By Sally Cohen and Len Lear
Chestnut Hill area resident Keisha Slaughter, a music therapist, will join the professional musicians of the Mt. Airy-based Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra to perform the musical masterpiece, Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9 (Ode to Joy),” at the Dell Music Center, 2400 Strawberry Mansion Drive, on Saturday, June 21, 7 p.m. Slaughter, 26, a flutist and native of New Orleans, has performed with several local bands.
At The Dell, Keisha, who has lived in our neighborhood for five years, will be playing with Black Pearl’s professional musicians, who were trained at leading music conservatories around the world. Admission is free.
“I love playing the flute and very much value shared music making in general,” said Slaughter. “I was inspired to pursue this opportunity by what I’ve heard and read about the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra and have loved the chance to participate in this project.”
Slaughter is one of 18 musicians and choral singers from Greater Philadelphia hand-picked to join Black Pearl after rigorous auditions and months of demanding rehearsals. It will be the culmination of the chamber orchestra’s “City Wide Side-By-Side” program, made possible by a $50,000 matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
“When people see others like them pursuing their dreams, it becomes contagious,” said Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra’s founder and music director Jeri Lynne Johnson, of Mt. Airy. “We hope that when folks from the Chestnut Hill area see Slaughter tapping into her own creativity and doing something she loves, they will be encouraged to pursue their interests and realize their dreams.”
Slaughter was a music therapy major at Loyola University in New Orleans, went to grad school in Vermont and is currently completing a training in vocal psychotherapy at an institute in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is now a full-time, board-certified music therapist. Right now she is working at a juvenile justice residential treatment facility and also has a part-time job at a girls’ group home.
For those who might wonder what a music therapist does, Keisha provided this example: “There was this one student (15-year-old female) I worked with several years ago who was struggling with issues related to poor self-image and low self-esteem. She could be relatively withdrawn, shy and highly critical of herself. She enjoyed singing, so I asked her to choose a song that had special meaning for her, something that resonated with her on a deeper level.
“She chose Miranda Lambert’s ‘The House That Built Me.’ For weeks we talked about the song, both the music and its lyrical content. I helped her make connections between themes in the song and parts of her identity and various life events. We worked together on singing this song. I accompanied her on guitar and supported her vocally.
“As she developed her confidence and connection with the song, and as our rapport grew, her voice became stronger and more full. You could tell she was really starting to take pride in her progress. After one of our final sessions, she said, ‘Hey Ms. Kei(sha), you know, I do have a voice, a strong voice. I just have to learn how to use it.’ That really warmed my heart and stayed with me.”
In addition to her music therapy, Slaughter is a singer, songwriter and instrumentalist. She performs her own material with her own (evolving) band around Philadelphia. She also picks up freelance work when/where possible. Her website, currently being revamped, is http://keishaslaughtermusic.com
It has been decades since classical music has been heard at the Dell Music Center, which was built as the summer home of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1929. “Beethoven’s final complete symphony was his call for people of all nations, colors and creeds to come together in a spirit of universal brotherhood,” said Susan Slawson, first deputy commissioner recreation and programs, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.
Composed in 1824, Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9 in D minor” is one of the most well-known and beloved pieces in the classical canon. It was the first symphony to use singers and can be heard in movie scores as far ranging as “A Clockwork Orange,” “Dead Poets Society,” “Die Hard” and the 2008 remake of “Get Smart.”