Harmony for Heroes

I began Harmony for Heroes in March 2013. My son is an active-duty Marine (Combat Engineer). So, from our familial experience with two deployments, a Marine Expeditionary Unit to the Middle East, and a combat deployment to Afghanistan, I learned first-hand what Marine Moms go through in trying to support their sons or daughters through times such as those. I would always keep FaceBook Chat active, Skype active, answer calls on my cell phone when I didn't recognize the number, send endless care packages, and tried to keep the family up to date on the deployment.

During the Afghanistan deployment (2012), I sat at home on the edge of my seat or returned home from work hoping never to see uniformed military personnel appearing at my doorstep. After all, the Combat Engineers were removing IED's from the roadways. During these challenging days, I occupied my thoughts by searching my heart to come up with a way of tangibly showing our military members how much I love and appreciate all they have sacrificed for our country.

While attending Juilliard, there was a program in which I participated called the Community Service program. They sent Juilliard students, soloists and chamber music groups, to many different venues around NYC "giving back to the community." We visited hospitals, community centers, cancer treatment/support facilities, etc. So, with the responsibility of sharing our talent with those who may not have access to hear it live on their own, we were able to witness first-hand how much music can touch the lives of others. While trying to think of a way to show our military my appreciation, I thought what could be better than sharing classical music with them?

Once my son returned from the deployment safe and sound, I thought more about where would be an appropriate place to share. I decided a great starting place would be the VA Hospitals. Many military and their families visit these facilities every day for multiple reasons. Plus, there are two major facilities in the Puget Sound region. Perfect. I contacted the Volunteer Coordinator and he helped me get things set up.

The first concern was whether a piano (the instrument I play) was even available to use at the locations. We discovered a piano at each location and our piano technician at the symphony, Bob Dillinger, graciously helped us get the pianos tuned and playable. The instruments are nothing like what we have at the symphony but they accomplish the goal now.

My first visit was to the Tacoma/American Lake Living Center and my first guest was a clarinet student at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU). We played the Saint Saens Clarinet Sonata and the Copland Clarinet Concerto. The veterans loved it. My second visit, I decided to play piano solo music. This time I played some Chopin, Debussy, and Gershwin. Once again, very well received. At this point, the volunteer coordinator realized I was serious about this and suggested I take the Volunteer Orientation Class and earn an official badge. After receiving my badge, I went back to the Tacoma location and made my first visit to the Seattle location to play some J.S. Bach.

During all these visits, it was such an amazing experience to meet so many of our fine servicemen/women and hear their incredible stories. Most recently, I took my husband, Chris Olka (SSO Principal Tuba), with me. I'm looking forward to including as many of our orchestra members in this project as possible. And, as long as I accompany them to the venues, we can accommodate many different combinations of groups that are interested to participate.

I am hopeful that we will find someone to help us achieve 501(c)(3) status in order to provide some better instruments at the VA Hospitals and to expand the program. I would like to be able to share classical music in any way possible that would benefit our military and their families.

Facebook: Harmony for Heroes FaceBook Page

Kimberly Russ
Seattle Symphony, keyboard
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