Getting to Know Shelter Music Boston

There’s something very magical that occurs when musicians use their talents to inspire, soothe, and help heal audiences with their music.  The spirit of giving to one’s community and being present for those who could use some peace and solace to forget their troubles is most admirable.

Adrian Anantawan is the Artistic Director of Shelter Music Boston and he is a force to be reckoned with for his diligent work for the organization. His music resume is quite impressive. He studied violin with Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, and Anne-Sophie Mutter and he has played at the White House, Olympic Games in Athens and Vancouver, the United Nations and special performances for Pope John Paul II and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  Not many people can make those claims. Currently Adrian is the Chair of Music at Milton Academy and on the faculty at Boston University Tanglewood Institute during the summer. His work with Shelter Music Boston is discussed in the interview below.

Shelter Music Boston is the social action partner for the January 28 Eudaimonia show called “The Nightingale’s Unending Song.” The show will take place at Sanctuary on 28 Main Street, Maynard, MA.  Find out more information about the show here.

How did you first learn about Shelter Music Boston? Was this your first experience working with an organization that brought the arts to the disadvantaged?

I was a new member to the Boston community several years ago. I went to Boston for grad school, and I wanted to find a way, as a violinist, to be able to use my gifts to be able to support my new community. I did some research on homelessness and shelters and music and came across Shelter Music Boston. I reached out to Julie Leven, the Artistic Director at that time, and we had an incredible conversation about the connection of the arts to be able to heal to be able to be present in a time of crisis or sadness for people who are experiencing housing insecurity, homelessness, or substance abuse challenges and I then volunteered my time to be able to play some of the concerts. Julie quickly insisted that Shelter Music Boston pay musicians for their time and that as a gigging musician all of the work that we do in the shelters should be as honored and valued as the work that we do at a concert hall to keep this within our performance portfolio. Not only does this create a greater degree of permanency to the work rather than doing a drive by charitable type experience which is great in its own way Julie really wanted the organization to have musicians present on a regular basis month to month delivering these services to those who needed it. A couple years later Julie invited me to perform for her artistic project– a mini opera based on the life of Florence Price who was one of the first well recognized female black composers in America and that was an incredible experience! I got to know other members of Shelter Music Boston and eventually when Julie decided to retire I threw my name in the ring to see if I could contribute in any way to continue work in this organization and I was able to join the organization in that capacity after a set of interviews.

What do you do as the Artistic Director of Shelter Music Boston?  Do you have any memorable experiences playing or presenting shows for Shelter Music Boston? 

I’ve been Artistic Director for the past two years now and it’s been an incredible experience of spearheading new projects. For instance, last year we had a project called Voices of Hope which was a collaboration with a Black Writers group in downtown Boston which is housed in St. Paul’s cathedral. Essentially that group works with poets who are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity but what we did was take some of their works and poems and translate them into music and we have a handful of incredible compositions that have resulted because of this collaboration where we have the poets and the musicians working together on an equal level. In this way the project encourages the creative spirit and amplifies the specific emotions and stories of those we are serving.

Adrian Anantawan, Artistic Director of Shelter Music Boston

You also do work as an advocate for the disabled and the arts. What is the most rewarding aspect of this kind of work?

I think that classical music is often or can be inaccessible to many based on how it is presented. How we create accessible or inaccessible environments and different ways or modalities to engage with it could mean having the right types of instruments in the hands of kids with disabilities to be able to participate fully in a music classroom. Of course, the network of artists with disabilities are doing incredible work but are very much doing that in isolation so part of what I like to do is serve as an advocate by performing and really creating connections amongst musicians with disabilities. That type of work–of collective action–is some of the most rewarding aspects when we actually get to see the products of that work in a concert or a new composition.

Have you ever veered away from chamber / classical music for programs with Shelter Music Boston?

 We have not veered away from chamber music per se at Shelter Music Boston but I think that we continually redefine what classical music means in our organization. I think there is an understanding from the general public that classical music may mean Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bach who are great composers but they are also all white males and from western Europe so at Shelter Music Boston we’ve done a lot of music from living composers that represent a wide diversity of ethnicities, geographies, faith traditions, and really trying to mix that up in a way that creates a wider picture of what classical means and for my definition it really just means music that is here to stay because it is so excellent and will span time because emotions really don’t change from like the sixteenth century to now.

Musicians from Shelter Music Boston sharing music with appreciative audiences

If someone was interested in adding their talents to your organization, what might you suggest they do?

And if someone was interested in adding talent to our organization you can check out our website there are tabs on our website that say how to give or how to participate and sign up as a possible new composer or performer within both our adult and children’s programs just check out our website and you will be able to find information!

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