Walk down Temple street in downtown New Haven and you’ll find a little storefront called Musical Intervention.
Inside, a few dozen people are singing songs or playing music. Some of the performers face or have faced serious issues like homelessness, addiction or mental illness.
The therapist who founded Musical Intervention says he did so to give them a place to tell their stories.
Adam Christoferson has had something like this in mind since he was a teenager. He graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with a degree in recreational therapy. First he put together an open mic night at a soup kitchen. Then he tried to expand, but it didn’t work out so easily. The owner of his next venue kicked him and his musicians out.
“He’s like, you can’t have these people here, they have to leave,” Christoferson says. “He was obviously referring to people who are living on the streets and have to carry quite a bit of baggage, in multiple senses of the word.”
Christoferson got a deal on this small storefront and fit it out with walls lined with musical instruments and a stage.
“Capturing these memories, capturing these troubles and putting them into a melody and into a song, it’s just helpful to get it out of yourself,” Christoferson says. “And then you have other people listening to it. It’s always nice to be heard.”
Tina Smith is a regular here. She lost her home in Superstorm Sandy. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She found Musical Intervention at her lowest point and decided to perform – even though she’d always had stage fright.
“Even though I was burdened with the sickness, so much of me that was hidden came from the burden,” she says. “And now I feel like I can fly.”
Smith’s life is better now. She’s in recovery after a mastectomy, and she’s no longer homeless. And she writes some of her own music now. She sits in on a songwriting circle every Thursday afternoon, when about a dozen people share the songs they’ve written.
Daniel Taylor is another member of the circle. He says they’ll often open the hour by talking about how their song came to them.
“Like me, I have to wait for a melody come to mind, then I start writing down,” he says. “Some people wait when they’re just living in a moment. Others get their inspirations from their own lives or other people or their surroundings.”
Taylor is a college student who recently came out as gay. He came to Musical Intervention because he wanted to find a way to tell his own story.
“I knew that I wanted to write an LGBT song,” he says. “I wanted to reach out to a very wide, broad audience. So going there kept the fire going for me. Just the applause and the compliments that people gave, it was really something incredible.”
Founder Adam Christoferson says you don’t have to show ID or get a referral. He’s happy to pick up a guitar or a microphone and work, or play, with anyone who walks in off the street.
“The most amazing people have been coming in each day, transforming not only my life but the lives of other people,” he says.
And Musical Intervention has started something new recently: there’s recording equipment in a small studio so musicians can preserve their music forever.
This project is a collaboration between WSHU Public Radio and Sacred Heart University's School of Communication and Media Arts.