Kelsey Robertson with Jazz Pianist Si Perkoff at Laguna Honda Hospital 1/26/2011
As a third-year vocal performance major at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music I decided to fulfill my Winter Term Project by interning with Bread & Roses for three weeks. As a young child I was exposed to the healing power of music. My Mom has been an Activity Director at a long-term care facility for over twenty years where I began performing at the age of seven. They were my first audiences. My friends and I would plan shows that involved elaborate costumes, dancing and singing along to CDs. This background drew me to Bread & Roses’ mission as I thought it would give me an in- depth look into the art of sharing music with those in need.
My experience with Bread & Roses has greatly exceeded my expectations. My assignments have been diverse and fulfilling. I have performed at five different facilities, observed and hosted performances, and written “essence stories” about the programs I attended. I also started a project to recruit college and high school performers to do concerts for Bread & Roses.
I have been fortunate to be able to do what I love – perform! I had the privilege of working with three different professional pianists and I sang two completely different styles of music – classical and musical theatre. At school, I study classical repertoire, so singing with a jazz pianist was a challenging yet rewarding experience. I learned how to have more musical freedom in a performance and how to better communicate with an accompanist.
Performing for these audiences has been extremely rewarding. At my first performance at a convalescent home for people with dementia, many clients were lip-singing to every song and swaying in their seats. It was a gift to be able to help them recall their memories through live music. At the same show I noticed an older couple in the audience sitting next to one another. When I sang “Unforgettable,” I saw the man affectionately hold the woman’s hand. This moment brought a deeper meaning to the music for me and I was grateful for the ability to see these people experience such joy.
At a hospital, a wheelchair-bound client wearing a blue helmet conducted the music I was singing. As he waved, he would always bring his hand back to his heart. Experiences like this show me the profound affect music has on people. After each performance I shook hands with audience members and listened to their positive feedback. I was grateful to be able to share my gift and brighten someone’s day.
Training to be a host entailed learning how to use the PA system, attending several performances with mentors, writing essence stories of what transpired at the shows, and being a program emcee. During my training as a host, two particular instances stand out from my essence stories.
At a concert for the Children’s Learning Center, a special needs school in Alameda, Beatboxer Charles Moselle performed an outstanding musical show filled with various instruments, improvisation and beatboxing. “After his performance he asked if any audience members would like to come up and share their talents. A young girl bravely raised her hand. She leaned into the microphone and belted out a favorite pop song while Charles accompanied her with his vocal percussion. This turned into a catchy on-the-spot collaboration. After this, the amount of raised hands began to grow as more students wanted to share their talents. The performances that followed went from a heartfelt opera aria to an improvised rap. It was meaningful for me to be a witness to the children who were inspired to share their own music.
Performers Misner & Smith recently did an Americana style concert at The Cedars Textile Arts Center, a program for developmentally disabled adults in San Rafael. Before beginning one of the most popular songs ‘This Land is Your Land’, Megan Smith told everyone to feel free to sing along. As soon as the first syllable of ‘this’ was sung, the room was filled with ringing voices. The sound gave me chills as everyone in the place celebrated an American classic.
I also began a college, university and high school recruitment project. I developed a list of schools in the Bay Area with strong music programs. I called the music departments to make contact with faculty members who could coordinate students to volunteer for Bread & Roses. With the help of Bread & Roses staff, I compiled an email of the organization’s information and created an outreach letter which was sent out to music directors and youth performers.
The awareness that Bread & Roses has brought to so many communities and people is something I would like to embody myself. Whether it might be starting my own non-profit organization like Bread & Roses someday or encouraging my musical friends to get involved, I hope to bring back to my community what I have learned. Bread & Roses has given me a first-hand look at the power and beauty of music. To work side by side with people who are so committed to reaching out to those in need and who believe so strongly in the healing power of music is inspiring. Not only have I been introduced to many new experiences but I also have had the pleasure of working with the fine staff, talented performers and dedicated volunteers of Bread & Roses. Thank you Bread & Roses, for giving me the honor to be part of such an extraordinary organization.
Photo by Marian Hubler