Lifting The Human Spirit Through Music
by Anne Breeden
Do we musicians have a responsibility to give back to society? I never thought so, but then life taught me otherwise…
In 2005, I came to a startling realization of music’s power. It was a really sad time for me and my family: My dad was staying in a cancer hospice convalescent hospital in San Francisco. It smelled bad. All the residents were obviously depressed. My brother (also a classical pianist) and I were asked to play for the residents. The recreation room had a really bad upright piano missing one leg as well as more than a couple of black keys—and I almost said “no.” But my heart broke when I found that the residents’ one and only weekly activity was a one hour game of bingo.
The outpouring of thanks at the hospital after our performances made me revisit the meaning of “grateful”. The staff commented over and over on the uplifted spirit within the building for weeks afterwards. They told of particularly difficult residents—the ones who were in the final stages of dementia or terribly depressed with no family coming to visit—showing less stress and a brighter attitude.
Let’s face it: the poor and downtrodden don’t have money to pay for us to perform, but does this mean that we forget the people that perhaps need us the most? An attitude that we musicians must play only for a certain crowd (a paying one) is not one that serves others, and frankly, it may leave us feeling empty. Our world desperately needs us! Can you count how many performances you’ve done for elderly people, low-income communities, and the sick? It’s hard and probably won’t pay anything at all, but it’s certainly not thankless. I’m obviously not promoting performance without pay all that often—but maybe once-a-month “I’m giving back to my fellow man/God/the universe” might be motto that we all want to adopt.
What a gift we musicians have! After my own experience, I asked myself: Why aren’t musicians sharing their gift more often with the people who need it most? How can I fix this problem and “give back” in pretty much the only way I know how?
After five years of pursuing leads—some better than others—and teaching myself what it means to run a business, have a board, and be personally and financially responsible for the whole thing, I look back and see that my organization has done well in serving others. Arts at Large, now has a concert series at a low-income building where very poor Russian immigrants who know classical music can once again enjoy it—for free—in their adopted country. We are giving concerts in a women’s maximum security prison outside of Chicago, and more programs coming to Chicago men’s prisons soon. I have witnessed prisoners dancing and crying as they’ve listened to a cover band for the first time in 20 years. We also have a series going at the Lincoln Park Cultural Center, an early childhood music class, and concerts at retirement homes in past years. I envision future performances at places you wouldn’t want to be, like homeless shelters and cancer wards.
AAL’s mission is obviously not feeding hungry people or housing homeless ones. These are very immediate physical needs that should be heavily supported. But once the body is taken care of, what of the soul? Lifting the human spirit through music and the arts is my personal philanthropy of hope. What’s yours?
Anne Breeden, pianist, graduated from The Eastman School of Music studying piano under Dr. Jean Barr. Anne received awards during her Master’s of Chamber Music and Accompanying degree such as The Drucker Scholarship, The Barbara M.H. Koeng Award, and the C. Eschenbach Award. At Eastman, she was heavily involved with the Institute for Music Leadership. Formative education for the native San Franciscan includes the Cleveland Institute of Music and DePaul University, cum laude.
In 2005, Ms. Breeden founded Arts At Large, an organization that unites emerging artists with underserved audiences. Shortly thereafter she was invited to take part in the Illinois Arts Alliance’s Mentoring year-long Program and in 2006, the City of Chicago awarded her a CAAP grant for individual artists. The Entrepreneurship Program at the Eastman School of Music recently invited Anne to guest lecture and 2008 saw an invitation from the City of Chicago to judge its Junior Citizens program.
As a pianist, Ms. Breeden has collaborated with members of the Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Concertante di Chicago, The Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, Chicago Opera Theatre, and The Chicago Children’s Choir. She has also performed in the Dame Myra Hess Series, The Fourth Presbyterian Church, The Chicago Cultural Center, and The Three Arts Club. Performances across the United States complement Ms. Breeden’s wide ranging travels to Germany, Norway, Finland, Italy, and Japan, as well as judging for the Deutsche Schule Helsinki’s International Music Competition.