Most people who pay big bucks for orchestra tickets will never know the joy of receiving music as a gift. While music will not change these homeless people’s situation in any pragmatic sense—they are still homeless at the end of the concert—I think one of the workers hit the nail on the head: “Mr. O’Connor said he was struck by how the men opened up after hearing the two violins in dialogue. ‘Maybe through this music there’s healing,’ he said.”
Just three blocks from Lincoln Center, they arrived at the concert on Thursday night by shelter bus, not taxi or limousine. They took their seats around scarred, round folding tables. The menu was chicken curry and rice served on paper plates.
These concertgoers were eight tired, homeless men who had been taken to the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church shelter for the night. They listened to the latest performance by Kelly Hall-Tompkins, a professional violinist who has been playing in shelters for five years under the banner of Music Kitchen.
Ms. Hall-Tompkins is not the only do-gooder in the classical music world. Orchestras nationwide took part in a food drive this fall, and Classical Action raises money for AIDS programs through concerts and other activities. Hospital Audiences brings musicians and other performers into wards. But most classical music institutions — orchestras, opera houses and conservatories — pour their philanthropic efforts into large-scale music education for children, supported by hefty fund-raising and marketing machines. They organize youth orchestras; play concerts in poor, urban schools; and provide lessons.
Music Kitchen has a catchy motto (“Food for the Soul”), T-shirts with a logo and a pool of donors. But the operation is essentially Ms. Hall-Tompkins, 38, an ambitious New York freelancer who plays in the New Jersey Symphony and has a midlevel solo and chamber music career.
“I like sharing music with people, and they have zero access to it,” Ms. Hall-Tompkins said of her homeless audiences. “It’s very moving to me that I can find people in a place perhaps when they have a greater need for, and a heightened sensitivity to, beauty.”