Every Tuesday, Beyond Boulders runs a five-question interview with either a current Schweitzer Fellow or a Schweitzer Fellow for Life (ie, a Fellow whose initial year with ASF has been completed, but whose commitment to lifelong service continues).
This week, we talk with 2007-2008 Boston Fellow and New England Conservatory student Adam Levin, whose Schweitzer project was a multi-dimensional outreach program encompassing healthcare, education, and community welfare. At Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, he led a weekly music discussion and performed a musical program comprised of unique classical and flamenco traditions spanning the past 300 years for participants. He also started an after-school guitar workshop for students at English High School in Jamaica Plain. Levin, who was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship after his Fellowship year, is currently living in Spain.
Why did you develop your particular project?
My particular project, taking place at Hebrew Senior Life Rehabilitation Institute and English High School, gave me an opportunity to broaden my humanitarian scope by introducing classical music to the lives of people who have either been cut off from the cultural mainstream owing to crisis and unforeseen misfortune, or have been denied access to it owing to economic or educational constraints.
My repertoire represented diverse musical traditions with which any audience already had some familiarity and sense of musical relatedness. I performed on an instrument, the guitar, that is deeply embedded in all American life, from pop culture to the classics. It was my intention to teach as well as perform. I was not looking simply to provide entertainment.
Almost anyone with an interest and a degree of dedication can learn to play something pleasing on the guitar. The effect is both humanizing and encouraging of mastery — something surely missing from the lives of many persons comprising underserved populations.
The guitar is an instrument for which many people in America share some affinity and affection, though relatively few have had exposure to classical guitar. Persons who would rarely think of attending a recital of string players or orchestras are charmed by the guitar and curious to hear most any style of music being played on it. It is, in other words, an ideal “gateway instrument” into the world of Bach, Albeniz, and Walton.
Underserved public schools are often limited in the number of art programs they can fund; thus many students go through middle school and high school without an arts education. My classroom performances allowed students to listen and respond to a form of music they may have never encountered before, and may have inspired students to pursue creative pursuits outside the classroom.
Music produces a range of palliative and enduring health and cognitive learning effects; it provides a basis for social effect; it provides a basis for social relatedness between others in disconnected or alienated groups; and it provides a voice for the heart, a medium of emotional expression, exchange, and mastery.
What was the lasting impact of your project on the community it served?
My service project provided a model for future music students to continue doing outreach both in culturally underserved areas of the community where people might not have ready access to the arts, and in community healthcare facilities in which cultural contacts tend to be interrupted for extended periods or interrupted altogether. The frequency of my visits to each site ensured not only that the community felt a sense of unity and common cause with people around them, but also a sense of well being, revitalization, and possibly even inspiration for a new perspective on life–especially in the case of the elderly rehabilitation patients.
An indomitable characteristic of this service project is that another New England Conservatory student followed in my path and is finding further ways of enriching the areas of the community to which I was dedicated.
What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?
The underinsured will soon surpass the number of those who are uninsured! There are an estimated 25 million people in America who are underinsured right now. This means people are either going into greater debt to get the required healthcare, or are forgoing it all together. This problem needs to be addressed at a global level in America by reforming the healthcare policies that are posing threats to Americans attempting to access the system. Especially, in a time of financial crisis, the ability of the uninsured and underinsured to pay out of pocket is even more difficult.
What was the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow?
Even though most of the Schweitzer Fellows carried out projects pertaining to themes quite different then my own project, there was a sense of common purpose. We were all looking to contribute to our communities in a way that would foster growth, knowledge, and, in the problem areas, prevention. The most surprising element of my experience was the support and inspiration that I received from the other Fellows. Through boulders, obstacles, successes, and new ideas, my Fellowship always offered me the support where I needed it. The diverse experiences shared by the Fellows gave me insights into what I thought was previously impossible or encouraged me to explore new means of accomplishing my goals in fun, interesting, and creative ways.
It was also quite surprising how Schweitzer’s image and legacy have remained vivid in my imagination as I mature in my young career as a researcher, advocate of music, educator, and performer.
What does Albert Schweitzer’s legacy mean to you, and how have you carried it with you since your initial year as a Fellow drew to a close?
This Fellowship allowed me to become a community leader, while offering members of the community a glimpse of an art form that has brought peace, unity and integrity to my family and to my life. This Fellowship was also a major benefit to my education because it offered exposure to Fellows from every discipline and background, which allowed me to learn about other service projects and how other Fellows are contributing to the community.
This Fellowship secured lifelong friendships and liaisons to different lines of work and service outreach that I pursued beyond the duration of my own project. My community project encouraged me to assemble multiple music programs that I have used in performances before other diverse audiences. The most important thing that I gained from this Fellowship was a sense that I have pioneered a service that can be used as a blueprint for future outreach projects.
Also, the Fellowship and Schweitzer legacy integrated my interest in healthcare and music. It contributed to the preservation of an endangered art form. It was an incredible opportunity to develop an education model for reintroducing musical exposure to the lives of school children, and facilitating an early imprinting of classical music on the guitar. It was also an opportunity to do research toward broadening our understanding of the palliative and rehabilitative effect of music in rehabilitative settings.
ASF’s Boston program was founded in 1991. Since then, over 400 Boston and Worcester-area Fellows have devoted over 80,000 hours to health-related community service projects in their local areas. This year, 25 new Fellows from the area’s top health and human service schools have been selected to join their ranks, each partnering with a local agency and devoting more than 200 hours of service to communities lacking access to adequate health services—click here for details on the new Fellows’ projects.