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Image: A person playing a cello as part of the Street Symphony program.

Bringing the Symphony to the Street

This article was originally published March 11, 2019.

“For the people who experience chronic homelessness, music is not a form  of entertainment, it’s a lifeline.”

-Vijay Gupta, founder Street Symphony

When I ask you to think about going to the symphony, you are probably not envisioning taking a seat in a folded chair in a crowded gymnasium. For so long, the awe inspiring sounds of Beethoven and Bach have been kept to the elite halls of grand theaters, but  thanks to this fantastic organization, the residents facing homelessness in Los Angeles’ Skid Row are experiencing the therapeutic sounds of the symphony brought to the streets.

Image: A person playing a cello as part of the Street Symphony program.
Source: Unsplash

Since 2011, an organization called Street Symphony has been on a mission to bring the beauty of the symphony hall to those affected by homelessness and incarceration in Los Angeles County. Their work includes performances in Skid Row shelters and county jails as well as an annual performance of The Messiah Project (which we will introduce you to more in a moment).

In their more than 500 free concerts, they have featured over 70 world-class musicians and reached countless individuals facing homelessness and incarceration.

Street Symphony founder, Vijay Gupta, saw the stark contrast between his experience as a musician with the LA Philharmonic and the lives of those affected by homelessness on Skid Row, just blocks away from the Disney Concert Hall. So, he decided to find a way to bridge that gap.

Their work speaks to the depths of healing and connection made possible by music. And why, sometimes, we just need beauty in our lives.

Here’s a beautiful piece from one of our all-time favorite YouTube Channels, Great Big Story, to make some introductions for us.

Via: Great Big Story 1

“Every single person deserves access to their creative an expressive life.”

-Vijay Gupta

I was so moved after watching this piece I dove into their many marvelous videos on YouTube and Instagram. I wanted to curate a few of those here. So, let’s start with one of their annual events, The Messiah Project.

This community event at The Midnight Mission in Skid Row combines excerpts of Handel’s work The Messiah with original pieces and works created by the members of the Skid Row community.

Performers include community members, musicians from the LA Philharmonic, LA Master Chorale, and Colburn School. The pure expressions of healing and joy during this event are truly an example of the deep benefits of collective musical therapy.

Let’s begin with how this staple of the Street Symphony community all began…

Via: Street Symphony 2

Music Therapy as a Community

The 2018 performance of The Messiah Project, the fourth year running, once again illustrated the power of connection and community. Here’s a short piece documenting the performance and detailing how the performance comes together. It’s really an astonishing illustration of community engagement at its best.

Via: Street Symphony 3

When I started out doing my research about Street Symphony, I was just excited to learn that an organization like theirs existed. Something that would bring music from the closed symphony halls to those that might never get to hear it. And then, I found that their work was so much more.

It’s hard not to look out over The Messiah Project audience with a feeling of gratitude. Knowing that there are a hundred different stories and backgrounds out there, and yet, at least for this event, everybody is equal through music.

“We need food, we need water, we need shelter, we need clothing, but what speaks to our souls is music.”

—Tamara Bevard

This year on December 2nd, Street Symphony celebrated its 9th annual production! While the excerpts from that performance aren’t up quite yet, you can see some of the other past performances on the Street Symphony YouTube Channel.

More Than Just Classical Music…

I’ll leave you with one last video from Street Symphony that really shows the scope of their work.

They aren’t just about classical music, no, they’re about amplifying the spirit of a community. And when, in 2018, they partnered with Street Symphony Fellow, Sir Oliver, in celebration of Jamaican Independence Day, we can see this in action. Here’s a glimpse of how they are working to raise up the Skid Row community!

Via: Street Symphony 4

If you want to dive into more great videos, hop over to Street Symphony’s YouTube channel. You can also keep up to date with them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

For ways to get involved and support their work, head over to their website!

Carry some beauty with you, too…

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a beautiful concept and quote by the brilliant mathematician from the 1600s, Blaise Pascal. In remarking how life often seems like an act of struggle and endurance, he was concerned that the music of the heart might grow dim. He reminded us of a wonderful practice:

In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind.

– Blaise Pascal

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!

-Liesl

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Notes:

  1. Great Big Story. “The Concert Violinist Reaching Out to LA’s Homeless.” YouTube, Great Big Story, 16 Jan. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIvrpQ4DLeE. Accessed 7 Mar. 2019.
  2. Street Symphony. “The Messiah Project – Trailer.” YouTube, 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMLh1JcKTBQ. Accessed 9 June 2020. Accessed 7 Mar. 2019.
  3. Street Symphony. “Messiah Project 2018.” YouTube, Street Symphony, 22 Feb. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=sw-KyglMNoQ. Accessed 7 Mar. 2019.
  4. Street Symphony. “Jamaican Independence Day Celebration 2018.” YouTube, Street Symphony, 5 Sept. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qZv6GRqoUs. Accessed 7 Mar. 2019.
Published: December 23, 2022

Image: Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

CEO

Since 2015, Liesl has been a writer, editor, and is now the CEO at the Goodness Exchange. She is a life-long camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often root-tripping—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV

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