Orchestra Performs Outside Of Milwaukee Emergency Rooms To Provide Healing Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Jul 31, 2020

Hospitals have been some of the places hit hardest by COVID-19.

For months now, doctors, nurses and other staff have been working to save the lives of patients sickened by the coronavirus while also keeping themselves safe. A group of Milwaukee-area musicians has been offering comfort by providing hospital workers a way to escape — if only for a few minutes. 

The Black String Triage Ensemble was formed to provide spiritual and emotional healing by playing at the scenes of shootings and overdoses. But in recent weeks, the musicians have added emergency rooms to their list of venues.   

The Black String Triage Ensemble played outside of the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin earlier in July. The number of children contracting COVID-19 is on the rise.
Credit LaToya Dennis

When the group shows up, the goal is to allow people to unburden themselves, says the ensemble's founder and musical director, Dayvin Hallmon.

“It’s the permission to grieve so that you can on the other side of that collect yourself and continue to go about your day. We are the release valve. Our job is to catch the tears as they fall,” he says.

Hallmon's orchestra has been playing outside of hospital emergency rooms across Milwaukee. On a Friday night earlier this month, the musicians were set up outside the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. There has been a spike in the number of kids contracting the virus. 

The first song of the night is “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.” Hallmon says the program is designed to take listeners through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. 

The orchestra, made up solely of Black and brown string players, performs music by Black and brown artists. Each song played has been assigned an emotion. Anger is portrayed with Frederick Douglass Funeral March. 

Every song is assigned an emotion. "People Get Ready" is acceptance.
Credit LaToya Dennis

Once the orchestra reaches acceptance, the mood is a bit more upbeat with the song “People Get Ready.”

After the musicians move through the stages of grief, Hallmon says they then highlight something that for some people has been there all along — faith. 

“If we don’t believe it’s going to get better, then we give up as humans. I’ve been a church musician most my life so that means when it comes to people, you’re walking with them in weddings, you’re walking with them in funerals and everything in between," he says.

Hallmon says that while he doesn’t personally know anyone suffering from COVID-19, the illness has all of us thinking about our own mortality. Especially during this time of reckoning that the world is experiencing over the value of Black and brown lives. 

Alida LaCosse, a violinist with the Black String Triage Ensemble, says, “African American, Black folks, Latinx folks, we are affected by COVID-19 the most and probably get the worst treatment." 

Still, LaCosse says these performances outside of emergency rooms are about honoring those who have fallen victim to COVID-19 and the people working tirelessly to save their lives. 

“When COVID first started, people were delivering meals and I don’t think that’s happening as much anymore. So we wanted to just give them a spot of joy and tell them we appreciated them. So that’s why we’re doing this,” LaCosse says. 

And LaCosse says it’s healing for the musicians too. She says between the impact of COVID-19 and seeing black people being murdered by officers sworn to protect and serve, life is hard right now. 

“Cause anybody ask Black people how do you feel and we’re like … 'I can’t sleep. I can’t, you know' … this is what centers us and giving and sharing the music that we love, it’s not only a beautiful thing for our audience, to honor them, but we’re healing ourselves at the same time,” LaCosse says. 

On a different Friday night, the orchestra again wanted to honor those first responders but was met with a reaction they had not expected. Security asked that they leave because of concerns over COVID-19 and people gathering. 

A sign of the times we are living through.

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