Christmas with the ASO is here but it’s not only at Atlanta Symphony Hall. Many of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians are performing free concerts around the city to celebrate the holidays and give the gift of music to the public. One group of ASO musicians, the Franklin Pond Quartet, recently performed at Clyde’s Kitchen, a soup kitchen for the homeless that is part of Crossroad Community Ministries in Midtown Atlanta.
The Franklin Pond Quartet is comprised of four long-term ASO musicians: Jun-Ching Lin, 1st violinist; Carolyn Hancock, 2nd violinist; Paul Murphy, viola; and Danny Laufer, cello. The particular quartet has more than 100 years of service to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and more than 10 years together as a group.
As many ASO musicians do, the Franklin Pond Quartet performs for free at unexpected places around Atlanta. Following their concert at Crossroads, they were also headed that day to the Decatur Library, for one more concert. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra pays for these concerts through its Musicians in Communities program.
In addition to making community appearances, the quartet also teaches at the Franklin Pond Chamber Music, a program for older children that focuses on teaching them how to be a part of an ensemble, including conflict resolution. It is obvious the quartet practices what it preaches because you can see their synergy when they perform. In between pieces, there is laughter and light banter between them.
The quartet performs about six times a year together, each requiring hours of practice, according to Paul Murphy. When asked about his favorite community events, Murphy said, “For me it’s this one, hands down. The guests and the staff are always so appreciative and we are so appreciative of what Crossroads provides for some of the less fortunate in our community.”
The performance is exceptional, as you would expect, mostly familiar holiday pieces, but also some Gershwin and a piece written by a former student of Danny Laufer. Over the years, the quartet has recognized what pieces the audience best appreciates. It is part of a “sixth sense” Murphy said the quartet has developed from years of playing together both with the ASO and as a quartet.
One older guest was eager to talk about music they selected. He grew up in a musical family and he said his instrument was his voice. He worked in theater for a while, even performed in The Geisha, his only appearance in an opera. He made sure he had a good seat to see the musicians and asked if the lockout was over (he was pleased to hear it was). Most guests don’t stay the full hour Clyde’s Kitchen is open but this gentleman lingered the entire time, smiling as he ate.
As one younger gentleman left, he said, with a big smile on his face, that he loved classical music . He likes Für Elise, he said, because he is deaf in his left ear, and often relies on vibrations to “hear” the music, just like Beethoven. He wanted to stay a little bit longer but he had to find his friend. He wanted to get his friend who was homeless into the Crossroads program too, but his friend didn’t show up, which worried him. “At least I got to hear the music,” he sighed.
Most of the guests at Clyde’s Kitchen looked tired and wary. The overnight shelters push them out at 5 AM so by the time brunch is served at 10 AM, they have been out in the 36-degree weather for hours. Some came in wrapped in blankets instead of coats, or wearing slippers for shoes. Strollers with babies, some only a few months old, were parked around the family tables. A large Christmas tree is set up by the main door but it doesn’t have any lights or decorations.
Being background music in this environment is not daunting to the musicians. They have been performing here twice a year for six years, as part of the ASO community outreach program. This particular audience is important to the quartet, according to Danny Laufer, “because music can ease your soul when you are going through hard times.”
There was some applause during the performance but it was sparse. This is not unexpected, according to Stan Dawson, executive director of Crossroads. When the quartet first appeared at Clyde’s Kitchen, he was very nervous. Most of the guests are not familiar with classical music and when they arrive at the shelter for the meal, many are not “in the best mood,” Dawson explains. The calm, quiet environment during the quartet’s performance is unusual for a typical meal, but it is welcome. For all the wonderful services Crossroads provides, they can’t provide the soothing peace the quartet does. “It’s an emotional lift that we can’t fabricate,” said Dawson.
Wayne Vason, chairman of the board of Crossroads heartily agrees. He hopes to add a piano to the dining room so guests can enjoy live music more frequently. He particularly enjoys watching the children react to the musicians. According to the Crossroads website, about 21% of the 3900 people Crossroads assists each year are women and children. Vason describes his favorite memory of the quartet as when a volunteer last year coaxed some children to approach the musicians. As they watched the musicians in awe, Vason figured they had never seen musicians playing instruments. He wonders about what impact that one brief moment of seeing musicians playing live will have on them.
The quartet understands the importance of those small moments. Being able to connect with the audience in a different way is something each musician expressed as a reason for doing the community events. Jun-Ching Lin says community events don’t have “the theater of the concert. It’s not about the visual experience, it’s all about the music.” The quartet agrees that wearing less formal attire than when they appear at Symphony Hall makes them more approachable to the audience.
The hard reality is that few people who receive services from Crossroads will ever be able to purchase a ticket to see the ASO at Symphony Hall. Seeing the Franklin Pond Quartet may be as close as they come. Laufer knows some community events help attract new audiences but the overall goal is to “share the gift of music and getting in touch with the audience by going to them.”
Carolyn Hancock says being seen in public carrying her violin case to and from events inspires people to ask questions and that connection is important as well. Although she did say that one night after a concert, one person followed her around Kroger curious if her 200-year old Vuillaume was a machine gun. Hancock particularly lights up when she talks about teaching, which she believes is another important aspect of giving back to the community. Her generous nature goes beyond sharing music. When Dawson greeted Hancock before the Crossroads’ performance, she quietly pressed a check into his hand.
The guests of Crossroads won’t receive many gifts this year. But thanks to four dedicated musicians, they did receive the gift of music. We also commend the other ASO musicians who are sharing their talents with the community this holiday season, many of their events for those less fortunate. It’s the real Christmas with the ASO.
Marshall Peterson, an Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus member, is creating a video on the Franklin Pond Quartet’s appearance at Crossroads. Please stay tuned to Save Our Symphony Atlanta for the release of this special video.
For more information on the ASO’s community programs, please visit: http://www.atlantasymphony.org/EducationAndCommunity/Community.aspx
For more information on the Franklin Pond Quartet and the Franklin Pond Chamber Music program, please visit: franklinpond.org.
For more information on Crossroads Community Ministries, please visit: www.crossroadsatlanta.org.