HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Nov. 15, 2013) - There's food to eat, and then there's food for the soul. But as of this past fall, Lisa Schneider is helping to provide both to the less fortunate members of the Huntsville community through her MusicBridge initiative.
Schneider, an oboist and adjunct professor of music at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), originally conceived of the idea while volunteering for Manna House, a Huntsville-based public charity that provides daily food assistance to those in need.
"The thought came into my head that it would be really nice if the people waiting to be served had some music to listen to," she says. "Then I thought, perhaps we can make that happen!" And who better to ask for help than UAH's own students?
"Even though they don't have the traditional means we think about as far as giving or helping, they have something that is way more important - their youthful enthusiasm and their talent and their energy," says Schneider.
So she set about recruiting music majors with the intent of having a student jazz combo to perform. But what she ended up with for her first concert this past September was something slightly different - herself on keyboard, her son on trombone, and UAH student Lucas Pruitt on the marimba.
Even though [UAH students] don’t have the traditional means we think about as far as giving or helping, they have something that is way more important – their youthful enthusiasm and their talent and their energy.
Adjunct professor of music
"I had to let go of some preconceived notions, and just allow myself to say it's not going to be exactly what I envisioned," says Schneider. Not that it mattered in the slightest to the crowd of appreciative listeners. "It turned out they loved the marimba!" she says.
Indeed many Manna House patrons came up afterward to thank the group for playing. "I think by doing something like coming to play music for them, they felt seen and valued," says Schneider, "because these are people who are mostly looked through or down on."
The effect wasn't lost of Fran Fluhler, either. As director of Manna House, Fluhler says the music "really lifted the spirits" of the gathered crowd. "The expressions on their faces touched all of us that were there volunteering," she adds. "We saw some people smile for the first time."
Emboldened by that success, Schneider was inspired "to be a little more aggressive" in recruiting for MusicBridge's second concert, enlisting a flute trio and a trumpet quartet. "That was along the lines of my original vision," she says, "because it provides variety for the listeners and gave the performers a break."
It also gives them a chance to get used to performing in, well, a different environment than they're used to. "We're in the parking lot, there's traffic noise, people coming and going, people talking, so it's a good lesson in concentration," she says with a laugh.
And fortunately, as Schneider pointes out, there's no audience more forgiving than one listening for free! "I tell the students that this is the lowest pressure performance you will ever know," she says. "If you miss a note, no one is going to pounce. They're just going to enjoy it."
But practice isn't the only thing these students are getting - it's not even the most important thing. They're also getting a chance to give back, and as Schneider puts it, "to look up occasionally and see that it's not all about you and what you can do as a performer."
What is it about? Understanding that pursuing your passion is a luxury many people don't have. "I hope the students gain an awareness of how fortunate they are to be studying something that they care about that will support them, which to a lot of the people they're playing for is about a foreign of a notion as going to the moon," she says.
And with each concert, that awareness grows. One day, says Schneider, she would like to see MusicBridge expand and reach even more people - listeners and performers. "My hope is that we will continue to build on what we've started and become more a part of the culture of our department."
In the meantime, however, she's got a holiday concert to plan. And needless to say, she's open to volunteers. "Do you have enough repertoire? Can you come and play something?" she asks with a laugh. "Then contact me!"
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