Graduate student Abbey Young collaborates with Community First! Village to host concert with neighbors

Friday, June 11, 2021
A person wearing a skirt plays a saxophone, flanked by a person playing an acoustic guitar and a bass.

Abbey Young, center, rehearses with members of the Pure Goodness Music Collective.

By Mariane Gutierrez

Music performance graduate student Abbey Young is always on the search for new experiences and meeting new people. Moving to Austin, this was no different.

When Young and her husband started dating, they often invited a homeless member of the community to join them for dinner. Young often volunteered with organizations serving the homeless community, and when she moved to Austin for graduate school, she sought out opportunities here. That’s how she was connected to Community First, a development that provides affordable housing to the community and people who have been chronically unhoused.

Young began volunteering with Community First!, and she found the work so meaningful that she decided to join the community as a resident. When looking for ways to give back to her new community, Young combined her love for music and volunteering to create a concert that recognizes artists who have experienced chronic homelessness in Austin. The concert is Sunday, June 13, at Community First!, beginning at noon. 

The project, Songs of the Unheard, highlights individuals from the Pure Goodness Music Collective, a collaboration of musicians and performers from Community First! Village, and aims to build a sense of dignity and self-confidence for performers showcasing their work. As Young interacted with musicians, she realized that many of them had a lot of exceptional talent that hadn’t been nurtured or supported through formal training. She wanted to give them a platform to share their music and open doors to new performance opportunities.

“The whole idea behind Community First! is that housing alone can't solve homelessness, but community can,” Young said. “If we come alongside these people and give them a supportive community and a chance to earn a dignified income, they're more likely to overcome the traumas and addictions that are associated with homelessness.”

The concert series includes individuals who have previously not been given the resources to flourish in their passion for music because of life circumstances. Young provides them with a space to encourage their musical intuition, excitement and dedication.

“It's a breath of fresh air for me, as someone who's classically trained, to sit down with musicians who might not have the same training but have all of the raw talent that's needed to make a great musician,” Young said.

Young received support from the Rainwater Innovation Grant, a competitive grant program for Butler School of Music student projects that advance the field of music in a productive and challenging way. With the grant funds, Young purchased recording equipment and supplemental instruments, organized programming and rehearsals, and contracted videographers to document and compile the performances into a single video for later release in July, which will also include interviews with the musicians. Members of the music collective are able to use the equipment and programming to highlight their music in a supportive and encouraging environment.

“These things are really inspiring my neighbors to work hard, and it's giving them a sense of dignity in what they do,” Young said. “I’m thankful I’m able to showcase their talent and get the funding and support that is needed to make this whole thing possible.”

To ensure things run smoothly, Young checks in with each act to make sure they rehearse on a regular basis. Artists who improve and show interest in the collective are rewarded with a feature in the concert, and each musician decides how much time and effort they put into the project and how much of their music is showcased.

Many of the musicians at the collective are self-taught, including songwriters and performers in styles like country, jazz, rock, folk and classical. Performances range in instruments from wind to brass and feature guitarists, bass players, pianists, drummers and vocalists.

“The collective itself is open to any musicians who are willing to be a part of it,” Young said. “It involves some recording sessions and gigs, and those things are a bit more selective, but all of the workshops that we have for composition and for jam sessions are open to everyone, which is really important to us.”

The concert series offers an opportunity for members of Community First! Village during a difficult time in their lives. COVID-19 has isolated everyone, but especially those who have experienced homelessness. The project offers an opportunity to connect and creates a space where members can interact with peers to feel a sense of motivation and passion.

“I hope that the concert inspires listeners to empathize with a group of people who have experienced unthinkable tragedy,” Young said. “On some level, we can all relate.”

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