Music in Community

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Important update: Come raise your musical voices to support students and colleagues in Afghanistan on July 17, by attending and a Community Sing and Play-In for AFCECO at Church of the Covenant in Boston. You’ll hear great local artists, meet AFCECO founder Andeisha Farid, and participate in a huge community orchestra and choir. Click here for more info!!

Afghanistan Child Education and Care Organization

The Afghanistan National Institute of Music

New England Conservatory

The Kabul Rock Center

The Country Dance and Song Society


Why community is so important to me

In 2004, I moved to Boston, hit the road, and began touring with my band NotoriousFolk, spending as many as 200 days on the road each year. Our gigs were mainly small community folk dances and house concerts, so rather than spend our meager income on cheap motels and fast food, we almost always stayed with friends. In fact, many times we wouldn’t have a plan for housing until we got to the gig, where we would ask around and always come up with something.

I loved it! Staying with folks on the road introduced me to new traditions, foods, cultures, ways of living that I had never thought of. I loved the sharing of lives, sitting up at night chatting with hosts, hearing their stories: the ways that couples met (like our friends the rodeo clown and his psychologist wife), their ambitions and convictions, the shifts and changes in careers that people experienced. It opened my eyes to the myriad of ways that people live, and live well. Moreover, I came to have a home in many towns around the world, and that made the world itself feel like home to me.

I still tour, but not nearly as much as I used to, now that I am teaching full time at New England Conservatory and putting down roots in Boston. As I made that transition, I realized that the thing I missed most from my days on the road was the sense of community. I was settled in one place, connecting daily with a wonderful group of people, spending most of my hours in one of the oldest and most renowned music schools in the world…but I missed the sense of community. At a school like NEC, why were departments functioning so separately? Why were the classical musicians and improvisers not collaborating more often? And how come our school wasn’t acting as an arts center for our immediate community, indeed, for the entire greater Boston area?

In a conservatory, it is all too easy to isolate oneself in a practice room, or even in one’s own department. And although NEC students study and perform all kinds of music, the conservatory itself can often feel like an island in the middle of the city, frequented only by an elite group of cognoscenti.

Since I came to NEC in 2009 I have seen a lot of changes. It turns out that many folks at the school shared similar feelings of unease, and, thanks in great part to the leadership of Tony Woodcock, collaborations and community projects have begun to flourish in a truly beautiful way at NEC.

I recently began discussing this problem with other friends at NEC. Our conversation was prompted by a suicide bombing at a concert involving our friends in Kabul and our alarm at the rise of violence in Ferguson, in New York, in our own backyards. All of us agreed that steps towards a better world begin right in one’s own homes, schools, and neighborhoods. If we strengthen our own community, we will be able to spread that strength to other places.

Click on the links above to learn more about the communities where I live these days, as well as some other music and community projects that I know and love. Feel free to email me to let me know about your community, or to learn more about mine.