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Music brings community together at The Bridges

'Getting to know them, week by week, and to be some part of what it is to connect to one’s creativity, it’s so fulfilling for me,' says music therapy program organizer Callahan Connor

It’s said that music brings people together.

Twice a week, Callahan Connor brings music to those most vulnerable at The Bridges in Cambridge.

Running the Music Therapy program at the shelter since July, Connor says that the program has grown in numbers and in participation.

“I was at school at the time doing a master’s degree in a music therapy program. As part of my own internship, I started coming in once a week in the summer to see what was possible,” Connor said.

“At first it was about just gauging what the response might be, to see if folks might want to make music together, and to see what their openness to that would be.”

Since then, the program now runs twice a week.  

The idea for a music therapy program at The Bridges came from Amy Di Nino, a musical therapist and founder of Connecting in Rhythm, in Cambridge.

“We had been at the shelter previously in 2019 for about four months. But at that time, it just wasn’t sticking, and we weren’t able to get much going. But I still had my eye on it, wanting to come around for a second go,” Di Nino said.

“This time, it has been very successful and certainly part of that is because of Callahan’s work and all that he does.”

At the time, Connor was doing an internship with Di Nino as his supervisor.

“Amy had this idea of providing some music therapy at The Bridges. And this excited me very much,” Connor said.

“Over the weeks and months since I started, I have been able to refine the possibilities and ways of interacting musically for the regular folks at The Bridges, and for some of the new participants, so they too, can get out there and enjoy.”

Di Nino is thrilled to see the program flourish at The Bridges.

“While doing my masters degree at Berklee in Boston, we had explored ways of working with individuals experiencing homelessness. This has always stayed with me. I had seen first hand the benefits of music for various ages and cultures.”

Seeing similar programs become successful elsewhere, Di Nino wanted to explore the idea in her own neighbourhood, in Cambridge.  

“Music therapy has the capacity to not only affect the participants involved, but the staff as well.”

Di Nino says music therapy offers something for everyone, no matter what skill level.

“All you really need is an appreciation for music, which most people have. It’s that idea of connecting people. The room at the Bridges is one room. So, even for people not involved, they are hearing it," Di Nino said.

The Cambridge Shelter Corporation operates The Bridges, a year-round emergency shelter and drop-in centre with 20 affordable, transitional, bachelor apartments for individuals experiencing homelessness.

The shelter offers a continuum of services, programming, and support to assist clients with issues facing them so they can move forward towards permanent and affordable housing.

Wayne Paddick, executive director of the Cambridge Shelter Corporation, says that there are so many clients that have hidden skills.

“We never get to see them, whether that’s music, singing, or art. This is a fantastic way to be able to bring out some of that talent, that otherwise, remains hidden in our population. Having the music program, I look at Callahan playing away, and sometimes there are four of five people jamming away with him,” Paddick said.

“I play the organ and my mother was a church organist, so I know the joy that comes out of this.”

Paddick says that one client at the shelter worked with Connor, and as a result, ended up as a volunteer at a local senior centre.

"He started playing for them on a volunteer basis and then they started paying him for his service. He ended up getting other work from them as well,” Paddick said.

“It was a connecting piece for moving him forward and now he’s housed and has moved on. I think music gave him that outlet to move forwards.”

Connor invites anyone to participate in the program.  

“I definitely do try to make that known. There are folks who have been around a while, lurking in the background. They were listening, for weeks or months and are now just starting to feel comfortable to actually participate. That has been really cool to see,” Connor said.

“For the man who volunteered at the senior centre, it was so inspiring. He already had a relationship to the guitar, but he had a certain sadness in his life. By connecting with him and playing guitar together, he started to grow in his own confidence. I saw him become more excited and grounded with his own relationship with the guitar. He developed a power to grow through the music.”

But, Connor says, this isn’t just for people who already know how to play music.

“A lot of folks are curious about music, and I really want to make sure there is a culture of encouragement, safety, and respect when it comes to musical expression,” Connor said.

“Our experiences aren’t about making beautiful and perfect music. We want there to be a chance to just try new things and make mistakes as we go on, by just listening and supporting each other. It’s been so meaningful for me to get to know these people and join them in their journey through music, even if for a small part of their week."

The group now has developed its own Sound Cloud account available for anyone to hear. 

“They are now having their voices respected and heard. Their music is now out in the world for anyone to hear and engage with,” Di Nino said.

“So, it’s not just happening at The Bridges for them. It's now out and available for anyone to hear and enjoy. There’s an element of self confidence that can be gained by that as well.”

Connor says he hopes to continue the program.

“Getting to know them, week by week, and to be some part of what it is to connect to one’s creativity, it’s so fulfilling for me. I really want to continue to be a part of that. It’s been a real honour to be a part of that,” Connor said.

“It's been beautiful to see a sense of respect in expression. That’s one of the things people experiencing homelessness might not get much in life, a sense that their voice is being heard.”

For anyone who would like to donate instruments to the Music Therapy program at The Bridges, visit here.

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Barbara Latkowski

About the Author: Barbara Latkowski

Barbara graduated with a Masters degree in Journalism from Western University and has covered politics, arts and entertainment, health, education, sports, courts, social justice, and issues that matter to the community
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