The city of Flint, MI has had it rough for many years, and, unfortunately, usually makes the news for bad reasons. From Flint native Michael Moore’s film “Roger and Me” to the recent stories about lead in the city’s water supply, Flint’s image is not in the best of shape. However, I recently had a chance to spend some time there, and I met some remarkable people who are working hard to engage and enrich their city, and sharing great music is integral to their work.
I went to Flint as a representative of CCM Prep, where I teach – the school has an exchange with the Flint School of Performing Arts. This was a return visit for me – I played occasionally in the Flint Symphony as a student at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor’s about an hour away).
The FSPA campus is spacious and well kept up – a stark contrast with nearby neighborhoods full of boarded up homes and empty lots. What was great was seeing how connected to those neighborhoods the FSPA is, and how integral to the city the arts are.
Throughout my visit, the halls were full of kids going to lessons, rehearsals and dance classes, many of whom receive financial aid to make their participation possible. Kudos to FSPA director Davin Torre and the board for making their school a real part of the community – it’s a model for all arts groups!
My visit included several “cello-centric” events, including workshops with adult and younger students and a cello choir. I always enjoy working with other cellists – we’re a happy, social bunch who enjoy getting together to talk shop. The part of the visit I want to focus on here, though, was a series of short pop-up performances I gave of Bach and Boombox around the city, as part of a program called “Culture Shock”, presented by local non-profit Communities First, Inc.
CFI is run by two Flint natives, husband and wife Glenn and Essence Wilson, who left the worlds of business and engineering, respectively, to devote themselves to serving the neediest in their city. Their commitment to their work is abundantly clear, and its impact equally so. And they don’t mess around – we hit six locations in less than three hours!
The mini-tour resembled something out of a Marx Brothers movie – three cars would pull up at a location, we’d run in with cello, boombox, sign and film crew (CFI is producing a short video about the day that I will share when it’s up), and fifteen minutes later, run out and take off like NASCAR drivers after a pit stop.
We began our mad dash at Carriage Town Ministries, a homeless shelter a few blocks from the FSPA. Glenn spoke at each event about art’s central place in CFI’s work – I was particularly touched to learn that CFI’s affordable housing projects include art galleries! I share Glenn’s belief that the experience of enjoying something beautiful is essential for all -nowhere was that more evident than here, and it set the tone for the rest of the day.
We went on to visit a senior center, a charter school and a farmer’s market – you can see more photos here. At each location, we were greeted with a variety of reactions – indifference, puzzlement, and, thankfully, sometimes great enjoyment. At the food court at the U-M Flint Student Union, I had a great conversation with a woman next to the Subway about how hearing Bach there made her want to go to a regular concert (orchestras, take note!) – turns out she’s the chancellor of the University!
— Tess Barker (@tessbarker) October 29, 2015
This whirlwind day was a great reminder of why I do what I do – it also was a reminder that I need a lot of help to do it! So, much thanks to the many people who made this visit possible – Glenn and Essence Wilson, Davin Torre, Brandon Cota, FSPA’s cello teacher (and my Culture Shock tour driver!), Ina Yoon and Jeffrey Price, FSPA faculty and my hosts, and CCM’s Assistant Dean John Martin and Prep Program Coordinator Amy Dennison- let’s keep shocking people with culture!
Till next time,