Our goal is to improve lives through music making. When I reflect on this goal, I sometimes wonder if an hour of smiling, singing and dancing is “enough”. I keep coming back to the conviction that it is – and, also, that it isn’t.
The research scientist in me wants to make sure that the benefits provided by The Coffeehouse Project are observable and measurable. The pragmatist in me is forced to accept that “improving lives” can be very hard to quantify. We’re not curing cancer; we’re not even training world class musicians. We’re facilitating a bit of extra joy, a touch of self-esteem, a boost of confidence. Subtle benefits. We deal not in statistics but in smiles and tiny gestures.
For example, one week, a normally quiet woman who we make music with a couple of times per month at The Arc is, for the first time, belting out “This girl is on fire!” And she is beaming at me. She’s visibly proud. And it clearly matters to her that she has a witness to her accomplishment.
This week, a young man who appears to live mostly in his own world reaches out to take my hand and, briefly, makes eye contact with me because I’m singing him his favorite song. I know it’s not a fluke when he seeks me out a couple of more times during the session and, again, takes my hand and catches my eye. This is the third week we’ve worked together. This is the first time I’m sure it matters to him. The song was the catalyst that earned me his trust.
These tiny gestures are often the only way we know that we’re succeeding. Yes, of course, some of our students develop a new skill that they can share with their friends, and it’s wonderful and obvious; but, more often, the benefits of the work we do that we’re most proud of are much harder to notice and measure.
Those benefits are about connecting with others; knowing that you’re valued and visible. Music is the vehicle – connection is the point.