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DSO members make music with foster children

May 22, 2013

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Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians Caroline Coade, Sheryl Hwangbo, Eun Park and David Ledoux speak with young women in foster care before performing two pieces chosen by the girls.

SOUTHFIELD — Whether you’re a seasoned musician, like Detroit Symphony Orchestra member Caroline Coade, or making music for the first time, like 15-year-old Jaini S., a local girl who has been in the foster care system for 10 years now, performance can be a powerful thing.

Music brings people together. It can be a way to express oneself and, in this case, raises awareness. On May 17, Southfield’s Shriners Event Center was resounding with the sound of music from a special concert that partnered DSO musicians with Detroit-area youth living in foster placements.

“This was their first exposure to live instruments, certainly to professional musicians and to classical music,” Coade, who has played the viola since age 14, said. “I think it will be a real eye-opener for them. They realized it’s not inaccessible, and what an incredible opportunity that is for them.”

The collaboration was hosted by the Judson Center, a nonprofit human services agency that specializes in child welfare throughout southeastern Michigan. Five girls between the ages of 12 and 17 partnered with five DSO musicians, who personally worked with them to explore the meaning of music and pass on a few musical techniques.

According to Janice Morgan, public relations officer for Judson Center, this was the first time the youth were featured in such a performance.

“They had no experience, no musical background. … This event is not about training, but about engagement,” she said, adding that this was a new event, initiated by the DSO and funded by the Filmer Foundation. “They received a grant to help them reach out to kids who wouldn’t normally get exposure to the symphony, so they called us.”

Since the kids are around the same age as when Coade found her instrument of passion, she believes the program may have an impact that really sticks with the girls.

“I do think it will now be a lifelong interest of theirs. Maybe they will listen to classical music, maybe they will be able to identify the instruments, maybe they will even learn an instrument,” she said. “The beautiful thing is that now they relate on a personal level.”

Jaini found a new sense of pride in the show, she said.

“The applause was most exciting. I liked being what made the show special.”

For the collaboration, the five youths who displayed an interest in music were chosen through the Judson Center to work with a DSO string quartet, which Coade was part of, and then an additional session with percussionist Joe Becker.

Quartet members mingled with the young women on two different occasions to discuss the importance of classical music and composition, and then allow the youth to select two pieces to be performed by the musicians at the concert.

“We had a bunch of music and shared it with them, saying, ‘Hear this. What do you think of this? How does this make you feel? What kind of emotion does this make you feel?’” Coade explained. “Then it was familiar the next time they heard it at the concert.”

Chosen was Mozart’s Divertimento in B-flat Major because the girls said they loved the “happy, joyous feeling of the music,” according to Coade, and Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5, whose folk melodies gave the girls a “dancing feel” throughout.

Coade, also an instructor at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, said she felt the quartet’s role helped to break that “invisible” barrier between the stage and the audience, allowing the girls to feel a part of the performance, even from their seats.

The hands-on part for the youth came with Becker’s grand finale, recreating a drum set onstage and having each girl take a different part, or sound. Together,  they performed contemporary composer Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music.”

“I thought Joe was an incredible instructor for them,” Coade said. “It came off beautifully. … The young women had great poise and presence and a steady rhythm. They showed true confidence when they finished; it was a true accomplishment for them.”

A memorable moment for Coade herself was seeing the girls beatbox, or create vocal percussion sounds, “incorporating the rhythms with their physical being,” she explained.

Jaini said after the show that once “Clapping Music” was performed and they all began to improvise on stage, that’s when she really felt the spotlight.

“My favorite part was when we got to make our own beat with the drums and put our own taste into it,” she said.

The event overall aimed to raise awareness about the 14,000 children in Michigan in the foster care system at any given time, according to the Judson Center. The performance was free and open to the public to attend, and information was given about the need for families and homes where the children can feel safe and cared for.

“The event speaks to the power of music,” Coade said. “It’s a universal language; in the beginning, these young women were quiet and nervous, but by the performance, they were excited to talk with us and very warm. That’s the point of music.”

For more information on becoming a foster parent, including the training and licensing process, visit the foster care page on

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