Sunday, September 22, 2019

Music Kitchen "Forgotten Voices" August Premiere #8 Featuring Errollyn Wallen's "My Soul"

Kelly Hall-Tompkins writes:

Welcome back from your summer travels and happy Fall!  It was a busy and exciting August with Music Kitchen's Forgotten Voices.  We presented 3 concerts last month, including the first ever public previews of Forgotten Voices!  But first, on August 1st, we premiered "My Soul" by Errollyn Wallen, the first international composer heard in this cycle.  I met Errollyn while performing her wonderful Concerto Grosso with Chineke! in London at Queen Elizabeth Hall this spring.  I so enjoyed learning the piece that I was thrilled when she agreed to be part of this project. 

At this year's Gateways Music Festival, I was honored to present in partnership with the Festival a Music Kitchen concert at the House of Mercy Shelter, where we performed for the first time a set of four songs from Forgotten Voices.  Music Kitchen was also featured in a Festival concert featuring those same four Forgotten Voices songs, heard by the public for the first time.  I was also honored to receive an award for distinguished achievement on behalf of Music Kitchen (see below for photos).

Every month brings a wonderful new facet to this unique crystal that is Forgotten Voices- I can't wait for you to hear these pieces!  Stay tuned- news on that is coming soon!
We rely on your generous support, as well as that of the amazing participating artists, to make this unprecentented, large-scale project possible.  As always, if you wish to support Music Kitchen and the Forgotten Voices project, please click here:
Warmest Regards,

NBC TODAY SUNDAY with Willie Geist

Music Kitchen Feature by Harry Smith

Premiere #8: August

Composer Highlight: Errollyn Wallen

Chosen Text:

"My soul is sooo nourished in the Music Kitchen"


Errollyn is an internationally renowned composer and performer. Her prolific output includes seventeen operas to date and awards include the Ivor Novello Award for Classical Music, British Composer Award and a FIPA D’Or for Best Music for a Television Series. She composed two large scale works for the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games for London 2012. Errollyn founded her own Orchestra X whose latest orchestral album, PHOTOGRAPHY, was voted Top Ten Classical Albums by USA’s National Public Radio. Her latest orchestral work is THIS FRAME IS PART OF THE PAINTING, a BBC Proms commission for BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Catriona Morison, mezzo soprano. It was premièred on August 15th at the Royal Albert Hall. Her Concerto Grosso (to be released on the NMC label) received its US premiere in September 2018 in Los Angeles by Southeast Symphony with Errollyn as pianist and NNENNA, a new work for Chineke! was  commissioned by Cambridge Music Festival for performance in November 2018 and was recently performed in New York. It has just been announced that her opera The Silent Twins will receive its US premiere in New York in 2022.
Errollyn Wallen’s albums (ERROLLYN, The Girl in My Alphabet and Meet Me at Harold Moores) have travelled 7.84 million kilometres in space, completing 186 orbits around the Earth on NASA’s STS115 mission.
Errollyn Wallen was awarded the MBE in 2007 for services to music and in 2015 was inaugurated Honorary Fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford, in recognition of her distinguished contribution to scholarship in the field of British contemporary music and her exceptional achievements as a composer.  In 2017 Errollyn was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from York St. John’s University, was named BBC’s 100 Women 2018 and London University’s 150 Leading Women and has just been made Honorary Fellow of Goldsmiths, University of London.


109th Music Kitchen
Main Chance Drop In Center

August 1, 2019
“Forgotten Voices” #8

Mozart String Quartet K. 575
Errollyn Wallen “My Soul”
Adrienne Danrich, soprano
Kelly Hall-Tompkins, violin
Charlene Bishop, violin
Tia Allen, viola
Peter Seidenberg, cello

Performing in non-traditional venues is a lot about adapting quickly or maximizing non-traditional circumstances.  That was certainly the case today, but everyone came together beautifully to make it a success.  Despite the best efforts of our gracious facilitator and myself, something got lost in translation-the drop-in center was not expecting us when we arrived for rehearsal, and apparently there was only one client in the building!  But I immediately switched to problem-solving mode and the facilitator and staff were gracious, receptive and super helpful since they remembered our previous concerts fondly.  Since our last concert was two months ago at this location, I doubted that any clients here would remember us and thus help draw a crowd.  Plus, I knew from past experience when I chose this date to accommodate our artist availability that shelters are more empty at the beginning of the month when clients have just received funds from their regular income sources.  My plan was to ask the staff to put out their usual signs,  go up to rehearse with the ensemble until a few minutes after 4, when dinner starts, at which point I would go down to the diners and play a few inviting notes, just as I used to do at the Park Avenue Armory shelter.  There was a man down in the dining area who was in fact familiar from before - we recognized each other from one of the previous two concerts and were glad to reconnect.  I had asked Adrienne to belt a few operatic notes at some point to help in my efforts.  And just then, we both heard the distant, but powerful sound of an operatic voice upstairs.  Like yesterday at Cluster House, I asked if he would come up to our concert and he said he would be there. I worried he might be the only one, but when I returned upstairs, there was already a small group listening to the ensemble rehearsal in progress.  As we rehearsed further, more people joined the gathering and took a seat.  Similar to another recent concert here, our audience embodied their timidity as a group by staying all together at the back of the room, but clearly hopeful and eager to enjoy whatever we were offering.  Grateful for this quorum, we started our concert.

I began with a similar introduction to Mozart as yesterday, first by asking the question, “how many of you know anything about Mozart?”  Right away the man who was present before said with knowledge and affection, “I always listen to him.”  Delighted, I asked, “What do you like about him?”  “He’s spectacular.”  So true, I agreed.  When I continued with things you might not know about Mozart, he liked to shop and get his hair done, there was an easygoing laughter that opened up in the room.  One lady chimed in, "He probably shopped on EBay."  Now it was my turn to laugh.  “Maybe not,” I said, “but let’s see, what’s the 18th Century equivalent of EBay...Venice!!  That was a popular marketplace where people traded, bought and sold goods back then.”

We turned back to the work at hand and dove into the first movement.  Upon the final chords I asked our audience for their impressions and immediately came the sunny response from Marvin, the same Mozart lover who spoke up before, obvious joy in his voice and a smile on his face, “It leaves you with a wonderful feeling!”  Yes!  I marveled that no matter what was going on in his life, he managed to write joyful music.  I added, "He rose above his challenges and in doing so, inspires us to rise above ours."  

It was only after the concert that it dawned on me that perhaps the fact that I had mentioned earlier that Mozart never had enough money and that he died young, that our listeners may have asked the next question with a nervous curiosity with respect to the similarities of their challenges, wondering how far the analogies would extend. “What did he die of?”  I told them of the historical rumor that he was poisoned by a jealous rival (and according to a 2009 New York Times article, it’s not just a rumor- whether or not it is true, the cause of poisoning was published in a Berlin newspaper a week after Mozart’s death).  But officially he fell suddenly ill of unknown cause. 

I asked for more questions and there was only a long silence at first.  So I started to go on, but my start was interrupted by someone who it seems took until the last moment to summon the courage to speak up.  He said, “Was this in a movie?  I think I’ve heard it a couple of times in a movie- sounds familiar.”  I said that’s great because hearing it today, it’s like the piece is now an old friend.

Another listener was also now emboldened to share before we moved on.  There’s a part which reminds him of the song “when the saints go marching in.”  My ear immediately zeroed in to the opening D major triad with which one could certainly make that reference.  I played the motives back to back to his delight.  I told him that we spend years in the conservatories finding and studying tiny references and fragments and relationships just like that and what he found today, though most likely written hundreds of years apart with no literal connection, was nonetheless very cool.

We then played the slow movement and afterward was again the pregnant silence as I asked for questions.  This time as I said “going once...going twice...”  someone jumped in to simply declare it beautiful. And with that we went on to the minuet.

Gracious applause ensued but no further discussion, so I introduced our “Forgotten Voices” premiere for today.  I explained that Errollyn Wallen is the composer and that all the way over in London she is inspired by what we’re doing here in New York with Music Kitchen in and she chose a text which spoke to her.  I invited Adrienne up to recite the text- Quite simply, “My soul is sooo nourished in the Music Kitchen.  Thank you.”  I stressed to our listeners that this is the 8th premiere of the project, that, as it’s the world premiere, they would be the first people anywhere to hear it.  My words hit the mark.  A breathy “Wow” was uttered in advance.

They sat in rapt attention while we played and sang.  And once the song was over, the room erupted in the first real exuberance of the afternoon.  Riding the wave of their visceral letting go, I narrated a bit as a bridge to their comments, “Different, right?”  I said, instinctively adopting an expression I have often heard homeless clients use as the most accessible way to convey that something has moved them.  “It sure is!” came an immediate reply.  I continued, “Starts out serious and then transforms to a joyful place. What did you think about it?” I asked.  A maintenance staff member who had helped to draw listeners for the concert today said,  “I closed my eyes so I could hear just the music.  I was like wow...The music was astounding. I had my eyes closed, but then I had to open them to make sure you all were really there.”  We all shared a laugh at the innocence and joy of his discovery.  Another man said, searchingly for the right words, “it was serious- I was moved... by the passion.”

Who wrote it?  They wanted to know again.  Her name is Err-ollyn Wa-llen” and she is an African British composer.  I originally met her this spring when I performed her triple concerto in London at Queen Elizabeth Hall.  When I got to know her music in the winter I thought she would be really great for this project and fortunately she was very moved by the idea.  So I gave all the composers all the texts collected over 14 years and it’s interesting how some composers are inspired to find long texts and others choose really short ones, like this one.

I further explained what the prestigious BBC Proms Festival is, performed at the 6,000 seat Royal Albert Hall I had the honor to play there 2 years ago leading the Chineke! Orchestra.  Errollyn Wallen was selected to write a piece there this summer and will be feature there coming up on August 15th.  When I told them,  “She took time away from that to write this piece just for you,” they applauded spontaneously and heartily.  I had mentioned before that she would have loved to be here but lives in London, and I asked to know if there’s anything that you’d like me to tell her.  So one gentleman seemed to be thinking of that when he responded, “We feel the music!”  Quoting our song, and a previous client, I followed by saying I’m glad to know that your ‘soul was so nourished in the Music Kitchen’.

One man’s mind turned briefly back to Mozart.  Just as someone asked yesterday, “Was he Italian?”

Others wanted to know more about Errollyn Wallen.  “Does she have a band?”  I said, “No, just like Mozart, she is a composer; she may also perform but mostly she writes music as her profession.”  I spelled her name so they could look it up.

“Now that you know what to expect we’d like to play it again; would that be ok?” 

Sure, they replied, so we immersed once again.

I asked what they experienced the second time.  “This time I kept my eyes open so I could see you, though I wanted to close them again.  Because when you remove the senses of the eyes, you can focus on what you’re hearing a lot better.”

Before closing the concert, I said, “I wanted to make sure you know that while we will eventually share this piece with the general public in a fancy concert hall, we are here to offer it to you first.”  “Let them know that”  someone said.  I replied, “I definitely will.”

 I thanked the listeners for coming to our concert today and we then took our group photo.

 Following are the notes from the listeners:
It leaves you with a wonderful feeling, and I always liked different kind of music.......but this kind I truly can meditate.  Thanks come back again- Marvin
I thank you for the concert very relaxing and enjoy it.  Carl D.
Thank you for what you do.  Brent. C.

110th Music Kitchen
House of Mercy Shelter Rochester, NY

August 9, 2019

“Forgotten Voices” First 4 Song Set

Kelly Hall-Tompkins-Gretchen’s Threads
Jeff Scott- Fur Meinen Vater
Errollyn Wallen - My Soul
James Lee- From My Heart

Mozart String Quartet K. 575

Brittany Rumph, soprano
Kelly Hall-Tompkins, violin
Charlene Bishop, violin
Linda Green, viola
Blake-Anthony Johnson, cello

As an undergraduate student at the Eastman School of Music, long before I ever thought of creating Music Kitchen, I saw evidence everywhere of the large homeless population in Rochester, NY.  I had never seen anything like it and, since it was my first time living in a larger city than my hometown and on my own, I found it unsettling.  Now in my professional life, it was an honor to take what I had learned during my student days at Eastman, combined with what I have now built in my career, and my 14 years’ experience of serving the homeless, directly into a shelter here through a special partnership with my engagement at the Gateways Music Festival.  Many thanks to Lee Koonce, Director of Gateways and Sister Grace of the House of Mercy for facilitating our performance.

As we walked into the entryway courtyard bookended by the towering outdoor fireplace, a shelter client acted as a joyful sentinel to the others present, “the musicians are here!”  

We spent a few minutes changing the preset configuration to have us on a small elevated stage to instead sit with our chairs directly on the floor in front of the audience-style seating already set up.  In no time at all it seemed, the common room just inside the door was already filled with eager and attentive listeners even as we rehearsed.  Several people shushed anyone at the back of the room who happened to be making noise with unrelated business.  I assured them that this wasn’t our concert yet and that we were only rehearsing.  “Still, we’d like to hear” said the lady on the left with warmth and clarity.

The room was so attentive with so many listeners as we rehearsed that, pretty soon, it just didn’t make sense to continue as a rehearsal.  I went around to the administrative staff to check that no one in particular needed to be in attendance and that we were clear to start any time. A program director agreed to take some photos until our photographer, an intern from WXXI, could arrive.  We started at 6:15 instead of 6:30, beginning to retrace music that we had played only minutes before.  But if anything, our audience was grateful to expand our time together.  They were eager to soak in every last drop of what we were offering.  

I was excited that we were here to offer a treat, a full program of our standard repertoire work, again the quartet K. 575 by Mozart, followed by 4 Forgotten Voices songs.  This would be the first time ever an excerpted set of the songs would be heard at a shelter or anywhere else. Another premiere of sorts.

I explained to our audience that through the partnership with the Gateways Music Festival that the musicians here to perform for them today are from all over the country, as far away as California.  Their surprise vocalizations could be heard all over the room, and already they applauded, many saying “Thank you!”

I told our audience that today we would have a bit of a Mozart sandwich- what they didn’t yet know was that we would start with the quartet, but end by inviting bassist Rick Robinson to join us in the Divertimento.

When I asked this audience if anyone knew anything about Mozart, it struck me again in the moment, just as when I was a student observing the Eastman concert audiences, that perhaps the existence of a major conservatory a few locks away had some impact on the knowledge of the community.  “He composed orchestrated music?” said one listener.  “He lived in Germany,” said another.  I lobbed my now favorite cognitive dissonance assertions of the last few weeks into the mix, always producing the desired barrier-breaking, humanizing effect.  This time at the Michael Jackson comparison, there was an immediate and endearing eclat of laughter.  And the notion of writing letters backwards for people to figure out, one said, “Wow” quite taken with the idea.

After the first movement, a gentleman said, “I like watching your fingers move- that’s amazing.” For clarity, I asked, “You like mostly how it looks or how it sounds?”  He said,” Both- I love everything about it.  I mean I’ve ever heard this kind of music before, but I love it.”  

After the second movement, a long sigh of contentment from the lady on the left.  And there were so many joyful comments of resonance with this music that it inspired me to make another of my favorite observations,  “The 18th century doesn’t seem so far away, does it??”  Some version of “Not at all,” came from so many.

After the slow movement, again, the eager gentleman near the front spoke up with total ease. “I’m a convert.  Never heard this kind of music before, but I’m a convert,” he said thoughtfully, head tilted slightly in evaluation, almost surprised with his own conclusions.

There was a flurry of easygoing interaction all over the room.  This was one of those concerts where everyone was open and eager.  Yet still there were some who were even more enlivened by this unexpected offering.  The same gentleman continued, “Wow, makes me want to learn the violin.  But it’s too late now.”  I quickly retorted.  “It’s never too late.  As long as we have breath in our lungs and are on this earth, we are always becoming more.  All of us- follow your passion.  Not just you, everyone, all of us.”

After we played the minuet, I let them in on another unexpected observation.  “Did you know that your shelter has really excellent acoustics?  There are many concert halls that wish they had acoustics as nice as this.  So, you didn’t realize it, but you have here a fine concert hall.”  Some gentle laughter continued to melt away whatever semblance of separation managed to be between us, though none was apparent.  A man said, “We didn’t know that!”  “Well now you know!” I said.

A man asked if we would play Beethoven 5th Symphony today.  I played only the opening motive, saying we would not be offering the whole piece.  “You’re a tease!” he said, which seemed an unlikely turn of phrase for classical music, except as a joke among regular devotees or students!  I told them that indeed we had something different and really special instead.  Now I had the room even more intently.

When I introduced Forgotten Voices, the same man and others around the room continued to listen in amazement, “Wow.”  I continued, “It’s a particularly important time to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard, elevated.  That everyone’s humanity is recognized and celebrated.” And in keeping with the way I typically present the premiere of each song, I told our audience that this concert represented the world premiere of a Forgotten Voices set of songs.

But here the first bit of resonance for this audience was in hearing the introduction of the soprano voice to our program.  I invited Brittany to read the words that I was inspired to set.  After we played my piece, Gretchen’s Threads, there was an even deeper softening in the room.  “Wow- I bet you could break a glass!”  Brittany laughed, “I have never shattered glass!”  “You have a beautiful voice!”  said one over the general din of excitement that opened up.  I told them after the fact that my song is about finding an escape from the endless loops of worry.

I introduced the next song as being about loss, then asked again for Brittany to read the words.
Initially they applauded eagerly in a grand pause, thinking it was the end, but quickly reacclimated to hear more.  At the true end of the piece, again, “Wow.”  The lady who had shushed the passersby during our rehearsal said, again with warm, tender clarity, “It makes you almost want to cry.  It’s so emotional.” Another said it sounded jazzy.  I told them that that the composer has been spending a lot of time in Brazil and you can really hear the influence in his style.

One of the most poignant comments came next, “What took you so long to get here??”  In other words, “Where’ve you been all my life?”  Everyone in the room chuckled, but in all seriousness, that is why Music Kitchen exists, to lead the way in answering that call.  “We’re here now!”

I hadn’t yet shared it with the audience, so I then mentioned that I had indeed spent 4 years here in snowy Rochester at the Eastman School of Music.  The audience broke into applause, followed by a man who responded, “You learned well, you learned well.”  I am reminded of how many arts organizations struggle to be known to the communities not directly engaged by them.  Here in Rochester, it seems that admiration of the Eastman School of Music runs wide and deep.

Now Sister Grace asked, speaking of Music Kitchen concerts, “Was this your idea?”  “Yes, I founded Music Kitchen,” I replied.  And again the room erupted in spontaneous applause.  She continued, “From your experiences, right?”  I said, “From my desire to share music with everyone.  We play in fancy concert halls around the world but not everybody in every stage of life can afford to go to fancy concert halls so we bring the music to you.  That was my idea.”  “Good idea, good idea!” came a familiar voice from our audience.  I continued, “This small program has influenced the industry to do the same and I’m very proud of that.”  Again the room applauded.

Someone wanted to know if we get paid to play music.  I said indeed it is our profession.  Another woman said the this music and the soprano’s beautiful voice have made her feel wonderful.  The room softened further as it once again broke into applause.  Someone else wanted to know how Brittany got started singing.  She said originally, she only sang jazz and in church when a teacher told her, “I bet you could sing classical.”  She studied and entered a small competition where she earned a top score and was soon admitted into the Eastman School.  Again the room applauded its high esteem.  “Good thing you listened!” said our familiar participant.  Another asked of her travels and when Brittany mentioned her international opera debut, again the eager applause.

With that we moved on to the Wallen text, which I had advised our audience would be short: “My soul was sooo nourished in the Music Kitchen.”  “Ohhh!  Said many in eager anticipation.

After we played it, more eager applause!  “I like that one!” said a new voice.  When I asked what he liked about it, he said, “I like how it went fast, it went low, then it just went real smooth.  I like that!”  I chimed in that one of the great things about classical music is how in can change mid-stream to create different feelings and ideas.  Another man in the back who kept being inspired to mention his favorite guitarist, now offered that people who listen to classical music as children are supposed to have especially high IQ.  I inserted my oft said quip with a wry grin,  “Yes, we are smart, but if that is indeed true, you are looking at 6 of the most brilliant people since we grew up playing classical music!”  We all had a laugh and I followed by saying that classical music is intrinsically valuable and also helps one do other things better as well.

I said we should get to our last song and there were groans around the room as one man vocalized the thought for the group, “So soon?”  I clarified, we have one more song, but then we have another piece of music.  “Oh! Ok”- they were audibly relieved.

Before we moved on, someone made a comparison to movies and I chimed right in,  “I love great acting, but it’s the musical score that makes it- its what makes you feel you can fly, gives you that feeling of love, creates excitement and tension!”

After Brittany read the words for “From my Heart” the audience applauded heartily once again.  Before we jumped into this last song, I wanted to make absolutely sure they knew that these songs exist because of their words.  Early in the project I had to drive this point home more.  But now they understood completely and once again applauded their appreciation.  After the wistful final chord of the Lee, they applauded as heartily as ever.  

Already over our original end time, even though we had started early, we quickly jumped back to the 18th century with Mozart’s enduring and upbeat Divertimento to finish our program.  Our audience applauded again one last time with a warmth and deep rapport and the mutual admiration we have shared over the last 2 hours.  Sister Grace thanked us for coming and lead another round of applause.  I thanked them for being such a wonderful audience.  They asked us if we could come back soon.  Here, outside the cities of Music Kitchen’s regular programming I didn’t know what to tell them except, “We will.”  We took our group photo and packed up our things as we continued to chat with the listeners.

Tomorrow, I would be soloist with a Gateways chamber orchestra for the Florence Price Violin Concerto #2 and my mind began to turn to that.  But as we were leaving, out the same doors we entered, clients beamed their smiles and and spoke their gratitude to us as we walked into the lovely courtyard with the massive outdoor fireplace, which would somehow provide warmth during the unforgiving Rochester winters of fine, crystalline lake-effect snow blowing in every direction for many long months.  But I left feeling that perhaps we provided warmth that I hope will be felt for a lifetime.

Following are the notes from the listeners:

I am going through a tough time in my life being homeless and along and your music today reawaken my internal self and caused me to visualize a life beyond my condition.  Thanks

Think its Beautiful what U Music Kitchen and going going around the world.  Thank you and some day I will learn to play violen

Hip Hop & Classic  My new mix tape "State of Mercy"

Thanks to everyone for giving us some of ya time to come share the talent & meaning of this type of music, fr me helps me relax, have a moment for me to get my mind clear.  Thanks again God blessings to all B.D.J.

Willie S. You're music makes me wish that I could play an instrument.

Oreant R.
House of Mercy
It would be great to get CDs of your music- I enjoy each of you greatlely to have taken time out to come to play for us.  Thank you all so much.  I would love to hear more of your Band (as well as your singer (I'm hooked to classic music.

I saw on the news last week about this festival coming to Rochester and was very interested how you all have never played together before this week.  I never thought I would hear any of the fest.  I have struggled with addiction for about 5 years now and I am tired.  I decided to pack a bag and leave my home that has been toxic for a long time.  Having nver been in a homeless shelter before I was very anxious.  I walked in as you all were setting up and you calmed my sole.  You turned my mind off for the two hours you played.  Thank you for meeting us right where we are with no judgement.  You made my day.  Love Lynn F.

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