The idea of “kids helping kids” is behind a first-time collaboration between three community organizations that will culminate in the world premiere of a new concerto on homelessness by composer Lucas Richman.
Concerto for Violin: Paths to Dignity will be premiered by the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra at 4 p.m. Feb. 19 in Chenery Auditorium, 714 S. Westnedge Ave., and will feature Mitchell Newman, former violinist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
The concert is a collaboration of the KJSO, the Stulberg International String Competition, and the Community Healing Centers.
In order to raise awareness in the community about homelessness, the KJSO, which is composed of high-school age students from across the region, will perform both as a large group and in small ensembles in the days preceding the premiere concert. Performances will be at the Community Healing Centers’ various programs, including its Gilmore facility, an addiction treatment and detoxification center; El Niñas, an after-school program for girls ages 8 through 15; and S.T.R.E.E.T., an after-school program for boys ages 10 through 17.
“This partnership connects two very different things (music and homelessness awareness), but in the end it’s kids helping kids, which is very powerful,” says Megan Yankee, executive director of the Stulberg Competition.
“Bringing in these partners, such as the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra and the Community
Healing Centers, is so important because the kids involved will learn about each other and homelessness in this process.”
The performance will be preceded by a free talk by a therapist. “The therapist will talk about issues in the community surrounding homelessness and addiction,” says Yankee. “Kalamazoo Public Schools has more students who have to face homelessness than anywhere else in Michigan.”
According to the Homeless Shelters Directory, 702 individuals experienced homelessness in Kalamazoo County in 2019. Of these, 76 individuals experienced chronic homelessness, which means they had been out on the streets for a long period of time and likely faced substance addiction or mental illness.
“There are so many good resources but homelessness is such a hard thing to address,” says Yankee. “It just made so much sense bringing this concerto here because this is an issue we are dealing with as a community and trying to find solutions and resources. This way we also raise awareness and address homelessness within the arts community as well.”
The violinist, Newman, a former Stulberg judge, commissioned composer and conductor Richman to compose this piece about homelessness. “Addressing homelessness was Newman’s passion project when he lived in Los Angeles,” says Yankee. “He did a lot of volunteer work, and so he chose this piece to be about homelessness.”
Richman’s compositions have been performed by more than 200 orchestras across the United States, including the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Pops and the symphonies of Detroit, Atlanta, New Jersey and Houston. His recent works have reflected climate change and gun violence and have been recorded by the Pittsburgh Symphony and San Diego Symphony, among others.
Being acquainted with Kalamazoo and the Stulberg Competition, Newman told Yankee he wanted Kalamazoo to be the home for this new Richman piece, and Yankee knew which ensemble should premiere it.
“We work very closely with the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra,” says Yankee. “Every year, the (Stulberg) bronze medalist performs with them, so who better to perform this piece as well?”
The Stulberg has a goal of deepening community engagement, and this project fit the bill. Yankee says she approached the Community Healing Centers for its involvement because the center’s work is often a first step in stopping homelessness and addiction and providing community resources for adolescents.
“I worked in (the Community Healing Centers’) development department, and they seemed like such a natural fit for this project because they are doing such good in this community for addiction recovery, which is often tied closely to housing insecurity,” says Yankee.
As far as funding for the project, the Stulberg is sponsoring Newman’s performance with the KJSO, the small ensembles that will give outreach performances for the Community Healing Centers, and workshops by Richman with young musicians at Crescendo Academy, Suzuki Academy and private studios. The KJSO is providing funding for the music, Newman’s fees and facility rentals. And the Community Healing Centers is coordinating the preconcert talk and will provide tickets for families who are involved with its Gilmore facility.
For members of the general public who want to attend the premiere concert, tickets are $5 for students, $10 for seniors and $15 for adults and are available at kjso.org.