personally say I feel better after the concert, I feel enlightened, I feel a little bit of joy and that brings me happiness. I think in general it would have this same effect on everybody” John says.
John has brought his passion for music one step forward and has sang in a choir to help raise money for a cause. “The night of the concert I went to the church and I sang with the entire professional choir! When I left I was like in a cloud, I was so happy, even though most of the time I was doing the “Milli Vanilli” thing (which means I was just moving my lips pretending that I was singing…) because these people’s voices were so trained and I felt I could never match that…” he finally says, with pride, ¨So I just jumped in when I could, I tried my best to look good…and I did it, I sang in a choir!”
“Because of my history, I wasted out on a lot of things, so now that I am getting my faculties back a little bit I am trying to follow up on the good things like SMB concerts.” John is also going back to school this fall, to study for the GED (General Education Development). Referring to his time spent at Lifebridge, John says, “hopefully this is for the best, and it is just a stepping stone for people like me, who are at the end of the road sometimes.¨