Classical violinist performs concerts at Skid Row with ‘Street Symphony’: Deceptive Cadence: NPR

Vijay Gupta performs with some of the professional Street Symphony musicians at the Midnight Mission on Los Angeles’ Skid Row.

David Zimmerman


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David Zimmerman


Vijay Gupta performs with some of the professional Street Symphony musicians at the Midnight Mission on Los Angeles’ Skid Row.

David Zimmerman

Some of the best music playing in Los Angeles right now is happening on Skid Row. street symphony is an organization that brings professional musicians to clinics, homeless shelters and prisons clustered in and around one of the most devastating concentrations of urban poverty in the United States.

“Street Symphony was born out of both curiosity and recognition,” said the founder Vijay Gupta. He first discovered Skid Row after joining the LA Philharmonic as a 19-year-old violin prodigy. The dazzling steel-clad concert hall of the orchestra is located about a mile and a half away.

Longtime Skid Row resident Linda Leigh speaking at a recent Street Symphony performance.

David Zimmerman


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David Zimmerman


Longtime Skid Row resident Linda Leigh speaking at a recent Street Symphony performance.

David Zimmerman

Gupta was shocked by the poverty and neglect he saw in Skid Row. Injustice and inequity overwhelmed him. He was also troubled by what he saw as the airless insularity of the classical music world.

Weeks before an upcoming gig, Gupta sat outside the Midnight Mission on a circular concrete bench, behind a security barrier that separated patrons and staff from a community of people living in tents and sleeping on sidewalks outside.

“It’s a 12-step recovery shelter,” Gupta said. “And one of the things I’ve learned from being here for 10 years making music is that we’re all recovering from something.”

Singer Scott Graff and oboist Aaron Hill perform with a Street Symphony ensemble.

David Zimmerman


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Singer Scott Graff and oboist Aaron Hill perform with a Street Symphony ensemble.

David Zimmerman

As a child, Gupta said he felt tremendous pain and trauma. He was for a while able to compartmentalize that pain while reaching dizzying heights as a musician.

“When I first saw Skid Row, I felt like a hypocrite,” he said. “I felt there was more to my life as a person, as an artist, as someone who could belong to the larger fabric of this new city than just being on stage. from a room where I was coming to life. And so I kind of came to Skid Row for myself. I came to Skid Row to figure out what my own shadow was.

A Street Symphony preview of his “Project Messiah” at the Midnight Mission in 2015.

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Gupta came up with the idea for Street Symphony as a healing balm, a bridge between two divergent worlds. At first, he said, senior officials at the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health were skeptical of the project. He found support from social workers.

“It’s like, here are these classical musicians, but they really cared,” said Luis Garcia, who now sits on the board of Street Symphony. He was counseling mentally ill parolees on Skid Row when he first met Gupta. Garcia found himself impressed with an organization that did more than come, play a little music, then leave. “It’s not like they’re strangers. They’re part of the community,” he said.

A recent Street Symphony performance at the Midnight Mission featured a world-class singer performing Bach’s glorious “Cantata No. 8”.2.” The the music is based on a biblical story. An elderly holy man has the chance to cradle baby Jesus in his arms, and the experience fills him with happiness. He announced, “I’ve had enough” – in German, “Ich habe genug” – which means he is ready to die in a state of spiritual grace.

A storyteller was also on stage: Linda Leigh, 75, a longtime resident of Skid Row. She told a delighted audience that she got her own room key after being on the street and how moved she was to find two chocolates waiting for her on her bed. “I felt like someone gave me grace,” she said. “And that was enough.”

“This job taught me to expect miracles,” Gupta said. “Everyone who lives here at the Midnight Mission is a miracle for the fact that they are still breathing. And I would actually say that each of us has our own miraculous story that we can only really find when that story comes in the service of someone else.”

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