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Passing on the Gift of Music

By Rachel M. Wehr, Contributing Writer

When musicians perform, they create a mood that lasts until the last patron leaves the concert hall—but it seldom moves listeners to cultural change. That sense of impact “is often what is missing for a musician,” said Kim Kashkashian, a violist who teaches at the New England Conservatory (NEC). “We work in isolation, and we perform in a kind of isolation on stage. We need a way to share the power of that music and make an actual, physical difference in people’s lives.”

A small ensemble of professional and student musicians at NEC, including Kashkashian, hopes to bridge this gap between music and action. On October 17, musicians will give a concert entitled “Music for Food” at 8 p.m. in NEC’s Brown Hall. This concert is one in a series of four. The others will be held on December 19, February 20, and April 16, all at the same location and at the same time. Though admission is free, audience members are asked to bring food, cash, or check donations to the concert hall in support of the Greater Boston Food Bank.

Among the performers are two professional musicians from New York, several professors from the conservatory, and one student. The program will include pieces by Béla Bartók, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Johannes Brahms, the repertoire a gift from the musicians involved to the greater community. “This is a musical offering of an absolutely high level musical performance,” said Kashkashian. “We are volunteering our time, energy, and talent to share the power of the music with the audience. It is the audience’s job to pass on this gift by giving to the Greater Boston Food Bank.”

NEC is in downtown Boston—close to Symphony Hall and Northeastern University­—and conservatory students live and work beside locals who struggle with food shortages on a daily basis. When the “Music for Food” musicians performed for the first time to fight hunger in 2010, one in 10 individuals in the surrounding community were not getting the food they needed. This year, the ratio has risen to one in nine individuals, according to the Greater Boston Food Bank. “This is still a young series, but I think we got an overwhelmingly positive response from last season,” said Deborah Pae, an NEC cello student playing in the benefit concert on October 17.

One of Kashkashian’s former students, Carol Rodland—Professor of Viola at the Eastman School of Music—founded the original “If Music Be the Food...” program, which has been successfully increasing the visibility of the hungry in Rochester, N.Y. since 2009. The Rochester series, whose title is inspired by a line from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” serves as the model for the Boston series. Though the “Music for Food” series is not officially affiliated with NEC, conservatory musicians have formed several networks on campus for charity work. Another four-part series with an emphasis on chamber music will take place at the Women’s Lunch Place, a daytime shelter in downtown Boston, later in the year. Miriam Fried, a violinist playing in the “Music For Food” benefit, says that music teachers who are active in their community will help redefine the role of music and performance for current conservatory students. “Musicians need to be involved in the fabric of society in any way that they can. This is a real help to the community, but beyond that it is a constant reminder to students that we all should share in the feeling of responsibility,” she says.

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