“Set free from myself” – 2015 Visit to Juvenile Hall

Much beloved return performers included pianist Christine McLeavey Payne, cellist Jonah Kim, violist Alexandra Leem, and violinist/violist L.P. How.  Making their Mim debuts were the acclaimed Danish pianist Katrine Gislinge and violinist Martin Beaver, formerly of the Tokyo String Quartet and luminary in the chamber music world. At near capacity, record numbers attended both nights. As is the custom at Mim we met together, some for the first time, and within the space of a few short days had to meld our voices. With Martin at the helm, it was truly eye-opening and inspirational. According to Peninsula Reviews, at the end of the performance “…the audience leaped as one to their feet giving a long and vociferous applause… Music in May… lived up to its much-deserved reputation as being one of the Santa Cruz musical high points of the year.” The public performances were the exciting culmination of our 8th annual Music in May season; although, the common sentiment expressed by all the musicians was that the highlight of their relatively brief time together was a private performance given earlier in the week.

Thursday May 28th marked a first and one of the most special performances in Mim’s history. All seven featured musicians, including our two pianists, performed for the youth detained in Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall. With no piano on site prior arrangements were made for Rebecca’s parents, Annette and John Jackson, to transport a giant, 80 lb keyboard to and from the facility.

L to R: John, L.P., Jonah, Katrine, Christine, Rebecca, Jennifer, Martin, Alexandra

Rebecca was introduced to assistant division director, Jennifer Buesing, through David Kaun (UCSC Economics Professor, Philanthropist, and Co-Founder of Mim). Following her introductory concert with Jonah Kim and Tiffany Richardson at the facility in December 2014, the following note from Ms. Buesing solidified her strong desire to continue to uplift this community through music: “The youth told me the performance was the most beautiful thing they have ever experienced. Some say that for that small period of time, they went on a magical ride, away from the stress of their situation. Some said they wanted to cry at how beautiful the music was…”

Alexandra Leem and Rebecca Jackson recount the May 28, 2015 visit:

Alexandra: I have always been a late bloomer. The older I get, the more I realize I am also slow with small things like reading & realizing MIM’s venues for 2015. Somewhere on it said ‘Juvenile Detention Center’ but it wasn’t until another musician questioned the general safety inside when the magnitude of this unfamiliar situation began to set in. Never having been to such a place, uncertainty loomed about. It’s a good thing we didn’t have a choice with the schedule. This was going to happen whether we liked it or not. I honestly thought it was ballsy of Rebecca: she wouldn’t subject Martin Beaver of Tokyo quartet to this if she hadn’t thought there was some kind of value from performing here.

Rebecca: Besides Jonah and myself, none of the musicians had ever visited any type of correctional facility and I could sense in them the same anxiety which I had felt when initially entering such an unfamiliar space. Some of the musicians wondered, “Is it safe for me to take my instrument in there?” After some reassurance, a description of what to expect, the required background checks and the signing of release forms, we all passed the first glass window and entered via two heavy armored doors. Even after 3 previous visits, I was again startled by the loud locking/unlocking sounds.

Alexandra: Our comfortable notions of our freedom suddenly became incredibly luxurious. I also had to fight back what I later realized was a primal sense of panic that started to build when I realized we were locked into the building: I couldn’t begin to imagine how the residents manage this for days, weeks or months on end.

Rebecca: Jonah had been very popular with the youth in December. As we unpacked our instruments, Jennifer immediately shared that Jonah had been voted by the youth as “volunteer of the year” and they were especially excited for his return.

Alexandra: I wondered how the staff, like Jennifer, could stand this every day, seeing boys in less than perfect situations. The staff was very appreciative, informing us how much music means to the boys. They hoped the boys would share some thoughts but weren’t sure if they would open up. These ladies spoke with so much compassion, like mothers, doctors, nurses, they wanted us to know what the youths go through in the way they spoke about them. I tried to soak it in, anxious to meet the kids. We were ushered into a common room past a ball court, it reminded me of my son’s school, as friendly as could be for what it is.

Rebecca: We performed movements of Mozart’s G Minor Viola Quintet & Franck Piano Quintet. Jonah and Katrine performed Faure’s Elegie.

Alexandra: The boys in their late teens sat in front of us with faces of my sons and their friends. They were just kids. It was heartbreaking to meet them in such an outwardly bleak place.

Rebecca: As we played, I was moved thinking about how these kids who were caught in a web of terrible outcomes were experiencing a concert by some of the best in the field, a special performance just for them.

Alexandra: The difference between a normal concert and this was that we played for a purpose that was other than to ultimately present ourselves in good light.

Rebecca: Once again, Jonah connected with the youth – not only through his usual crazy-fun banter, but also more deeply… he spoke of how the intensity of the music can bring forth sad and difficult memories that are not easy to reveal.

Alexandra: As Jonah and Katrine played, I admit I looked around at the boys’ faces. Maybe they were sitting and feeling like big guys but they also looked vulnerable. Some had their eyes closed, some reacted at climactic phrases, some looked numb.

Rebecca: I caught myself at one point (when I introduced and thanked my parents) feeling insensitive and worried about perhaps upsetting the youth, since some may have abusive family or no family at all.

Alexandra: The applause was louder for her parents than anything else. I have no words for it, it killed me.

Rebecca: The thought brings tears to my eyes right now….

Alexandra: The music carried everyone away from this place. I feel as though we had a few minutes of freedom away from everything. I don’t know what that everything is but I know we played for the reasons why we became musicians in the first place. We gave the boys pieces of our hearts.

Rebecca: It was not only special for the youth but also for us.

Alexandra: I left the center feeling hollow and bittersweet, but with a new perspective on life. What matters isn’t what I thought it was. It’s times like this we learn humanity and compassion means more than anything else. This experience helped us musicians as much as it gave boys a few minutes of refuge.

Rebecca: There had been an air of tension to start, but by the end all of our hearts had melted.  Being a part of that transformation was something I’ll never forget.

Alexandra: For me, it was the highlight of this year’s Music in May.

Email from Jennifer Buesing:

…I hadn’t realized that the kids clapped so loud for your parents, but I remember how they really did. It comes from such a respectful place. The kids appreciate you so much and of course wanted to share that with your parents. I sat with them today while they were eating lunch. I told them how I thought it was cool to meet your parents. They all smiled and agreed. One of them, who, like far too many, already is a parent himself. He told me he was going to be “that type of parent”, “going to be proud”.

The kids jokingly made fun of me because I couldn’t remember all the names of the instruments. Together they named them all off for me, and reminded each other the difference between the viola and the violin. They really are learning so much, on different levels. When I asked what the music brought up for them, some of the words were: adventure, therapy, love, mesmerizing. We spoke about how it was entertaining but therapeutic at the same time. One commented on how their experience was so real, yet realized that what it was to them was so different for someone else.

One said it was as if they were put in a trance and were let free. I asked him if he meant set free from the juvenile hall and he said, “No, set free from myself”.


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