Melvin says he didnt do very well the first time he came
to a microphone at a shelter, but he was better the next time, having
followed the Minstrels to another event for a second chance to sing
before an audience. That night the Minstrels asked him to become a member,
and now hes a regular. He sings at the open mike at the Cantab
Lounge in Cambridge, MA, and made his professional singing debut before
an audience of 300 this year. In 2003 he was invited to join the Silver
Leaf Gospel Singers, a group with more than a half-century history that
opened the Newport Jazz Festival. Thanks to The Boston Minstrel Company,
Melvins second career is taking off. Many who perform with the
BMC say they havent done such a thing for decades -- or ever,
At Shattuck Shelter and at the New England Veterans Shelter,
tuning into the beat of the Minstrels music, residents have often
asked to play drums. Invariably, they impress residents and Minstrels
alike. One beautiful July day a resident sat listening impassively,
a sullen expression on his face. He stepped away briefly and returned,
sitting closer to the drums this time. Suddenly he rose to whisper to
the drummer, who stepped aside to let him play. He sat down to test
the drums and began to play, and within minutes he began to shine, his
eyes and body active, a wide smile gracing his face for a few festive
songs. He seemed revitalized, from the inside, out.
On another sweltering summer day Tim was having trouble getting
people to join in the singing. One man sitting apart from the other
residents seemed to be paying no attention to the Minstrels music.
After much cajoling by several Minstrels he finally got up, strode to
the microphone and said, Give me a B-Flat, after which he
burst into song in a voice reminiscent of Nat King Cole!
Several shelter residents have joined the Minstrels. Serena
had been a suburban housewife and was finalizing a divorce. She had
part-time work, but she was having trouble finding housing, had lost
her dog and totaled her car. Because she had no home for her children,
they went to stay with their father. Her life had spiraled downward
into despair. She began to sing with the Minstrels, and since she started
singing she has found a job and a new vision for her life. When she
sings, she says, Pain and frustration go away, and she imagines
new possibilities. When she strides into a new venue with the Minstrels
and begins to sing, she has a role in helping the crankiest to cheer
up. She loves seeing the wary relax and begin to enjoy themselves.
The Minstrels songfests have lasting impact on the people
they meet. Even after months of absence, when the Minstrels arrive at
the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Framingham, inmates remember
many Minstrels by name. One Minstrel chatted with a female inmate at
Framingham, a mother who had lost her privileges and was unable to call
her children to wish them happy birthday. On the next visit, when the
Minstrel asked about her children and called her by name, the woman
burst into tears because he had remembered. Seemingly small moments
can impact lives.
One manager at a transitional housing site used to play classical
music, later moving into rock and roll. After hard times and experiencing
many losses over 35 years, he abandoned music, finding himself on the
streets for a year. As he pulled his life together, he began to work
with the homeless. One night, on hearing the Minstrels sing at the residence
where he works, he thought they were great, so he talked to Tim about
his history with music, and Tim invited him to join the group. Some
months passed, and Ralph finally woke up and said, I gotta get
back into music. Its always part of all I care about and lifts
me up. And its great fun!
That day three years ago marked an important turning point for
others, as well as Ralph. He soon enlisted several residents at his
independent living site to join him as members of the BMC. Singing has
consistent healing power. Ralphs friends especially enjoy returning
to shelters and streets theyve been able to leave and helping
others. Minstrel music is powerful in building self-esteem. As Ralph
says, Until youve been homeless, you cannot imagine how
healing it can be to sing for those who are where you once were, and
giving back! His residents even go camping with the BMC group,
another first for many of them.
At Boston Minstrels' songfests, celebration and healing take place.
Lives are enhanced for both audiences and Minstrels at BMC events.
BMC goals are similar to music therapists and include: