By Nick Kaye
Special to The Weekly
BANGOR — On the first floor of the Shaw House, there is a closet filled with musical instruments. It began with a banjo, guitar and bass. Now, it’s overflowing with steel drums, a keyboard, amps, a ukulele, shakers, tambourines and more. As a result, music has begun to play a large role in the lives of the homeless and at-risk youths who call the shelter home.
The first three instruments were purchased with money raised through the sale of ceramic and found-object pins created by Shaw House residents under the instruction of Professor Connie Albertson and her University of Maine art class. Since then, the presence of music has only grown.
Joe and Denise Shaw, owners of Bangor Brass and Woodwind Repair on Hammond Street, began working to provide Shaw House residents with more instruments earlier this year. The Shaws call music “medicine for the soul,” and believe that it will go a long way toward enriching the lives of those who seek shelter and services at the Shaw House.
The couple donated a number of old instruments that had accumulated in their home, and since then, they have started accepting unwanted or broken instruments through the Bangor Brass and Woodwind Repair storefront. They fix them up — with the help of their son Matt, who handles guitar repairs — and bring them to Rick Tardiff, program director for the Shaw House.
The Shaws have known Tardiff for decades. They are former neighbors, extended family and friends from “back when Bangor was a much smaller community.” Beyond that, they share strong convictions regarding young people in Bangor.
“We have a mandate to look after these children,” Tardiff often says, and the Shaws wholeheartedly agree.
The new musical instruments at the Shaw House have found their way into several aspects of residents’ lives.
Wednesday mornings are now weekly jam sessions. House residents gather in a room downstairs and trade turns on the various instruments. Some are well versed in music while others are picking up instruments for the first time. In all cases, they pour themselves into the music.
A recent jam session began with a rendition of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine,” and twisted and turned through several classic rock songs before becoming something wholly original.
Tuesdays afternoons provide a more structured opportunity for the Shaw House youth to pursue their musical ambitions under the guidance of Chris Betts. Betts is the teaching principal for the Carleton Project, a nonprofit program that offers teens who have had trouble adapting to traditional high schools a second chance at an education and diploma. The Carleton Project was founded in 1999 as an alternative private school in Presque Isle, and began to offer in-house education to Shaw House residents two years ago.
“Experiential learning is one of the new buzz words around education today, and music engages students with many tactile learning options,” said Betts. “I have not met a student who doesn’t express a desire to want to learn to play some instrument.”
The Tuesday group looks different every week, with Betts helping each student pursue the instruments and techniques he or she is interested in.
Betts hopes that the Tuesday music group will culminate with the teens recording an album together and offering it to the public both to raise money for future programs and to heighten awareness.
“I think this music would come from a unique perspective that often doesn’t reach the general public. We all have heard the statistics about homelessness, but to connect to an emotional message would be very empowering for those who listen,” he said.
Betts and Tardiff have already spoken to Andrew Clifford, owner of Main Street Music Studios in downtown Bangor, about at the project. Clifford has agreed to donate his facilities and time to help the Shaw House achieve its goal.
Many Shaw House residents have taken it upon themselves to pursue their musical ambitions beyond the Tuesday and Wednesday groups, working with the instruments throughout the week. Some have even begun to play covers and original work at the Thursday open mic nights offered by the Union Street Brick Church, which is located next door to the Shaw House.
Although the Shaws have already collected many instruments for the music programs, Tardiff and Betts are always looking for more instruments to provide additional outlets for Shaw House residents to pursue their creative ambitions.
A survey of the Wednesday morning session provided a short wish list — a violin, flute, sitar, drum kit, and electronic mixing and production equipment — but the group agreed that any and all donations would be highly appreciated.
Donations can be brought to Bangor Brass and Woodwind Repair, 611 Hammond St., which is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Shaw House also has expressed an interest in music instructors who would be willing to donate their time toward the youth who call the Shaw House home.
For information on the programs and services offered by the Shaw House, visit theshawhouse.org.