Classical guitarist Matt Carvin still remembers that afternoon three years ago when his student quartet first performed at My Sister’s Place, a Baltimore day program for homeless women and children. The walk to the shelter was a short distance that seemed a world away from Peabody.
“The room where we performed was set up to make the women feel comfortable, with couches and a fireplace—a very non-concert-like setting for us,” Carvin recalls. “We played the ancient lute, we had a soprano there singing in Spanish, and I remember watching them watching us, seeing the attention on their faces as we explained the relationship between the guitar and the lute.”
“That performance showed me how much I had been taking for granted,” Carvin says. “My life had been practice, practice, practice, play a concert for a tuxedoed audience in a concert hall. As an artist, I suddenly had an opportunity to fill their day-to-day lives with the same kind of thinking and creating I did when I played music at Peabody.”
Out of that concert grew the idea for The Creative Access, Peabody’s first student outreach initiative. Carvin started the project in 2004 as a way for his fellow classmates to clock more stage time in an altruistic way—through volunteer performances in and around Baltimore at shelters, hospices, and schools.
Since then, students have indeed found more places to play, logging 100 performances during the program’s first year and 150 performances during the 2005–2006 academic year, and people with limited access to cultural events have been treated to top-notch performances by young artists on the rise.
“Music students often spend their entire training performing in concerts and practicing, isolated in practice rooms,” says Raymond Ou, Creative Access’s advisor and Peabody’s director of Residential Life and Conference Services, whom Carvin approached to get the program up and running. “Creative Access allows performers to present their talents to the masses, and helps them develop critical interpersonal skills in connecting with the public.”
Looking back, Carvin says the impact of that first concert at My Sister’s Place was immediate—and lasting. “I view outreach now as a vital part of being a musician, and I couldn’t be anything but a musician,” says Carvin, who earned his master’s degree in guitar performance in Spring 2005. Now a year out of Peabody, Carvin devotes the majority of his time to overseeing day-to-day operations of The Creative Access as its director, while also teaching guitar lessons in the afternoons and evenings.
Carvin has assembled a pool of approximately 150 performers, with a core of 30 students who perform on a monthly basis. Each event is arranged by one of five or six “site coordinators,” like Carvin or saxophonist and composer Cory Kasprzyk (MM ’05, saxophone; MM ’05, composition), a founding member of the group, who handle all the logistics—from making the date to coordinating transportation for the student musicians.
Most events involve ensembles of three or four students, though sometimes there are bigger or smaller groups, depending on the venue and the repertoire and fortes of the artists. “It’s typically 60 percent playing, 40 percent talking about what we are playing, what we feel about the music in very basic terms,” Carvin says. “We are not lofty, in fact we avoid that because we really want classical music to be an accessible thing.”
Ou agrees. “Creative Access helps musicians learn how to demystify the art of music making.”
Says Kasprzyk, “We try to make each concert as interactive and personal to the specific audience as possible. Our audiences may hear a well-rehearsed string quartet followed by ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame,’ as a sing along.”
Administrators at places like the Maryland School for the Blind in Baltimore and Gallagher Services for the Developmentally Disabled in Timonium, Maryland, describe the Creative Access site coordinators and students in glowing terms and say they are grateful for the way the Peabody students expand the musical horizons of their clients.
“Music is a common language,” says Jim Hillman, manager of resource development for Gallagher Services. “It doesn’t matter what type of music it is, people find it interesting and it enriches their lives.”
Hillman responded to an e-mail Carvin sent to Catholic Charities in early 2004 when The Creative Access was in its infancy. “Many extremely talented students here are eager to gain performance practice and also share the hard work that they put into their art with others,” Carvin wrote. “What they lack are places to play and ears to listen.”
“That’s what was appealing to us,” Hillman says. “We are always looking for ways to bring the world in for people with developmental disabilities. Because of their limitations, they don’t get to have the exposure that the rest of us can have, and any experience we can bring them is wonderful. For them to be able to go up to the students afterward and ask questions is really important.”
The situation is similar at the Maryland School for the Blind, where Creative Access plays four times a year for students ranging in age from five to 21, says Norene Hinson, recreation arts specialist.
“They each get something different out of it,” Hinson says. “The [Peabody students] will sometimes allow them to touch their instruments or even come up and sing at the microphone. The last time they came, they brought a harp, and I know the kids had never had a chance to check one of those out.”
The local success of The Creative Access has Carvin thinking beyond Baltimore—he envisions the project becoming a model that others could use. For now, he’ll continue his weekly meetings with Ou to discuss, coordinate, and strategize outreach opportunities for Peabody.
“The most worthwhile investment of my time in this project is helping others,” Carvin says. “There are certainly musical goals for the Creative Access, but I think the fact that we’re out there, volunteering our time for others is what remains in the foreground. What if everyone used their respective skills to help other people?”