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A concert series for – and inspired by – homeless Bostonians


Audiences will be able to hear Shelter Music Boston’s “Songs of Life” during a free performance on September 27.

Shelter Music Boston performs at CASPAR Emergency Shelter in Cambridge in 2019. Carrie Eldridge-Dickson

Shelter Music Boston’s latest concert series, “Songs of Life,” was inspired by and created for clients of local homeless shelters, recovery centers and affordable housing communities. The shelter’s clients aren’t the traditional audience for classical music, artistic director Adrian Anantawan admitted – but that’s the whole point.

Shelter Music Boston has been performing at Boston area shelters and rehab centers for years. They are musicians, but they also see themselves as providing a social service. Classical music can be therapeutic, Anantawan explained; it can restore dignity; it affirms our common humanity.

“‘Songs of Life’ was a response to the continuous feedback we receive from our audience: ‘Oh, can you play this piece of music that is important to me in my life?'” Anantawan told “I thought it would be really nice to use these stories and the songs that are close to their hearts to inspire new pieces of classical music so that our audience really has some agency in the music that we play.”

Anantawan — himself a prolific violinist, as well as an educator and advocate for people with disabilities — asked four composers to take the audience’s suggestions and adapt them into new classical compositions.

Composer and violinist Dr. Francine Trester, a Berklee College faculty member who has previously collaborated with Shelter Music Boston, chose to riff on Survivor’s 1982 hit, “Eye of the Tiger.”

Trester’s quartet takes recognizable motifs from “Eye of the Tiger” and reworks them into something new. Composing with the theme of “hope” in mind, Trester paid particular attention to the song’s opening lyrics.

“One of the lines is ‘stand up,’ and that really spoke to me,” Trester said. “So one of the things my music does is it gradually goes up from a low C to a higher C.”

For Trester, the process of reworking a pre-existing piece and infusing it mimicked the fundamentally human experience of adapting to life’s unexpected twists and turns.

“You take what you’re given and then you make something of it for yourself,” she said. “I mean, it’s an act of hope, in a way. So I’m hoping that (the audience will hear) something familiar there, but then they’ll hear that it’s been taken somewhere else and they’ll translate that process, that journey, into their own trajectory.

In addition to Trester’s version of “Eye of the Tiger,” the “Songs of Life” program includes original compositions by Ché Buford (who was inspired by the Brazilian alternative pop/rock band “Eu Gosto de Você”) by Tribalistas, Anthony R. Green (inspired by “Can I Kick It?” by A Tribe Called Quest) and Sato Masui (inspired by “Happiness” by Dead Prez).

The concert series includes five private performances by Shelter Music Boston’s string quartet at shelters and recovery sites the week of September 18, as well as a free public performance on September 27 at St. Cecilia Parish in Back Bay. Reservations for the concert are recommended.

Dwayne Brown is volunteer services coordinator for the Boston Public Health Commission and has worked with Shelter Music Boston to organize shows at the Southampton Street and Woods Mullen shelters.

“Guests are really loving the arrival of Shelter Music Boston,” Brown told “The music sets the tone. It gives you a certain feeling.

“Being in the shelter is very busy. » Brown continued. “You do a lot… your mind is full, (but) at the end of their selection you feel more relaxed.”

At a time when most headlines about Boston’s homeless population are talking about a “crisis” in Mass. and Cass, or reduce struggling people to statistics on a page, Anantawan hopes the public concert will leave people feeling empathy toward the shelter clients whose contributions shaped the program.

“Music is one of those shared languages ​​that we have across cultures, across time, and especially through the people that we see all the time who are going through these challenges,” Anantawan said.

“Music provides its own kind of shelter,” Trester said, “that everyone needs.”


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