THE ARTS IN EDUCATION
Music for the Homeless & Imprisoned
Although her resume boasts violin and viola performances at Carnegie Hall and recitals with famous chamber music groups and renowned soloists, among them Pinchas Zukerman and Arnold Steinhardt, not to mention numerous awards and international prizes, Helena Baillie doesn't readily refer to these achievements when she speaks of her "outreach" work, some of it in places most musicians rarely go: prisons and soup kitchens.
A slim, attractive young woman, with a poise and grace that hardly suggest the extraordinary power, passion and joy of her playing, she notes that she brings "the same intensity and attention to detail" to her preparation and performances for prisoners and the homeless, as she does for sophisticated audiences at Carnegie Hall. "To be beautifully prepared for an untraditional performance of this kind shows tremendous respect for the audience and creates a dignified experience." And what nontraditional populations they are: 400 inmates, all men, incarcerated at the Clinton Correctional Facility at Dannemora in upstate New York, and homeless individuals and families who find shelter at the Music Kitchen in New York City. She has, to date, made multiple visits to both.
London-born Helena Baillie, who comes from a musical family (brother Max is a musician and sister Martina has kept playing the piano while pursuing the law), credits her father, the celebrated cellist Alexander Baillie, with inspiring her to reach out. A professor of cello at Bremen Hochschule and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, he created a music series for youngsters in St. Albans, north of London, and she recalls how he would keep his audiences spellbound. To judge from the responses of audiences at youth concerts she presents, it appears that Helena has a similar effect.
Engaging people who do not have exposure to or experience with chamber music is not to try to wow them but to create a sense of community for them, and to engender in them a love of music that can enlarge their world. "No matter how humble a space, music can have a deeply humanizing effect." It can encourage reflection, evoke memories, build concentration and ultimately help develop a more rich inner life and greater emotional literacy, she explains. It was her long time mentor and friend, Sandy Lewis, who encouraged her to perform at a prison, she says. A "charismatic" man who owns an organic farm upstate and a person deeply committed to compassionate enterprises, he wanted to offer the inmates at Dannemora, the largest maximum security prison in New York State, "a profound concert experience" and he urged then State Senator Ronald Stafford to make it happen.
At Dannemora, performances are followed by Q & A. At one concert, a prisoner said that if he had had a chance to play "like that," he probably would not be in Dannemora. Another, though, Helena recalls with a laugh, confessed that he was reminded of having to practice the viola and hating it. Later on, after this particular recital, she was told that when she had finished playing, one man stood up and left in tears.
Her work at the Music Kitchen proves just as rewarding. She is part of a "Food for the Soul" program that brings "top emerging and established professional musicians together in order to share the inspirational, therapeutic, and uplifting power of music with New York City's disenfranchised homeless shelter population," and to do so in a "friendly and relaxed setting." Under the direction of Kelly Hall-Tompkins, an acclaimed violinist who performs with musical luminaries such as Mark O'Connor and Emanuel Ax, Music Kitchen brings high-caliber musicians to play during lunch hour. The program, says Helena, "is treasured by both performers and audiences."
As if all her professional concertizing and outreach activities were not enough, Helena is completing the first half of a two-year residency at Bard College as Artist Fellow at the Bard College Conservatory of Music, a position that allows her to continue reaching new audiences. At Bard she has worked with dancer Leah Cox, the Education Director of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Helena and Leah combined forces to present an unconventional setting of the Bach Goldberg Variations for string trio set to dance in a "dream" space; the Sosnoff Theatre of the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts. Helena invited audience members to share the stage with the performers, bringing them "in-the-round". This close proximity fostered a warm, intimate and inviting atmosphere without compromising the integrity of Bach's masterpiece.
And soon she'll be off to perform in Tokyo – and yes, in prisons and places for the disadvantaged there, as well. And for young people. Baillie Variations on a theme of dedication and expertise. #