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Violist Molly Carr spent summers in Guilford and it was here that she came to heal an injured hand five years ago, and became inspired to found Project: Music Heals Us. A unique project fundraising concert is set for Nov. 17 at Guilford First Congregational Church. (Photo courtesy of Molly Carr )
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For many talented musicians, Molly Carr’s enviable position on the Viola Faculty of The Juilliard School, Precollege Division (New York) and Academia Ivan Galamian (Malaga, Spain), as well as with Solera Quartet (quartet in residence, University of Notre Dame), would put a very satisfying check beside some lofty career goals.
But for artists seeking inspiration to use their gifts to help others, Molly’s Project: Music Heals Us, now in its fourth season and a newly minted non-profit, sets a shining example. Molly says she owes it all to a twist of fate that injured her hand and sent her back to her summer home of Guilford to heal.
To support the project, Molly returns to the shoreline for five annual fundraising concerts with her accomplished artists and friends. All proceeds fund the project’s “healing concerts” performed throughout the year at Connecticut nursing homes, hospitals, hospices, homeless shelters, and prisons.
The next fundraising concert, set for Friday, Nov. 17, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Guilford’s First Congregational Church, breaks new ground for the project. Featuring three cellos and an acoustic drum set, classical music will ring out, but audience members should also come prepared to hear rock innovations such as a treatment of the Game of Thrones theme song, says Molly.
“Every concert to date has been solely standard chamber music repertoire—Beethoven, Bach, Brahms; names people know. Last year, when I was programming this season, this idea came up because of my cellist of my string quartet, Andrew Janss. When he’s not playing with my quartet, he’s been with an ensemble, Break of Reality. So he’s bringing a cello rock band,” says Molly. “This is also the first concert where my friends will kind of take over. It’s the first that I’m not actually playing.”
Molly’s experienced several firsts this year, from achieving non-profit status for the project to working with the project’s new board of directors, and pulling in even more assistance from talented friends such as Janss, who recently became the project’s director of prison outreach.
The idea to bring the healing power of music to those “who need it most” great grew out of a single visit to a nursing home Molly experienced while she had come to Guilford to recuperate from an injury, she says. Her dad, Richard Carr III, grew up in Guilford with her grandparents, Richard Carr, Jr., and Sally Carr. The Carrs lived in their Fair Street house for close to 60 years before the couple moved to Madison about two years ago, where another son, Mike Carr, also resides.
“So all growing up, it was sort of my other home,” says Molly. “My family was very spread out across the country, so they made a decision that it was going to be the family home base. Every August, all of family would gather together and be in Guilford.”
At age 26 Molly was injured by glass shards that became embedded in her left hand, after a glass she was washing broke. She didn’t know if she would play viola again, and underwent several surgeries.
“I came back to Guilford to heal,” Molly says. “My grandparents were still in their Fair Street house—at that point, with home health aides morning, afternoon, and night—and right before this accident happened, they lost their nighttime nurse. So it seemed perfect timing: If I couldn’t play, I could come out and help my grandparents.”
Assisting them opened a deep channel of compassion in Molly.
“I thought, ‘This feels wonderful, it feels really good.’ If I can’t play again, I can do this,” she says.
She signed up for an American Red Cross nursing-aide certificate course and met the woman who motivated her to establish Project: Music Heals Us. That woman wasn’t an instructor. She was client in a nursing home, with a reputation for being difficult.
“Part of the Red Cross course was a residency in Hamden. I was assigned to a woman who was in pretty bad shape, and I was warned repeatedly that she was really tough to work with and could only scream to communicate,” Molly recalls. “I was told get in, get the job done, and get out. My first reaction was, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t just do that. I have to be with this woman for at least a couple of minutes.’”
Molly sat down with the woman, held her hand, and “just did nothing. She looked right at me and spoke in full sentences and scared the pants off me! And every time I saw her for the rest of the week, she would do the same. I just fell in love with her,” says Molly.
On her last day of residency, “I told her I secretly was a violist in another life, and hoped I could play again—and if I could, I’d bring my friends back to perform for her,” says Molly. “The next day, I called my mom and said I knew what I wanted to do.”
To get Project: Music Heals Us off the ground, “I just attacked it and knocked on doors with my knees knocking, with no idea of how this would work out, trying to be a grown up with no idea what to say. Six months later, we had our first concert,” says Molly, who took three months off from play during her recovery.
The work of running a foundation has many demands, but she and her project outreach musicians are grateful to have the opportunity to share their music to help others heal in mind, body, and soul.
“First off, playing with my friends—basically, my musical siblings—is always a joyful and very fulfilling thing, and when you add that to going and playing for someone where you play 10 notes and there’s almost an emotional, physical reaction to what you’re doing—that makes any of the work and time put in all worth it,” Molly says. “Actually, all of these friends and musicians have said they’re so grateful for the opportunity to remember the power of music, and why it is that you do what you do.”
Molly manages to stay at the center of the project as executive and artistic director on top of a busy career and performance schedule that includes many travel demands. About two weeks ago, she returned home to New York City from Spain, where she spent a week in Valencia rehearsing with her duo partners.
“So much of the time, you’re performing in fancy halls” with an audience prepared to appreciate—and sometimes judge—the caliber of performance, says Molly. “But when you go play the same pieces at a nursing home or a prison, the reaction is people are crying, they’re on the edge of their seats the whole time, and asking really meaningful, incredible questions. So from both sides, the audience side and our musician side, it’s a really meaningful, fulfilling project.”
Solera Quartet is the project’s prison outreach quartet and Molly and her friends recently performed two full-day interactive concerts for more than 100 inmates in Danbury Federal and Radgowski Correctional Institutions in Danbury and Uncasville. Following the September concerts, project musicians came to Guilford to play an impromptu concert at St. George Church and donated all proceeds Hurricane Harvey victims; then played a Sunday afternoon performance at The Hearth Retirement Community in Madison.
The musicians often share stories of the composers they’re performing with their audiences, to give insight to the music. That’s one of the reasons Molly brings Beethoven to prison performances, she says.
“What we’ve found in the prisons is the story of Beethoven, and his life and struggles and choice to persevere, and his music—once you know the story, it has had the most incredible effect on the inmates. He came from a broken home with an abusive father and fought legal battles; he [went] deaf, he was completely isolated and struggled his whole life. He went through so many things similar to them, and yet he chooses, all the time, to keep creating something beautiful, for as long as he can.”
The story telling has become so powerful that, for the first time this year, the project is expanding into a full, week-long residency. With only the music of Beethoven acting as the catalyst, the program will work with prisoners who may be inspired to interact with poetry, song, hip-hop, picking up an instrument for the first time, or perhaps to be reunited with one.
“We’re going in with select few [prisoners] to jam and break down chord progressions,” says Molly. “We’re actually going to be joining forces with the former director for prison outreach for Carnegie Hall, who wants to get involved. It’s actually his format we’re using. It’s our first attempt at something very new and unusual.”
The new week-long educational residency will take place at McDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in January 2018, during which the Solera Quartet will be joined by Carnegie Hall’s Daniel Levy to not only perform for the inmates, but also teach, improvise, compose, and perform with the incarcerated students.
The public is invited to support Project: Music Heals Us at a performance at Guilford First Congregational Church, 122 Broad Street, on Friday, Nov. 17, from 7 to 9 p.m. Ticket donation, $20 at the door, includes after-concert reception with healthy refreshments including gluten-free desserts. To learn more about the project or to make a donation, visit www.projectmusichealsus.
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