The story of the founding of Project: Music Heals Us (PMHU) all comes down to a shard of glass.
It was December 5, 2013, the night before a chamber music concert tour across Israel, and violist Molly Carr, who is a member of Solera Quartet, had decided it was time to attack a stack of dirty dishes that had been collecting in the sink for a few too many days. It was upon completion of this daunting task that, to Molly’s horror, a neatly stacked glass bowl decided to hop off the drying rack and shatter itself into a million little pieces into her hand.
“During a three-month-long and viola-less process of somewhat discouraging doctor appointments and painful probings, I moved to Connecticut to live with my grandparents for a while and consider what direction my life might take should I never be able to play my instrument again,” Molly said.
Project: Music Heals Us Is Born
During this time, Molly took a nursing aide course with the American Red Cross, and part of that course included a residency in a nursing home. During this time, there was one very special patient, Ruth, with whom Molly had a special friendship. Despite being told Ruth couldn’t speak and was difficult to work with, from the moment Molly met Ruth, the two connected. Ruth spoke to Molly, from the first day of their interaction.
“It was here that the idea of Project: Music Heals Us was born: As I sat with her, I revealed that my alter-ego was that of a classical musician who lived in NYC and hoped very much to be playing the viola again soon - and I promised that when I COULD play again, I would come back and play for her,” Molly said.
Six months later, PMHU gave its inaugural concert at Ruth’s bedside, and they watched in awe as her body and face transformed from pained contortion and anxiety to calm and wonder while listening to a Mozart Viola Quintet.
“That concert reminded us of why we wanted to become musicians in the first place, and we were all moved and inspired by the visual exemplification of the power of music to bring healing and positivity,” Molly said.
Growth and Giving Back Through Music
Years later, as PMHU is now grown into a multi-faceted nonprofit organization with programming in many different types of venues, but what fuels the musicians is this same feeling of positivity and community that they experience after almost every concert or musical workshop, as well as the response they receive.
What began as a single concert at the bedside of a late-stage Alzheimer's patient in Connecticut has now expanded into prisons, refugee camps, homeless shelters, hospitals, hospices, food pantries, and other places where people are in great need of the human connection and inspiration that the live arts can provide, but are unable to access it themselves.
“Despite our very-difficult-to-remember name, we are a group of musicians dedicated to making the world a better place one concert, one person, one note at a time — and that there is nowhere we will not go to keep trying to do this!” said cellist and co-director Andrew Janss.
Benefitting Project: Music Heals Us
PMHU recently held its 3rd Annual Benefit Concert & Auction in New York City, a celebration of all that Project: Music Heals Us has become and accomplished over its first five seasons and 200 free outreach concerts and workshops.
The highlight of the night was a performance of Beethoven’s monumental Op. 132 quartet by the world-renowned Emerson String Quartet. The Emerson String Quartet was one of Andrew’s earliest and most important musical influences.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that recordings of the Beethoven quartets, Op. 130 and 132 in particular, are probably the reason I find myself a professional musician today,” he said. “It was beyond my wildest dreams to years later find myself being mentored by them … and even more unbelievable to now count them as friends.”
Shaping Her Artistry and Life
Molly’s experience of founding and growing a non-profit has allowed her to witness the effect the arts can have on the human spirit, which has changed how she thinks about her own music-making, her life and desires as an artist, and her goals in performance. After witnessing music’s ability to move coma patients to smile, tough inmates to cry, and refugees to dance and laugh in the midst of their sorrows, she think her priorities have shifted from striving for my best in life, practicing, and performing for the sake of a career to striving to offer her best as a gift.
“As I was shaking the hand of the Assistant General Secretary to the United Nations this year at a reception in honor of PMHU’s work in refugee camps around the globe, wondering how a little pipsqueak viola player from Reno, Nevada, had ended up at the United Nations in NYC, the face and voice of my former teacher Heidi Castleman flashed through my mind: ‘When you find what you love, you won’t remember fear’,” Molly said.
Learn more about Project: Music Heals Us on its website.