Shelter Music Boston founder Julie Leven had the profoundly moving idea of bringing classical chamber music concerts to Boston homeless shelters. It has been an honor to be in on the ground floor as a Board Member and help extend the reach of this healing music. Julie brings years of experience as a top-flight professional musician and dedicated teacher to this larger community endeavor. She includes other talented Boston area musicians, who month after month, return and befriend the shelter guests.
Like any start-up, the work and growth have been exponential. Surpassing the 100 concert mark this year was a real milestone and a credit to the staying power of this organization.
Julie says it best: For the homeless, an interactive, respectful concert bringing the therapeutic power of classical music directly into the shelter can provide hope, a sense of self-worth, and renewed energy to address the challenges of homelessness. Just as others work to shelter and feed homeless citizens, Shelter Music Boston feeds their souls.
I first encountered Julie Leven when she coached an amateur chamber music group I was performing in. Her joy in music and her gift of conveying that joy, not only when she played, but verbally, was striking to me. When I learned that she had recently founded Shelter Music Boston I was intrigued and went to a house party to learn more. I was struck by the remarks of shelter staff and a psychiatrist explaining the benefits of SMB classical performances to shelter guests. I volunteered, and eventually joined the Board. It is very exciting to have the opportunity to help bring classical music to people who should have access to it, but who often don’t, and to be on the ground floor of a wonderful, unusual idea under construction. I hope SMB will flourish and grow and become a model so that more and more talented musicians can play beautiful music to very deserving, often underserved, people in Boston and beyond.
I've been helping out with the Social Media (Twitter and Facebook) for Shelter Music Boston since last December. The outstanding work done by the SMB musicians and the compelling stories of the shelter guests makes my job easy! The grace and insight with which the shelter clients navigate unspeakable challengers has shattered my preconceptions of the population experiencing homelessness.
I have known the founder of SMB since my daughter began taking violin lessons from her 23 years ago. When she asked me to help her begin this dream of bringing classical chamber music into homeless shelters, I was glad to. She and 2 other musicians have been performing in homeless shelters and for other audiences in need now for 3 years, bringing peace, respite, joy and distraction to the residents and clients in these places. It has been a joy to watch and help to happen. Julie has worked on the music, the way she interacts during the concerts, and developing contacts with shelter administration to perform more concerts over the years: from 2 a month in one shelter to concerts in 5 shelters 10 months a year. In addition, she has gathered a small, hard-working board to help with all the organizational tasks of a non-profit. We are committed to the mission, and are working diligently to put the administration in place that will support Julie and the musicians as they work on delivering the music.
I represent a non-profit that funds small, grass-roots programs started by an individual or group and focused on improving those things in our world that need changing. When I heard about SMB, Julie Leven and those who work with her I knew that I had to meet her and hear the story.
When I met Julie I was not disappointed. Her soft-spoken manner and her passion are immediately evident. She shared with me "that it is an honor to do this work and that despite playing in world-class venues, the shelter concerts rank amongst their favorites." Julie's passion for music coupled with her strong interest in social justice and her compassion were the perfect marriage. They are giving so much dignity to people often forgotten. An absolutely wothwhile cause!
I took violin lessons with SMB's founder as a kid. When I was back in town for a few months, I got in touch with her, and she invited me to one of SMB's concerts at the Shattuck Center for Homelessness. I was more of the observer than the volunteer.
I had no idea what to expect. Would the homeless people there be interested, or fairly disengaged? The result was some of both. The majority of the people lay in their beds, seemingly more interested in a night indoors than a classical concert. There were a good handful of people who sat and listened patiently, and even a few who were very engaged with the concert, asking the performers questions, and sharing their impressions.
I thought the performers did a good job of explaining each piece, and making the music relatable. They introduced each piece, often with a story about the composer, and answered the listeners' question. Their delivery wasn't high minded at all, avoiding the language often surrounding classical music--presumably this is a good thing. They were generally casual and warm.
Thanks for this feedback, Nat. Staff at the Shattuck Shelter tell us that on concert nights the guests PREFER to go to bed early and listen to the concert from their bunks. As well, when the guests get more rest, relax while listening to the concert, and are in their bunks, shelter staff can deliver services more efficiently to those guests who are up and about, as so many of the guests are in fact being taken care of by the calming impact of the concert. The shelter guests have taught us that there are many ways to engage with the dignity, creativity, and passion of the music we bring each month, and we are grateful for what we have learned from them about how to have the most impact with our monthly concerts.
I have been following the work of SMB for two years now and continue to be impressed and awed by the emotional support and comfort the music has provided for people in need. Julie Leven, the brilliant organizer behind this non-profit, has donated countless hours to creating and implementing a comprehensive program developed to offer "musical sustenance " to hundreds of the homeless and needy. Leven, an accomplished professional violinist, works side by side with other musicians - playing lovely classical music that often evokes an emotional response from audience members. Leven takes the time after each piece played to discuss with the shelter clients the intense feelings they might be experiencing as a result of the music. If you have never attended one of SMB's concerts you are missing out on a wonderful experience - moments filled with joy, laughter, sadness and humility. SMB presents an offer to all - to sit back and enjoy the peace and momentary serenity music can provide.
SMB has served our residential program (24/7) at the Dimock Health Center in Roxbury/Boston, MA for six months. We serve women who struggle with substance abuse and have significant trauma, mental health and life skills problems. All of them are trying to figure out how to stay sober and get their lives back together. These monthly concerts mean so much to them. First, we make this a real concert-going experience. The women dress up, sit in a concert hall environment and receive a program describing the pieces being performed. The musicians are so warm and engaging and that immediately breaks down any barriers that might exist. Most of the women haven't had the experience of hearing classical music and don't know about the instruments. The performers smile, laugh and create a welcoming environment. They are exceptional musicians and perform a wide range of pieces from different composers and styles of music. Our women struggle mightily with feeling-they use substances to kill their shame, despair and trauma. The music helps to release their feelings in a safe and manageable way. It offers them a sense of peace. The performers always ask the women what they think of the pieces and this gives the women an opportunity to reflect on what they have heard and actually use "feeling" words. It gives them a sense of calm and focus that is unusual for them. We are blessed to have SMB with us each month. My other staff tell me that the women often speak about the concert for several days and express delight in having had this opportunity to experience real live classical music!
Pine Street Inn has been with Shelter Music Boston since its inception in 2010. Guests at Pine Street Inn’s Shattuck Shelter have been enjoying the beauty of classical music for over two years. More recently, guests in the Men’s and Women’s Inn have started to experience SMB concerts. In the words of one of our guests, “Your music was beautiful; peaceful for my heart and soul” Pine Street Inn is pleased to be affiliated with Shelter Music Boston and we look forward to filling our shelters with more beautiful music!
I performed with SMB and was very touched by the response of the audience to the concerts. The groups we played for were so receptive of our attention to them, i.e. the very fact that we would come to play for them. They could either create a story line that fit the music we played or they could feel the emotions expressed in the music and this made a tangible connection between us all. The people needing shelter are dignified by hearing Classical music; it appeals to their imagination and gives them inspiration on many levels. It is so important for people to feel a connection with others and with beauty and SMB offers that special gift. I felt privileged to be a part of this outreach program. by Cindy Cummings,violinist