Posted by Zhaomin Jasmine Chin
As a masters student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in a hectic one-year program, I was neglecting my musical practice as a singer-songwriter. I stopped playing the piano, only sang in the shower, and focused most of my time on reading educational theories and writing endless papers. So when I found out that I would be involved in a musical community partnership as part of my Music & Disability course - “Don’t just observe, be part of the community!” we were told - my heart leapt at this divine intervention. My partnership was with the JF&CS Tremble Clefs, a choral group for people with Parkinson’s disease and their care partners. During six rehearsals, I not only re-connected with music creation but truly experienced (what music educator Alice Parker calls) art-for-human’s-sake more than any point in my life.
I was a little nervous in the beginning, wondering, “Just who am I to come into this space that is so supportive for a distinct group of people that share a special bond?” I knew very little about Parkinson’s and I didn’t want to be invasive but I still wanted to contribute something. I very quickly learned from the first rehearsal that I could start contributing to the Tremble Clefs culture by simply listening deeply: to the intentionality behind building the program from program Director Nancy Mazonson; to the intentionality behind conductor Marilyn Okonow’s warm-up and song choices, rehearsal structuring, and encouraging guidance that bring out the joyful voices of the members; to the intentionality behind each member joining the Tremble Clefs, behind their presence and their singing, behind their honest expressions … Intention was everything. The intention to be inclusive, to empower, to be present, to be active co-creators of a shared culture, and, above all, to have joy. This intention resonated strongly with me every Monday morning that I shared with the Tremble Clefs and demonstrated what art-for-human’s-sake truly looks and sounds like.
And how can I forget the music: uncanonical, unpretentious, and unapologetic? From the resolute “Parkin’ Song” to start the singing, to the joyous “From Monday On” to conclude the rehearsal, with an undeniable sense of Tremble Clefs ownership; From “Camelot” and “Oklahoma,” to Carole King and Manfred Mann, and everything in between that brought cheers and excited murmurs to the choir. With each song, I felt a powerful affinity with the Tremble Clefs, as I was transported back in time to moments I shared with my parents while listening to 60’s hits; to moments of experiencing college productions of classic musicals... I had never felt more welcome.
Although I have finished my six rehearsals with the Tremble Clefs, I know that I want to continue making music with communities with intention and inclusiveness. I am ready to leave my days of isolated music-making behind.
Thank you, Tremble Clefs. Not for making me a better musician but for making me a better person as a musician.