Can you imagine staying in a shelter...aftershocks every two hours that powerfully shake the ground beneath your feet, rattling windows, and bringing gasps to everyone around you? Cardboard boxes are everywhere, containing emergency supplies or providing mats for sleeping. Lights are often switched off giving a mysterious cave-like feel to long corridors. Some shelters are dirty with sand walked in from parking lots. Some shelters have no running water or contaminated water at best. Some have nothing but thin tarps to sleep on, but some like the picture above have tents to provide the illusion of privacy. Announcements over speakers are loud and frequent. All of this has a deleterious dehumanizing effect.
The most important part of concerts in shelters is relationship building. First, we have to build trust with the leaders of the shelter by clearly explaining our intentions. ("We are here to help and play music. We are working with a Christian relief center, but we are not here to proselytize.")
|Posing post-concert with leaders of a shelter in an elementary school|
Then, we have to build trust with people through our music, as we attempt to bring a humanizing effect on a shelter. If we do it right, the music will open doors to relationships. Some people come up to us to learn more about the instruments or music.
Others want to ask questions about our "strange" and foreign lives, giving us an opportunity to ask about theirs. Children accept us as close friends and teach us all kinds of games.
Almost always, someone will approach with the words "I play too!" and share something.
The experience for me was overwhelmingly powerful, even life-changing. Playing music for people who are "doing fine" is like living in a world of black and white, stagnant and meaningless like BGM in a convenience store. What a contrast to a situation like this, where people respond so deeply to the music...with laughter, tears, and memories! This is when the true power and purpose of music is revealed, to bring color and depth to our lives and to help us connect intimately with others. We forget until these things are lost. Music is designed to humanize!