By Tim Leininger for CT Examiner — 11.3.2023
OLD LYME — “Any project like this requires a great deal of trust. We come in not knowing what to expect, but trusting that music is such an unparalleled tool to activate people’s creativity,” said Brad Balliett, a bassoonist for Decoda, a collective of chamber musicians based out of New York City.
Decoda and Musical Masterworks in Old Lyme — now in its 33rd chamber music series — have partnered for their second annual community engagement event with workshops and performances in the area from Nov. 6 to 19.
“We do chamber music concerts around the world, including a series at Carnegie Hall,” Balliett said. “We work with young classical musicians that are interested in strategizing about how to bring their art to their communities, and we do these creative community projects in a lot of different settings.”
Balliet, the former artistic director of the group, said Decoda currently comprises about 30 musicians who play chamber music together as well as teach and perform as soloists and in other ensembles. Members also conduct songwriting projects at schools, hospitals, shelters, and prisons.
For the two-week community engagement event that includes visiting schools, nonprofits and a prison, Decoda will bring two teams of four, each team visiting for one week.
The first week will start at Robert E. Fitch Senior High School in Groton, where members of Decoda will conduct songwriting workshops with composition students and the high school band.
On Thursday, Nov. 9 at 6 p.m., Decoda will hold a concert at Fitch High School, featuring a number of the student composers and performing selections of their work.
That week, Decoda members will also be working with students at Waterford Country School in Waterford.
“It is an amazing non-profit with students that can’t thrive in a regular school environment,” Wendy Hayes, managing director of Musical Masterworks told CT Examiner. “We do songwriting workshops with them.”
She said Decoda will hold a private performance on campus for the students, performing music written by the students.
“They walked out so excited about it,” she said of last year’s event. “It was phenomenal. It was so meaningful to be a part of it.”
Balliett said that last year it took time for Waterford students to warm up to the process of working with Decoda musicians.
“You work slowly over the week hoping for some transformational moments… Most of the kids by day three were ready to go and come in with their new lyrics and new musical ideas,” he said.
Also during the first week, Decoda will visit Vista Life Innovations at 1356 Old Clinton Road in Westbrook.
“They’re an organization that does programs and pathways to independence for the neurologically diverse,” Hayes said. “They start at 18 years of age. We’ll be doing several workshops with them.”
The first week ends with a free concert Sunday, Nov. 12 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. at the Lyme Youth Services Bureau at 59 Lyme St. in Old Lyme.
Create Music Together
The second week, beginning Nov. 13, will be a music workshop held at the Cheshire Correctional Institution in Cheshire.
Hayes said she was touched last year hearing stories from members of Decoda talk about visiting prisons as part of their workshop efforts, and Musical Masterworks decided to expand the community engagement event by collaborating with Cheshire Correctional Institution.
Balliett said Decoda will run a songwriting project in the prison.
“The goal is to help people write a song they’ve always wanted to write and to work in groups and create the music together,” he said.
He said he’s done dozens of projects like this in prisons across the country.
“What they have in common is you can count that there are going to be some talented musicians in the mix and there will be some people who will be new to it,” he said. “It produces a lot of good results. We always end up with more music than we can comfortably perform in a concert over a week.”
The workshops at the prison involve musical games, songwriting as a large group and then writing in smaller ensembles, he said.
“We teach each other the songs so we can perform the songs together and at the end of the week we have a celebratory concert together,” Balliett said. “Most of the time it’s like a community concert where they bring in other residents to see the concert. If we’re lucky they can bring friends and family in as well.”
This is the first time Decoda will be at Cheshire Correctional Institution.
“We’re going to learn as to what’s possible at Cheshire,” he said. “They’re very enthusiastic and seem to be doing everything they can to make it as memorable an event as possible.”
“My hope is that the participants will feel more connected to their community and feel like they are part of a larger community that includes Decoda and Musical Masterworks,” Balliett said.
“Also they’ll gain some life skills around concentration, collaboration, and setting a goal and meeting that goal.”
He said he hopes the program will remind people that there are many incarcerated people in the world and they have something to say and have a platform to hear what they have to say.
“I would hope it broadens people’s understanding of what chamber music is,” Hayes said. “It is a current vital growing changing musical form and is accessible to everyone. There are so many ways you can be a chamber musician.”
The second week will end with a free concert Sunday, Nov. 19 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church at 82 Shore Road in Old Lyme.
Week One Concert
Sunday, November 12
Lyme Youth Services Bureau, 59 Lyme St., Old Lyme
1:30 to 2:30 p.m, Free
Week Two Concert
Sunday, November 19
St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, 82 Shore Road, Old Lyme
2 to 3:30 p.m., Free
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