Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kelly Hall-Tompkins: First International Music Kitchen Performance at Coeur de Femme Shelter, Paris, France

61st Performance
**First International Music Kitchen Performance**
Kelly Hall-Tompkins, violin
Craig Ketter, piano

Coeur de Femme Shelter
In Partnership with the Festival des Musique Sacree
Paris, France
What an incredible day!  I am simply blown away by the wonderful experience of bringing the concept and practice of Music Kitchen - Food for the Soul to the shores of Europe - one of the great cities of the world in fact, and a favorite of mine - Paris, France.  I am here in Paris as an invited guest artist of the Festival des Musiques Sacrees, for which the concert is this evening.  I was also invited as guest panelist speaker yesterday at the US Embassy with the Vice President of the French Senate (and third person in succession for the Presidency of France) Madame Vice President Bariza Khiari, and conductor Zaia Ziouani on the occasion of International Women’s Day.  

Our topic was cultural education in France and the US.  Both the Festival and the American Embassy are very interested in my creation of the Music Kitchen project in addition to my professional career.  Particularly the festival director, Sofiane Aoudia, is very much interested in the concept which he refers to as “democratizing” classical music, since access in France, being not so much an issue of money, but rather of class by heritage, can be very closed to many people.  So as I sit here in my hotel, looking out the window at one of the awe-inspiring, highest bastions of culture and academic thought - La Sorbonne, open only to a select few for centuries - it underscores even more the success of the Music Kitchen mission served here today. 
I wasn’t sure if the concept would work as well here.  What would the dynamic be like?  Would my French make the concert experience as warm and accessible as I can make it in English?  What is the relationship between disadvantaged French citizens and classical music, even their own?  I got my answers soon enough and loud and clear - The first shelter client I saw as I was shown to the room where we would be playing (a tiled eating room, just as shelters in the US) a woman came up to me and said, “Nous avons attendu ca depuis les jours et les jours! Et finalement vous etes la!” (“We’ve been waiting for this for days and days, and finally you’re here!”)  I was so touched at the warmth and sincerity of her excitement. Our appointed time to begin the concert was at 11:30am.  We arrived early, around 11am and the room was already half full with ladies in great anticipation.  

I noticed that similarly as in Music Kitchen concerts at home, some met my gaze eagerly already while some demurred, not yet knowing what to expect, but in a gentle, hopeful anticipation.  I felt guilty to not start the performance right away, but the director of the festival who organized this performance in gracious partnership with Music Kitchen had not yet arrived.  Yet the desire and anticipation in the room was very nearly palpable. Though I generally like to wait until everyone is there before beginning to engage with the audiences, I could not help beginning that sooner.  I asked where the listeners were from.  Most were born and raised in Paris, one from Italy, another lived first in the US, but in France for many years, several from Africa - one woman from Cameroun, another wrapped in a beautiful sky-blue African-style “sari” was from Kinshasa Zaire.
Finally, we began our program.  As in the US (but now in French) I explained to my full room of 25 or so eager listeners that my name is Kelly and I am a professional violinist.  I perform concerts in all the big halls, but more and more I began to I recognize that not everyone has access to those concerts and that’s not…I paused to find the word I was looking for.  “Juste?” (fair) a woman offered, not precisely the word I was looking for in the moment, but I went with it as it was more meaningful coming from her.  Yes, I affirmed, “Juste.” So I created Music Kitchen- Food for the Soul to offer music to people in shelters as well.  Already with this statement and explanation I gained even more the confidence of the listeners.  We had not yet played a note, but this concept in France seemed to carry more weight by itself.  

I explained that I so love your French composers and music, especially the impressionists, that we would begin there today.  They all seemed very pleased to hear that. I said if you desire, I can also play some American music later.  Yes, they eagerly affirmed.  I explained the circumstances around our first piece, Debussy’s sonata for violin and piano.  That he had had the intention to complete 6 sonatas but did not survive to complete them all, that this violin sonata is the last piece he ever wrote and that I absolutely adore it.  I told them it is filled with imagery.  It was wonderful to have my colleague of almost 20 years in Paris to perform it with me, pianist Craig Ketter.  We’ve played the Debussy Sonata many, many times but to play it here in Paris for this audience was very special. The audience applauded heartily after the first movement, such that I had to make sure they understood that there is more to the piece.  They seemed to know this, but still wanted to demonstrate their appreciation and excitement.  And they were eager to hear more, so we launched into the spritely 2nd movement. 

Typically for Music Kitchen concerts I engage the audience verbally between movements to break up a large work if they need a break from continuous music, but this audience was more like a typical concert hall audience.  They wanted to drink in the music sans cesse - they were motionless and quiet, in rapt attention as we played.  With the whip and flash of the G harmonic, we finished the 3rd and final movement of the piece.  The applause was long - warm with many bravos.  Surely now, there are questions? I asked.  A few hands began little by little to go up and venture questions, but more and more so that people began asking questions at the same time and I had to find a way to gently defer to one person or another.  We had a warm exchange as the rapport between us opened with each note of music and each word of exchange.  “Where are you from,” came one question.  I said that we are both from New York and we came all the way here to play for you.  They were shocked and delighted as some had not realized that I was not French.  We can play some American music now, if you like - something from tonight’s concert for the Festival. Again, they eagerly desired it.  

“Are you familiar with the African-American spiritual tradition?” I asked.  Much to my surprise, they all bobbed their heads with many a “bien sur” (of course) to be heard around the room.  Just to be sure that we were on the same page and also repeating the notes on the program that I wrote for these songs in the festival program, I continued with my description of the works: During the time of slavery in America. African-Americans were prohibited from congregating or meeting for fear of uprising.  However, since singing was permitted, they ingeniously developed poetic songs which celebrated and strengthened their spiritual faith while at the same time being encoded with messages of escape.  This perspective on the tradition was perhaps new for many of the listeners.  I gave a rough translation of the two songs, arranged by Harry Burleigh that I was including in my program for the sacred music festival that evening: “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.”  They loved them both and we had a few more questions before I offered another American work, Summerland by William Grant Still.  Now when I asked if there were any more questions, much to my surprise, there was nothing.  A hand went up gently and when I recognized her she said simply that after hearing the music, “Nous n’avons plus des mots” (We have no more words.)”  I was very touched at her sincerity.  

But there was in fact another question, “Do American’s like French music?”  “Classical music you mean?”  Yes, she said.  “Definitely!” I confirmed.  Americans. Especially this American, loves everything French, music, culture, food.  “Really?” she seemed surprised and delighted.  I got lots of laughter around the room when I said, “Mais Oui! - Why do you think your streets are absolutely packed with Americans??  It’s because we are clamoring to go to your museums and concerts and restaurants!”  Score one victory of diplomatic relations between the citizens of our two countries.  I reminded them that since they are all invited to tonight’s concert, they would hear these American songs a second time. No, several said, it was unfortunately only a concert in a few days to which they were invited.  When together with representatives of the festival I confirmed that they were in fact invited to tonight’s concert as well, they all broke into a delighted applause and many in fact attended the concert.
For the last piece we brought the sonata of Richard Strauss.  Just as I have done for American Music Kitchen listeners many times, I asked, “Who has been to Vienna?”  I did expect that there might be more here who would answer affirmatively, but still there was only one.  My answer is designed to put the listeners at ease.  “Ne vous inquietez pas, avec la musique on y va aujourd’hui!” (Don’t worry, through the music we are going there today!”)  They were just as delighted as listeners across the Atlantic in the US.  I told them a bit about the orchestral scope of this sonata for only 2 people.  And when we came to the end of the powerful yet beautiful first movement they were the most excited yet, rising to their feet with boisterous applause.  I played one more movement, the slow movement with classic Viennese charm - they laughed easily and joyfully when I told them they will taste the cream of Viennese pastries and see the winding streets of old Vienna.  

It was a beautiful, gentle place to end our afternoon together since they were soon to leave for an outing to the Louvre.  (Wow - incredible.  I’ve never heard of a homeless shelter in New York taking clients to the MET or similar!).  So many of the ladies came up to me at the end, and with warms smiles and embraces told me how much they so appreciated my being here. “Really, thank you so very much,”one woman said to me then came back several minutes later to say again.  The director of the shelter who was our contact for the event was so warm and appreciative of our time there as well.  Since a French radio station had been there recording the entire performance, they then interviewed me about today’s events and my philosophy of the Music Kitchen program.  But I left the shelter, very excited to have opened a new frontier of service, thanks to the Sofiane Aoudia, director of the Festival des Musique Sacrees, and the American Embassy, and am encouraged to discover that the success of the Music Kitchen mission endures.
Following are lots of comments from the listeners with translations by me:
Dear Kelly, I love you already- your interpretation, your sense of others, your heart.  Thank you!

What emotion in these notes emanating from your violin, the piano…your sensibilities to each note and to each composer - grandeur, gaiety, melancholy, force, sweetness, joy…Thank you for your generosity towards us-  I will remember these moments of blessings! Blandine
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Love you.
You have recharged my heart in the space of 15 minutes- thank you for recharging my heart, thank you for this journey and this generosity.  It warmed my heart.  Despite my problems, I took much pleasure in listening.  I cried tears of happiness and joy.  Thank you so much Madame Kelly - I am very touched by your generosity and your heart.  May God bless you.  Thank you so much.  Magali
My God, what emotions.  Kelly you are filled with much love.  I have sung in a chorale for a long time, but with instrumental music one is truly transported towards “liberty”  ‘Nobody knows the trouble I see…’ only Jesus.  May God bless you and keep you always in his way.  I love you my sister and darling.  God bless AMERICA.  Augustine
I had a vague idea about classical music but today you have given me the chance to understand that music is very deep and melancholic…this music truly has stories.  I would like to one day learn to better understand the texts.  Bon courage and long career to you.  Sandra
Thank you infinitely for this pleasure.  Sakina
I wish you “Everything”  You deserve it…This was for me a “Grand moment.”  Dominique
I love your arrival.  I believe your presence has done us much good.  I thank the good Lord for your presence, what you have done and for your wisdom.
Happiness to share.  Jocelyn
Me personally I love you with all my heart and I wish you a great future.  Thank you and a bientot.  Fatou.
Thank you for having filled La Maison Coeur de Femmes with this melody and sweetness.  Angelique and the team
Bravo- Sumptuous- Thank you again for your simplicity, enthusiasm and what music!
You are magnificent with a simple majesty and of course tears of emotion came to my eyes… THANK YOU,  Stephanie
Thank U so much* U are welcome in France and I like your work, your music.  Bravo!!! Patricia
Thank you for your support of Music Kitchen Concerts – now breaking the barrier of the Atlantic!
Kelly Hall-Tompkins, President and Founder

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