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Music Without Boundaries brings the sounds of the homeland to new immigrants in St. Louis

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Anita Barker, Maureen Byrne and Christian Woehr discuss Music without Boundaries

A musical collaboration between the International Institute of St. Louis and the St. Louis Symphony will have the sounds of Syria, Somalia, Palestine, Bosnia, Congo and Cuba streaming from the gym at the institute come May 3.

The purpose of Music Without Boundaries is to make immigrants new to the area feel welcomed by connecting them to the sounds of their homeland.

For Maureen Byrne, the director of community programs at the St. Louis Symphony, the collaboration was a logical fit.

“Even among our orchestra members, we have many different countries represented,” Byrne told St. Louis on the Air contributor Steve Potter. “Music is from all over the world. It is a common language. You don’t need to speak English to come to Powell Hall and enjoy a concert. It has always had that tradition.”

Anita Barker, the vice president and director of education at the International Institute of St. Louis, said that the program gives immigrants and refugees who attend a feeling of affirmation.

“One of the students from Iraq, at the end of one of the concerts said: ‘The concert helped us to be in an another world, to relax, to be happy and to help us forget our issues. We are thankful for this,’” Barker relayed.

Barker has worked at the Institute for 24 years, where she says she serves about 1,400 students annually through her education programs in English language, computer and citizenship. On average, the organization serves between 7,000-8,000 immigrants a year.

Christian Woehr is the music director and music arranger for the String of Arda as well as a violist for the St. Louis Symphony. His group will perform selections he has arranged from various countries on May 3.

One of his favorites is a piece from Somalia, that is being played in honor of two soccer players who just arrived to St. Louis from the country, which has experienced decades of instability. The soccer players were recently profiled in Sports Illustrated.

“I look forward to being introduced to the music of a country I haven’t encountered before,” Woehr said.

One of the most touching moments of such performances is at the end when Woehr encourages members of the audience to come talk to him and sing any melody they can remember of songs back home. He then uses these melodies to compose future Music without Boundaries selections.

Related Event

What: Music Without Boundaries Annual Concert
When: Tuesday, May 3 at 11:00 a.m.
Where: International Institute of St. Louis, 3401 Arsenal St., St. Louis, MO 63118
More information.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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