THE ARTS PAPER – ARTICLES
‘Flora,’ or, Neely Bruce’s life of joy in
Neely Bruce. Photo by Nick Lacy.
Composer Neely Bruce has a lot of arrows in his stylistic
quiver. He loves to mix and match musical approaches. Inspired
by information theory – a branch of mathematics with
application to the arts – Bruce says, “In music,
you want a situation where information is maximized but not
so much that it becomes incomprehensible. But it’s fun
to push the envelope, isn’t it?”
In debuting a new composition this June, Bruce adds another
arrow to his quiver: an 18th century opera. Flora, an
Opera will be staged as part of the Spoleto Festival
USA in Charleston, South Carolina. The original Flora;
or, Hob in the Well was a bawdy popular British ballad
opera that, according to the Spoleto Festival website, was
“the first opera ever performed in the American colonies.”
It had its debut in Charleston in 1735. It was such a success
that it was repeated a year later in the new Dock Street Theatre,
the first purpose-built theater in the colonies. This production
will be performed in the same Dock Street Theatre, newly reopened
after a three-year renovation. Bruce orchestrated this new
production of Flora working from the surviving source
Bruce began taking piano lessons when he was 8 years old,
writing his first music a year later. In an interview at his
home studio, he says music “has been my life’s
blood. I knew from the age of 14 that I was going to be a
In addition to being a composer, Bruce is a professor of music
at Wesleyan University, an accomplished pianist, and a historian
of American music. For many years, he was the chorus director
of the now-defunct Connecticut Opera. With his wife, Phyllis,
who is a singer, Bruce is co-director of music at the South
Congregational Church in Middletown. While all these roles
are interrelated, Bruce says, “Everything I do feeds
my musical imagination as a composer first and foremost.”
And his compositional imagination is wide-ranging. He has
written 10 hours of piano music, another nine hours of opera,
and almost 300 works for solo voice, as well as instrumental
and vocal chamber music, scores for orchestra, and sacred
music. In 2005, dismayed that surveys showed many young people
willing to sacrifice civil liberties for national security,
Bruce set the Bill of Rights to music. His The Bill of
Rights: Ten Amendments in Eight Motets is a choral work
suitable for performance by high school and community groups.
Bruce has also composed a series of “Friendly Fugues”
based on the names of his friends, choosing his pitches by
correlating the letters in their names to the seven letters
of the musical alphabet.
In a catalog of his compositions available on his website,
Bruce notes that since he was a graduate student in the late
1960s he has “systematically attempted an extreme stylistic
eclecticism.” His embrace of eclecticism was an organic
outgrowth of his formal and informal musical education: music
in the Southern Baptist Church; the spark of rock-’n’-roll
lit by Elvis in the 1950s – “our whole generation’s
collective jaw dropped,” says Bruce – and its
embellishment in the 1960s; the various strands of 20th century
Modernist experimentation and computer music; and his graduate
school encounter with Folio of Music #2, an 1880s
compendium of popular piano music of the 19th century. He
was “stunned” by the “eccentric” and
“bizarre” pieces in the Folio, Bruce
says, and saw a connection to the whimsical experimentation
in late 1960s pop music.
All these influences, Bruce explains, were “serving
to greatly expand my notions of what music was and what was
fun and what was beautiful.”
For his doctoral thesis composition, he wrote a one-act opera,
Trials of Psyche, in which he collaged or juxtaposed
“an imitation Stephen Foster song, rock music sort of
in the style of The Who, very strict 12-tone music, computer-generated
random music, kind of standard early 20th century modal music”
This eclecticism may have been most flamboyantly put on parade,
literally, with the 2000 performance of his Convergence,
a composition commissioned by the International Festival of
Arts & Ideas and staged on and around the New Haven Green.
In a video about Convergence, Bruce says the work
offered the “opportunity to compose a parade.”
A musical coming-together as civic ritual, Convergence
encompassed more than 700 musicians organized into more than
30 ensembles: four marching bands, six marching and three
stationary choruses, bagpipers, two fife and drum corps, the
Waterbury Symphony Orchestra, the Native American ensemble
Heartbeat of the Land, gospel choirs, a Javanese gamelan group,
the orchestra and chorus from ACES Educational Center for
the Arts, carillonneurs, and more. Bruce utilized the Green
and its environs as a “gigantic outdoor room,”
choreographing the musical interactions to mesh and clash.
When Convergence was repeated in 2002 as part of
the Lincoln Center Out of Doors series at Lincoln Center for
the Performing Arts, Bruce included a large marching samba
band. At one point in the program, the paths of the samba
band and the marching bagpipers crossed.
“I saw this was going to happen and I literally ran
because I knew this was never going to happen again in the
history of the world,” Bruce recalls with glee. “That
is the most incredible single sound I ever heard in my life.
It was as if the air exploded and the people who were doing
it had just incredible smiles on their faces.”
Bruce can’t suppress his own smile when he talks about
Flora. The plot revolves around the title character,
a teenage orphan left in the care of her tyrannical uncle,
Sir Thomas Testy. Testy controls her inheritance and keeps
her apart from Tom Friendly, the man she is in love with.
Flora has a confidant in the maid, Betty; Friendly is aided
by his friend Hob.
“The whole text is exceedingly vulgar if you read between
the lines,” Bruce asserts. Themes of romance and class
conflict are leavened with broad slapstick and dance sequences.
Bruce wrote one tune for which no surviving record existed
and synthesized 20 others for which there were multiple versions.
Bruce also contributed two new arias for the title character,
an overture, an entr’acte, dance sequences, entrance
and exit music, and other incidental compositions. The original
tunes, Bruce notes, “have all kinds of interesting touches
you might not expect,” such as irregular rhythmic frameworks
and modal inflections.
The Spoleto Festival USA went back and forth on whether to
go with a contemporary or traditional approach. Ultimately,
Bruce was “hired to do it more or less as a period piece,”
scoring the music for two violins, cello, flute, oboe, bassoon,
harpsichord, and guitar. All those instruments were known
to have been available in Charleston in the 1730s with the
exception of the modern Spanish guitar, which was introduced
in the 1740s.
When considering the commission, Bruce says he decided “it’s
a very avant-garde thing to do.” How is the composition
of an 18th century-style opera avant-garde? Bruce squares
this circle by referring to the tenets of information theory,
particularly as expounded by the late French theoretician
According to information theory, Bruce explains, the information
component of a given stimulus declines with increasing familiarity.
Or, as Moles said to a graduate class Bruce was taking in
the late 1960s, “Beethoven is like a gas tank.”
In Moles’ theory, there is a certain amount of musical
“information” in Beethoven’s works but it
is being depleted through repetition. Given that audiences
like Beethoven’s symphonies, Moles’ solution was
to suggest using then-emerging computer technology to generate
Similarly, Bruce contends, “People like 18th century
operas and there aren’t enough of them.”
A “new” 18th century opera would, Bruce says,
“at least have the advantage of novelty and hopefully
be better than something by a mediocre 18th century composer.
In terms of information theory, it’s cutting edge.”
“I see this as a very sophisticated intellectual framework
for having a lot of fun,” adds Bruce with a smile.
Perception: arts, identity, and access
OluShola A. Cole
OluShola A. Cole
Recently returned from a storytelling retreat hosted by Bill
Graustein and master storyteller Donald Davis, I am going
over various events and circumstances that catapulted me from
my position as coordinator of community programs – dealing
with ever-present issues of creative performance space in
New Haven, divisive community ideas and issues (spontaneous
combustions in the office as a result of histrionic city employees)
– to spending the following week at Mercy Center at
Madison (a spiritual retreat) doing absolutely nothing.
If “nothing” means waking up to a gorgeous sunrise,
eating a freshly prepared breakfast, lunch, and dinner, sitting
around talking, sharing, laughing, and writing with 24 of
the most brilliant, skilled, and innovative minds in Advocacy
America – and oh, right, learning about elements of
a story – then I did exactly that. Guilty. Right down
to the daily walks on the beach, or through the meditation
labyrinth and the stargazing/astronomy lesson from one of
our hosts. If “nothing” meant that all I had to
do was listen, be still, and at times process what and how
the concept of storytelling is so meaningful yet so underrated
in our lives – especially in the community – then
I did exactly that. In fact, that week was the hardest piece
of “nothing” I’ve ever done in my life.
I’m a laid-back person. My family wouldn’t hesitate
to call me lazy, but, in fact, in the context of that week,
sitting around and doing nothing showed me how to be still
and listen. Furthermore, learning to do so was not as tricky
as actually realizing I had to learn how to be still, which,
in turn, makes it easier to listen. I listened to other people
and I listened to myself that week. And something very interesting
happened after I returned from the retreat.
Until that point, I heard and saw myself as a six-month employee
of the Arts Council, determined to buck the unbudging system,
and so frustrated – almost fed-up with the recurring
concerns of artists who need affordable access to viable performance
spaces in the communities they want to impact. Now, I’m
not sure how long I’m going to last.
Marching through my head, along with dates and times of events
I need to plan for, are the common through-lines of stories
told to me over my brief time here, about discovery, space,
access, and lack thereof. As an artist, I was right alongside
other artists in the community, watching them wake up each
day, like hamsters sniffing the air, then stepping on New
Haven’s Creative Artsy Wheel in the Quest for Space
and watching them run until they’re dizzy, fall off
the wheel, and do it again, and again, and again. I was bitterly
resolute that I would never run along that path, convinced
it would lead to my creative demise and downfall, especially
since I’m involved in community arts outreach. I’m
looking at people running themselves ragged on the same futile
route – Arts Advocacy Day, for example, a day of glossy,
pedestrian choir-preaching in the hope that the arts will
get more funding. I even resolved, after watching the perceived
and hapless wild goose chase of local performance groups trying
to book public school space in local communities that, as
an artist, I could never move to New Haven, simply based on
the fact that as an artistic individual I would never be able
to find space, much less an actual stage for my craft.
Almost immediately I’m brought back to something Donald
said that shifted my frame of creative reference: Instead
of seeing or hearing the problem, Listen to the Story. Right
now I’m thinking about every person I’ve met since
coming to the Arts Council. It’s been about six months.
Whether they have come to see me and my colleagues or I have
met them locally, within the neighborhood, or at gatherings,
I’m realizing that this post here at the Council is
quite the uniquely decorated cakewalk. It sounds so clichéd,
but it took me going away and listening to strangers to come
back and see that I’ve had the privilege to receive
from almost everyone I’ve met a gift they may or may
not have known they were giving me: Their Story. All of them
create a framework that has the potential to help me fill
out my role here at the Arts Council – simply by Listening.
Returning to the office after the retreat, I was immediately
taken by a beautiful tale of images on the walls. I was instantly
educated about an architect who loved life, people, and travel
and expressed himself through sketches and watercolors and
had a talent for organization and an attention to detail.
This exhibit speaks to me because as I look at the work I
feel like I am being informed about someone – I’m
reading his story.
Fast-forward to Everyday Life; working in New Haven. While
I am still very hesitant to move to a location where I know
firsthand that finding performance space within the community
is an issue, I am eager to deepen my ability to listen to
my community. I now can fully appreciate someone coming to
me with an idea, thought, or concept for arts and creativity,
or being in someone else’s space to discuss anything.
I fully understand groups that have problems booking venues
and empathize with the challenge firsthand – but I am
seeing that my post here at the Arts Council obviously goes
beyond acting out of rebellious empathy. I want to look at
the patterns, the hamster wheels, and truly challenge the
design, however long that takes, because those things actually
tell a story. I would love to know within all the set and
trodden grooves of this Space called New Haven, what is the
Story of this place? I think, hope, and pray that’s
where I’ll begin to hear it, because prior to this,
rather than Listening to the Tale of this city, all I’ve
been doing is seeing the problem.
OluShola A. Cole is the Arts Council’s coordinator
of community programs. This is her opinion.
Empowerment through music: no strings
David A. Brensilver
Yayra Matyakubova instructs a young
At a Spring Performance Party in late March, young string
players performed for a standing-room-only audience of family
and friends in the auditorium at Wexler/Grant Community School.
As budding artists negotiated pieces of music taught them
by the members of the Haven String Quartet, concentrating
on bow technique, rhythm, and intonation, they expressed,
individually and collectively, more than the notes on the
manuscript pages before them. The recital program was an opportunity
for residents of New Haven’s Dixwell, Dwight, Hill,
and Newhallville neighborhoods to bask in the luxury of having
a string quartet in-residence in their communities.
Whereas many professional string quartets take up residency
at universities, the Haven String Quartet is in-residence
in four Empowerment Zone neighborhoods where they offer free
instrumental lessons, on a first-come, first-served basis,
to residents of those areas and students in the neighborhood
Taking the microphone at the beginning of the Spring Performance
Party, Music Haven Executive Director and Haven String Quartet
violinist Tina Lee Hadari explained to the overflow audience
what the evening was all about.
“It’s a celebration of music, it’s a celebration
of the accomplishments of all the kids here … and it’s
a celebration of community,” Hadari said.
And then she asked the adults in the room — the parents
in the audience — to pair with someone they didn’t
know and ask one another to talk about “one person in
your life who has believed in you … and someone who
helped you be the best person you can be.”
Before the Haven String Quartet — violinists Hadari
and Yayra Matyakubova, violist Colin Benn, and cellist Elise
Pittenger — began the program with a performance of
the second movement (Assez vif. Très rythmé)
of Ravel’s String Quartet in F major, Hadari explained
that Ravel composed the work in 1903, when he was a 28-year-old
student at the Paris Conservatory.
“He dedicated it to his teacher named Fauré,”
Hadari said, and Fauré told Ravel “it stinks.”
After further rejection and understandably upset, Ravel eventually
dropped out of school. Soon thereafter, Debussy heard the
piece, and, in Hadari’s words, said to Ravel, “Don’t
change a note of it.”
The Haven String Quartet’s performance, however brief,
was evidence that the quartet-in-residence in New Haven’s
Dixwell, Dwight, Hill, and Newhallville neighborhoods is a
Kevin Muhammad, the principal at the Wexler/Grant Community
School, said recently: Who knows where the next premiere violinist
will come from — “it might be Wexler Grant.”
Music Haven sets up shop at Wexler/Grant Community School
and the John C. Daniels School of International Communication
on weekdays after school lets out. The relationships are mutually
While “music is dead-last in terms of funding,”
Muhammad said, Music Haven’s presence brings culture
to the school.
“I think we underestimate the power of music and art,”
Hadari, who founded Music Haven in 2006, earned her bachelor
of music degree from New England Conservatory, her master
of music degree from the Yale School of Music, and her Ph.D.
from the University of Colorado. Along the way, she spent
three years working with Opus 118 Harlem School of Music —
the subject of the 1995 documentary Small Wonders
and the inspiration for the 1999 movie Music of the Heart
starring Meryl Streep — an organization that provides
instrumental instruction to Harlem students.
“That really shaped kind of how I … viewed perhaps
what I was going to do with my future and kind of the intersection
of music and service,” Hadari said.
When she arrived at the Yale School of Music, Hadari said,
“I was really fortunate that my first year here I got
put in a … string quartet and it really jelled”
— so much so that the quartet stuck together after graduate
school and spent three years in a residency program with the
renowned Takács Quartet, which is the quartet-in-residence
at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
As the end of the residency program approached, Hadari and
her colleagues — the Vinca Quartet — had to answer
the question: Now what? The quartet faced “conflicting
missions” and underwent a personnel change. Signs were
pointing the way toward limbo. And then Hadari got a call
from an old friend, Jesse Holstein.
Holstein is a violinist in the Providence String Quartet,
the ensemble at the core of Community MusicWorks, the Providence,
Rhode Island-based organization after which Music Haven was
Holstein had been introduced at a workshop in Maine to New
Haven-based gastroenterologist Dr. Andrew Bedford, who got
interested in replicating Community MusicWorks in New Haven
and is now vice president of Music Haven’s Board of
Holstein called Hadari to ask if she knew anyone in New Haven
who might be interested in such a program.
“I personally was very interested,” she said,
though not all four members of the quartet wanted to go in
that professional direction. Still, the group returned to
The process of launching Music Haven, which included changing
the quartet’s name, was a difficult one. A balance needed
to be struck between performance and service — between
the Haven String Quartet and the educational mission of Music
Haven. The two entities really had to be one, not just with
regard to perception, but also when it came to funding and
the organization’s presence in the communities.
What if the quartet were offered a three-month tour? How much
funding would go to the quartet and how much would go to Music
Haven? While some donors wanted to support Music Haven, at
least one wanted to help further the quartet’s career.
“It did raise a lot a lot of questions for us,”
Hadari said, for example, “were there enough intersections
between the two entities that we could … make a unified
The quartet split in two, each member essentially having to
choose between pursuing a full-time performance career or
committing to a quartet whose mission was to serve the community
“When we all thought about it long and hard,”
Hadari said, “and it was a really difficult process,
we realized that trying to do everything without a true focus
was going to be messy.”
With new personnel and a clear focus, Music Haven was launched
as a nonprofit organization built on the activities of a string
quartet whose members teach and perform in New Haven’s
most poverty stricken neighborhoods.
And if the recent Spring Performance Party at Wexler/Grant
Community School was any indication, the secret’s been
out for a while.
Muhammad, who believes in “the multiple intelligences,”
said, “Music is a great way to have children use their
skills to be creative.”
While some Wexler/Grant students are also students of Music
Haven, the organization is reaching plenty of people who aren’t
either — the family members and friends who attend events
like the Spring Performance Party to see and hear Music Haven’s
“It’s a community thing, it’s a school thing,
it’s a culture thing,” Muhammad said.
Pittenger, who earned her master of music degree from Rice
University and has completed doctoral coursework at McGill
University, worked in some of the same neighborhoods Music
Haven serves through the Urban Resources Initiative. That
experience, and her musical training, made joining the Haven
String Quartet and the Music Haven staff a “bizarrely
“Community forestry is sort of like sociology combined
with environmentalism,” Pittenger said.
She described working with Music Haven students as “some
small version of being a parent.”
“I’m bringing (to her students) a piece of the
world that got me to where I am,” she said, talking
not only about music, but about the kind of discipline practicing
an instrument requires and the ability to accept criticism
and develop structured ways of thinking.
Pittenger is not surprised that Community MusicWorks, which
was founded in 1997 by Sebastian Ruth, has made the physical
and permanent presence of a string quartet in downtown Providence
part of the community landscape.
Holstein talked about the organization’s visibility
vis-à-vis its storefront on Westminster Street in downtown
The storefront, he said, includes an office and studio space
where the quartet rehearses. Microphones pipe the quartet’s
music onto the street.
“It’s just something that’s in the neighborhood,”
Holstein said. The quartet is, quite literally, “in
residence in a neighborhood.”
“We want to be as regular (a part of the landscape)
as the hardware store or the bodega,” he said.
Holstein talked about the balance between performance and
“We don’t have the time to rehearse as much as
we would like,” he said, “… we all have
administrative duties and we teach after school.”
Still, Holstein said he loves “all the aspects”
of working with Community MusicWorks, and that if he were
offered a plum full-time performing gig, he’d “really
miss the community aspect and the teaching.”
Holstein, like Pittenger, described his situation as the right
fit for him and his values.
“It’s created a lot of my values,” he said.
While Community MusicWorks is not something he’d want
to see franchised, Holstein did say he and his colleagues
“want more programs like this.”
The organization has a two-year fellowship program to help
make that happen.
“The idea,” Holstein said, “is that perhaps
they’ll be inspired to start something themselves. We
want more organizations like ours out there for sure.”
Adrian Slywotsky, conductor of the all-amateur New Haven Chamber
Orchestra, was a classmate of Hadari’s at Yale School
of Music, where he studied violin and earned his master of
music degree (he’s currently pursuing a second master’s
degree, in conducting).
“I’ve been watching Music Haven grow and I’m
impressed because it’s one of the most interesting projects
of its kind going on, as far as I’m concerned,”
Slywotsky said. “They have sort of made this commitment
to really embed themselves … and devote themselves”
to the New Haven community long-term.
On May 22, the New Haven Chamber Orchestra will join the Haven
String Quartet and Music Haven students for a performance
at the Fair Haven School. The program will include Bizet’s
Symphony in C major, Schoenberg’s Concerto for String
Quartet and Orchestra, and the world premiere of Netta Hadari’s
Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like, a piece
based on Jay Williams’ children’s book of the
Netta Hadari, Tina Lee’s husband, studied violin at
Southern Methodist University and the Yale School of Music.
He talked about composing a piece that would showcase the
New Haven Chamber Orchestra, Haven String Quartet, and Music
For the students, he said, “This will be the first time
playing in an orchestra with a conductor.”
Jessica Sack, president of the New Haven Chamber Orchestra
and a violinist in the ensemble, said Music Haven “gives
these kids a larger sense of the musical community that’s
in New Haven.”
“Our mission really involves community building,”
(Tina Lee) Hadari said.
To further that effort, Music Haven is looking for storefront
space in the Dixwell, Dwight, Hill, or Newhallville neighborhood,
with the hope that one day residents of those areas will be
able to say they have a string quartet in their community.
The comfort of creativity
Miya, a patient at Yale-New Haven
Children’s Hospital, creates art, even while receiving
treatment. Photo by Harold Shapiro.
“This is the first time my child has smiled here.
It’s one of the most common sentiments that parents
express to Janice Baker, founder and coordinator of the Child
Life Arts & Enrichment Program at Yale-New Haven Children’s
Hospital. For worried, tired parents, one smile can convey
everything a child may not be able to. It is a reminder that
behind the IVs, breathing tubes, bandages, or blankets, the
child they know is still in there somewhere.
Since its inception as part of the hospital’s Child
Life Department in 2003, the Arts & Enrichment Program
has explored each avenue of the arts, nurturing and comforting
over 4,000 hospitalized children and their families each year.
The Child Life Department, established in 1967, plays a critical
role in reducing fear and anxiety, improving the experiences
of hospitalized children through the use of age-appropriate
educational, therapeutic, and creative programming and activities.
While an average stay at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital
is only four-and-a-half days, some children have been there
since birth. Others are older children and teenagers who have
been in and out of the hospital their entire lives, battling
congenital disorders or long-term illnesses.
As Baker describes the various facets of the Arts & Enrichment
Program, a flurry of morning activity ensues. Bubbly staff
members wearing cheerful scrubs poke their heads into the
office to get updates about the day’s ever-changing
schedule of events: a story hour at 10:30am, a community music
circle with drums and singing in the afternoon, a spa night
for parents complete with a masseuse, relaxing guitar music,
and a catered dinner. And every day is as packed as this one.
Navigating the wide hallways, weaving around wheelchairs and
cots pushed by hurried nurses, Baker enthusiastically explains
the program’s different parts. A wide range of activities
including performances, workshops, art activities, story-times,
theater, and more are offered to patients, parents, siblings,
and visitors. The activity room where daily activities take
place is large, bright, and organized, filled with toys and
low, wide art tables. It’s a place of comfort. Kids
here are smiling, making spring flowers out of pastel cupcake
liners. A sign near the door reads: “Ouch-Free Zone,
No Medical Procedures.”
Music Therapy, another component of the Arts & Enrichment
program, is a form of therapy provided by a board-certified
music therapist. An established health-care profession, it
addresses the developmental, cognitive, physical, and social
needs of some of the youngest hospital patients who are individually
referred to the program. Music therapist Judy Engel holds
both developmental music therapy groups and independent therapy
sessions, visiting the rooms of children who are not able
to attend group sessions. She engages children in interactive
music-making, motor activities, and other areas of development.
Because she has been trained to work with children in this
way, Engel knows exactly what developmental milestones to
look for in their responses, observing small cues such as
how they move and where their eyes focus. Because children
in the hospital are often impeded in their development due
to medical circumstances, it is important that therapists
like Engel are able to engage them wholly, teaching and helping
them grow. While engaging children, therapists can further
assess each child’s individual needs for expression,
comfort, stimulation, or support, and use additional music
therapy interventions to return a sense of control to a child
Another important aspect of the Arts & Enrichment Program
is the Artists-In-Residence Program. The profes sional, highly
skilled artists who are involved explore various hands-on,
creative avenues with the children, often in their own rooms,
giving them a personalized way to express their feelings and
identities. Children and parents engage in special projects
that empower them to affirm their own identities and help
them cope with hospitalization and illness. One popular vehicle
for expression among older children and teens is Digital Storytelling,
coordinated by artist-in-residence Laki Vazakas.
A digital “studio” is brought to a patient’s
bedside. A teen can use it to create a video project using
words, music, and images. The patient’s family might
gather in front of the video camera to reminisce about a funny
pet or a cherished family vacation. When the project is completed,
patients and families take home a DVD as a reminder of a time
that brought them closer together and made them stronger.
“I definitely see their demeanor change,” Vazakas
explains, “when they get focused and engaged, they can
sometimes take their mind off the pain, and it’s a sense
of accomplishment. Kids feel really good about creating finished
video and taking home an artifact, in this case a DVD, and
being able to share it with family and friends. Despite the
tedium of the hospital and the lack of stimulation, they’re
able to engage and create something that’s meaningful
and that they can share with others.”
One mother, Kristy, whose daughter Alexa has been in and out
of the hospital since November, had positive things to say
about her daughter’s video-making experience with Vazakas.
“Together, they were able to make this beautiful DVD
that had all of my daughter’s favorite things,”
she said. “(Vazakas) had patience with her; he put so
much effort into it. It took her mind off her situation and
had her focus on something else.”
When asked whether the experience with Vazakas had changed
her daughter’s perspective on the hospital, Kristy explained
that her daughter “learned that there’s a lot
more out there in the hospital than just nurses and doctors
and people giving her more medication. It was very positive
Patients are often encouraged to build on their creations
over time: a child might write a poem or song and then create
a painting or video project on the same subject, exploring
the subject deeper and often developing a new perspective.
Vazakas often encourages patients to incorporate the art they
make with other artists-in-residence into the video projects.
“It’s fantastic when I’m able to collaborate
with other artists,” said Vazakas, “that’s
one of the magic things, that it can incorporate many different
forms of expression ... it really allows kids their own identities.”
In one popular project, poet-in-residence Aaron Jafferis inspired
teens to create a collection of poetry, hip-hop, and song,
binding pages together into a glossy, colorful Teen Poetry
Zine. Some of the poems are lighthearted and funny, such as
those found in a chapter titled “She Was Laughing (Tributes
to Family, Friends, and Pet Hamsters).” Some are heavier,
such as the chapters “Pain is a Pet Rhino (How I feel)”
and “Putting in the IV (What the Hospital is Like).”
Another creative endeavor, The Lullaby Project, was designed
by storyteller-in-residence Teresa Whitaker in 2005. Sitting
with parents by their child’s bedside, Whitaker would
often begin with the request, “Tell me about your child.”
She then guided the parents through crafting a unique lullaby
for their child. Whitaker writes in the project’s introduction:
“Each song in this booklet is the story of one child
and those who love and care for him or her. While so much
is out of a parent’s control during such a time, parents
are still their children’s deepest source of life and
love ... Truly all babies love nothing better than the sound
of their loved ones voices. A lullaby is the expression of
this love. Caregivers are often inspired to realize the power
of their own creativity as they bring forth a song that never
existed in the world before. The lullaby becomes a living
testimony to the beauty and spirit of their child and the
bond between parent and child.”
Included in the lullaby booklet is a CD recorded by parents
while cradling their child. In the background, one can hear
hospital monitors beeping and the low hum of breathing equipment.
Copies of The Lullaby Project and the Teen Poetry Zine are
distributed to other patients and parents who are having similar
experiences, providing a sense of solidarity. That solidarity
proves to be a source of resilience. Whether poetry or lullabies,
painting or dance, the Arts & Enrichment program is centered
on helping patients and children find strong voices within
themselves. As Baker and the rest of the staff have witnessed,
in a time when everything seems so foreboding and uncontrollable,
finding an internal sense of strength is often more comforting
than anything else.
For more information or to help provide arts programming
to patients and families, please contact the Development Office
at 203.688.4896 or visit www.ynhh.org.
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