Adam Christoferson

Sonic Waves

This past holiday season, nearly 70 homeless people gathered at Inspired Venue—now a wedding shop called Inspired Bridal—to sing about their troubles. The show, called “Inspired People,” was organized through Musical Intervention, a group founded to help people “write, record and perform music”—and achieve personal growth and enrichment along the way. It was the second such concert featuring songs written and performed by the city’s homeless.

From the street to the stage, there were many challenges, including a seemingly arbitrary eviction from a Crown Street practice space. But the singers, led by MI’s founder and leader, Adam Christoferson, were determined to see it through. The show went ahead, bringing in donations to help feed and clothe the performers right before Christmas.

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Lewiston at Long Wharf Theatre

Westville videographer Travis Carbonella recorded the turbulent, challenging road to the stage in the form of a documentary, set to premiere this Saturday at Musical Intervention’s open house event—a grand opening of sorts for MI’s new headquarters on Temple Street. As he played me clips from Carbonella’s documentary, Christoferson sang along with the music and danced in his seat, an exuberant look of pride on his face. In one portion of the video, he pointed out a woman named Kathryn, who was belting out a solo. He told me how she’d been trapped in a Kafkaesque limbo, without a single form of government-approved identification that could prove her identity and open the door to employment. With encouragement from Christoferson, who connected her with a contact familiar with the process, she was recently able to obtain a state identification card.

Kathryn’s case is a good example of how Musical Intervention works for its most needful participants. The “musical” part inspires people to express, confront and create something of value from their troubles. The “intervention” part encourages participants to take the steps necessary to improve their situations. While his organization often serves people in dire straits, Christoferson knows well that music is a universal—also universally therapeutic—language.

Christoferson first realized the healing power of music when, at 16, he was asked to organize a choir and public performance for women participating in Village of Power, a volunteer program that provided services to women struggling with substance abuse, homelessness, mental illness or HIV/AIDS. He later earned his degree in recreational therapy from Southern Connecticut State University and began mixing his love of music with his therapeutic know-how while working at the Yale School of Medicine’s Children’s Psychiatric Inpatient Service.

After years of running therapeutic music-making workshops with different constituencies, including veterans and at-risk youth, Christoferson committed to his path and, in 2015, officially founded Musical Intervention LLC.

Christoferson has personal ties to many of the afflictions he’s trying to help people overcome. Growing up on Rock Street in New Haven, he saw his then-single mother, Sandra, struggling to make ends meet—even beaten and robbed for her medication. Attuning him to veterans’ concerns, his father, Paul, is a Vietnam veteran; and a friend of Adam’s from high school came back from Afghanistan with PTSD. Christoferson also watched an old bandmate succumb to a heroin addiction—“devastating,” he calls it.

While music alone isn’t a panacea, it has the potential to kickstart feelings of hope and possibility, work through emotions and provide a sense of accomplishment. From his phone, Christoferson played me an example of his work with the APT Foundation, a rehab center in Bridgeport. The result of a mere two-hour session, it was not only listenable but genuinely enjoyable.

The folks at APT—many of whom can rap and sing—are particularly willing to make music, Christoferson says. That’s not always the case. “Some groups I have to bleed. I have to really encourage” them, he says, and “break down layers upon layers of a guarded heart to find the true essence of a person’s song. You’ve got to patiently wait for the walls to come down so that they can begin to feel comfortable expressing themselves. And once you get the ball rolling… next thing you know, you get a breakthrough.”

Today, Christoferson is trying to break through to the guarded hearts of New Haven’s grant-givers, as he tries to open Musical Intervention’s brick-and-mortar headquarters. He’s had to deal with a frustrating series of set-backs, including a proposed grant from the city that Christoferson says evaporated without explanation.

Despite it all, the project is coming together thanks to Christoferson’s youthful enthusiasm and dogged scrappiness. After closing, Atlas Restaurant donated its sign to the project and others are pitching in with chairs, benches and other furnishings. The $1,475 in donations that’ve come in via an active GoFundMe campaign have helped pay for sheetrock and supplies. He’s putting around 15 hours of work a day into the space, he says, with help from his father, who was in the other room plastering walls as we spoke.

As they race to prep Music Intervention for its ribbon cutting this Thursday at 1:30 p.m., the space has started taking shape. A listening station is set up with a rack of vinyl records and headphones where visitors can listen to musical greats. Several electric guitars stand in various corners, while acoustic versions hang on the wall. A drum kit is set up in the back room near a new glass booth, the control room for what will soon be a simple recording studio.

Even after the ribbon cutting Thursday and open house Saturday, there’ll be many hurdles left to leap. Christoferson, meantime, is maintaining a realist sort of idealism. “I have total faith that this is going to work,” he says, “but it’s scary as hell.”

Musical Intervention
23 Temple St, New Haven (map)
Ribbon Cutting: Thursday, March 31, 1:30pm
Open House: Saturday, April 2, 6pm
General Hours: TBA
(203) 676-4328

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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