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Listeners at Boston homeless shelters sparked this Shelter Music Boston project

On Wednesday, the ensemble will offer a public concert of its latest project, ‘Songs of Life,’ featuring four new pieces inspired by songs suggested by shelter audience members

Adrian Anantawan, artistic director of Shelter Music Boston, plays violin at the Putnam Square Apartments residence owned by Homeowner's Rehab Inc. Shelter Music Boston plays concerts in shelters for the homeless, substance recovery centers, and other community locations in and around Boston.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

CAMBRIDGE — As rain spattered the windows of Homeowner’s Rehab Inc.’s Putnam Square Apartments building on a recent Monday afternoon, violinist Adrian Anantawan warmly greeted the small audience of residents that had gathered for an hourlong private string quartet concert in the 11th-floor community room. You’re about to be the first audience to hear this piece, he announced, and the quartet played composer Anthony R. Green’s “A Snug Glove.”

“It’s different!” hooted one woman in response.

Since its 2010 founding, Shelter Music Boston has been playing live music in shelters for the homeless, substance recovery centers, and other support centers for low-income, disabled, and elderly people. The majority of Shelter Music Boston concerts are restricted to residents, guests, and staff of the facilities the group visits, but on Sept. 27, the ensemble will offer a public concert of its latest project, “Songs of Life,” featuring four new pieces inspired by songs suggested by shelter audience members.

According to Anantawan, who took over artistic directorship from founder Julie Leven in 2021, the team was inspired to do “Songs of Life” after several audience members at shelter concerts asked for specific songs. “Like, ‘Can you play this piece of music? It would be really fun for a string quartet to play for us,’” he said. “So we wanted to respond to that by creating brand new works based on audience feedback.”


The result was four commissions from Green, Francine Trester, Ché Buford, and Sato Matsui, each based on songs that shelter clients earlier this year suggested for their associations with feelings of peace, sadness, joy, or hope.

When Green attended a concert in the past at a shelter near the troubled intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, he felt that the group “definitely created a safe space for anybody to come and enjoy the music,” he said.


This inspired him to work with Shelter Music again. “I’m always quick to finagle my schedule to make sure I can do stuff with them,” said Green, who used A Tribe Called Quest’s 1990 hip-hop jam “Can I Kick It?” as a foundation for “A Snug Glove.”

Putnam Square resident Gloria Ezorsky applauds during a concert by Shelter Music Boston. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

“What compels me is to take music where it’s needed and treat everyone with respect,” Leven, who now sits on the organization’s board, told the Globe in a 2018 interview.

Is music truly “needed”? Perhaps not in the same sense that food or housing is necessary. But according to Jesse Edsell-Vetter, the director of resident services for HRI, music is nonetheless a resource that helps people thrive.

“We’re in an extraordinary housing crisis where there simply isn’t enough housing to go around,” said Edsell-Vetter, who has worked in affordable housing for 25 years and joined the Shelter Music board in 2020.

HRI focuses first on “providing housing as a home base, but making sure that people feel connected in all possible ways to the community around them,” they said.

For many residents of Putnam Square, which features 94 units of affordable housing for elderly and disabled people, “getting across town to Symphony Hall would be very, very difficult.” Furthermore, said Edsell-Vetter, there’s “lots of really strong data” detailing the dangers of social isolation on physical and mental health. So HRI brings the music to them.

Going by the reaction after the recent concert, the Shelter Music events are having the intended effect.


“Art is always good for the spirit,” said one resident, a composer of Hindustani classical music who has lived in Cambridge for 50 years. Another described the music as “a healer.”

For Gloria Ezorsky, 91, Shelter Music’s concerts don’t just offer opportunities to hear “amazing” music. Whenever she attends, she said, “I see people that I didn’t even know lived here.”

While the residents chatted with each other and munched on a spread of post-concert snacks at a table near the back of the room, the quartet quietly packed up and slipped out. Their next concert, across town at the CASPAR Emergency Services Center, would be starting soon.


Saint Cecilia Parish. Sept. 27, 7 p.m. Free; registration requested.

A.Z. Madonna can be reached at Follow her @knitandlisten.