Peabody Johns Hopkins University Magazine

Bringing Music Where Life Is 

Bringing Music Where Life Is 

Master’s student Ledah Finck (center, with glasses) wrote a piece that was performed by the Peabody String Sinfonia, a student-led ensemble.

A special project at Peabody is “bringing music where life is” —  including to cancer patients, people facing homelessness and addiction, and children with autism.

The Peabody String Sinfonia is the brainchild of faculty artist Maria Lambros, a violist who teaches chamber music at the Conservatory. “We are getting so much from these audiences and experiences, and it has been truly transformational,” says Ms. Lambros of the Sinfonia, which launched last fall and is funded through a Dean’s Incentive Grant.

Crucial to the group’s mission is the opportunity for students to learn how to play in a conductorless ensemble, says Ms. Lambros. Different principal players have learned how to share the leadership, take turns leading, and play different parts. The group mastered a core repertoire of 13 pieces — mostly standard rep, with some new compositions.

Just as important: The students have learned how to present the works in an approachable way and to be responsive to audience feedback. Their work with guest artists, including members of chamber groups Decoda and A Far Cry, helped in that learning process.

Performances were held at Hope Lodge, medical facilities for cancer patients who have traveled from out of town for cancer treatments; Baltimore Station, a residential treatment program supporting veterans; Helping Up Mission, which helps men fighting addiction and homelessness; and the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup, Maryland. Faculty artists Violaine Melançon, Michael Kannen, and Victoria Chiang also collaborated with the group.

Students and faculty members alike were struck by how much the audiences loved all of the pieces they played — classics and new works. They responded most to a composition by group member Ledah Finck (BM ’16, Violin), a master’s violin student and composition minor, titled Redtail, about a peaceful, quiet road near her home in North Carolina.

“There was a special element of being able to speak completely personally about this piece and to answer questions about how I wrote it and why I wrote it,” Ms. Finck says.

“The way I was able to make it relevant to every scenario was by offering that bit of personal background and then inviting the audience to participate and share their sense of a safe and tranquil space. One person told me that it reminded him of riding a bike with the wind in his hair.”

Performances by the Sinfonia continue into the spring semester, with a concert for children with autism and their families, and repeat appearances at Helping Up Mission and A New Day Campaign.

Senior violin and composition double major Nick Bentz, a member of the Sinfonia, says: “Every concert left me feeling happier than the last as I saw our audiences forget their differences, their situations, and their unfortunate circumstances, if only for a couple of minutes, and come together. I truly cannot over-state how much this opportunity has meant for me.”

— Margaret Bell