As a member of Syotos, I have been a part of Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections Program, which offers diverse musical experiences for people in healthcare settings, correctional facilities, and homeless shelters across New York City. This is an article about a concert we performed with some very talented people following a three month songwriting workshop.
Songs of Their Lives: Uptown Seniors’ debut as composers
How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
By Heidi Evans / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Published: Wednesday, January 11 2012, 7:03 PM
If you’re a senior from Washington Heights or the Valley Lodge homeless shelter uptown, Carnegie Hall comes to you.
This past Tuesday night, the stirring music and lyrics of 17 budding songwriters were performed before a cheering crowd at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse on Convent Ave., the culmination of a unique collaboration sponsored by Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections.
“I was floored,” said Chris Washburne, whose eight-piece Latin jazz band SYOTOS helped make the elder composers works come alive with fabulous harmonies and rhythms during a three-month workshop.
“I was skeptical at first,” he added. “The result was way beyond my expectations. In the end, I think I learned more about music going through the process than maybe even the participants.”
Under the direction of composer and Juilliard instructor Thomas Cabaniss, and a women’s pop and cabaret trio “The Lascivious Biddies,” seniors from the ARC Ft. Washington Senior Center on 174th St. and the Valley Lodge shelter on W. 108th St. met weekly since October for the songwriting workshop.
They wrote about love (Rhoda Weston’s “The Warmth of Your Love”) ; about growing old and invisible to men ( Ruth Baez’s “They Don’t Look At Me Anymore”); about punishing pace of New York ( Ronald Cavallo’s “I Need to Leave the City; ) about happy childhood memories (Emalyn Caliva’s “116th Street – Shuff-a-lin Fast”).
In one number, what began with the simple instruction “Complete the sentence: If I Could……” evolved into “Si Yo Pudiera” a rousing group song with a gorgeous melody written and sung onstage by the nine Ft. Washington seniors: “If I could get into your heart, I would dare to live that passion…”
Wearing a black and red pinstriped suit and red bowler hat, David Broxton, 74, of Valley Lodge, kicked off the evening with a standard he wrote called “Autumn Love.”
“A lot of people have the idea that shelters are dope dens, but most people are trying to turn their lives around,” said Broxton. “I’ve gained inspiration and self worth that I can do something good in this workshop. I have a talent to produce music people would enjoy.”
If critics had come, they would have declared the evening a triumph. More than 200 people gave the debuting songwriters a standing ovation by evening’s end.
“It’s an ignition of joy,” said Cabaniss, of the experience for the seniors and musicians alike.
Miriam Canaan, a retired and widowed social worker, wrote a swinging, salsa number that Washburne said his band will take on tour: “Temor a Amar – Afraid to Love.” While her son, Hassan, looked on proudly, Canaan took center stage to sing and sway to her creation.
“Oh my God, did I write that ? said an incredulous Canaan, 67, when she first heard the arrangements of horns and harmonies. “I’ve been wanting to do something like this for such a long time. I hope to God it continues.”