“We will deepen the connection between music and mental health through a residency that offers musical performances and group exercises that inspire the creative process, fostering a safe space for openness and expression.”
This ambitious statement reflects the mission of my string quartet as we aspire to design a residency program within a hospital setting this spring.
As the Fellows Quartet at Community MusicWorks in Providence, Rhode Island, we constantly ask ourselves what it means to create meaningful musical experiences within a community. We spend our days providing free, high-level music education to young people in our neighborhood, rehearsing and performing together as an ensemble – bringing music into new spaces and to new ears around the city, and working closely with staff members to learn the fine points of nonprofit operation. While we work and grow within our community of students, families and audience members, we wanted a chance to take our experiences and apply them to a different context – to see how music could benefit a community outside of our daily experience.
Quickly we discovered each of us has personally been touched by mental illness in some way, so we decided to work within the mental-health community. Our personal experiences, combined with a common interest in developing creative expression, began an exploration to find a community in Providence that was interested in partnering with us to offer a series of workshops that would blend music and mindful being for the benefit of mental health. Butler Hospital – a nonprofit psychiatric and substance-abuse hospital for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors – welcomed us with open arms, and the process of planning began.
There are three main concepts we plan to use to structure the workshops, the first one being the practice of being completely present in the moment, allowing ourselves to simply exist together, taking time to focus on the breath, and really just be present in our bodies. By allowing for a moment of sitting in collective consciousness, we hope for balance in the room by creating a space for everyone to share the experience of appreciating the present moment. The second concept we will explore, sound-making activities and improvisation games, will encourage participants to recognize the creative potential they already hold within themselves, and create new ways to incorporate music into daily life. Lastly, a performance will tie up the workshop to provide a brief aesthetic experience that allows for a moment of beauty and reflection.
There is always a risk, when entering a community as an outsider, of assuming what people need or want. It is easy to fall into the trap of delivering a service that we assume a community lacks. I believe through flexibility and an attempt to make deep personal connections, musicians can fight this “savior” mentality, and instead everyone can work together for a greater common goal: a genuine and meaningful music experience that benefits everyone in the room. We plan to go in with a toolbox of exercises, but really want to leave the flow of the workshop up to the participants, and allow them to teach us in return. While it would be easy for us to come in and play a Beethoven quartet and leave, like in a traditional concert experience, that isn’t always most impactful or enjoyable way to interact with music. Through flexibility in our structure, we hope to adapt to the needs and desires of the participants.
One question I often struggle with is whether or not a few short workshops can really have a lasting impact on a community. The great philosopher Maxine Greene once wrote:
“Our classrooms ought to be nurturing and thoughtful and just all at once; they ought to pulsate with multiple conceptions of what it is to be human and alive. They ought to resound with the voices of articulate young people in dialogues always incomplete because there is always more to be discovered and more to be said. We must want our students to achieve friendship as each one stirs to wide-awakeness, to imaginative action, and to renewed consciousness of possibility.”
While this quotation seems to be talking about the school classroom experience, if we choose to see the world as our classroom, the possibilities of growth become much greater. In these workshops, we are all students, learning from each other, growing, imagining, and seeing each other as creators. In a world that tends to stifle creative ability at a young age, we hope to reconnect to our inner child to see the world as full of possibility. Even with our limited time at Butler, we hope for ourselves and the participants to come away with a renewed outlook of the world. By sitting together in the moment, we hope to connect to each other on a deep level of consciousness. And through musical performance and creation, we hope to create an aesthetic experience that connects us to each other and reminds us of the beauty that is all around us. Between these shared moments and through this building of community, we are able to imagine new beginnings.
Kate Outterbridge and her string-quartet colleagues Josie Davis and Zan Berry will join pianist Karl Larson in a performance of Morton Feldman’s Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello at Scholes Street Studio in Brooklyn on March 18 at 8pm; details here.
Kate Outterbridge is a violinist, teacher, and community builder based in Providence, RI. She is currently finishing a two-year fellowship at Community MusicWorks, a non-profit organization that explores what it means to be a citizen musician. This winter, she was awarded her first grant from Rhode Island State Council of the Arts to create a concert experience featuring the music of Morton Feldman, which will be preceded by a mindfulness workshop to help the audience better engage with the music. She can be reached at email@example.com.