I went on my first Belonging Revolution walk this weekend. What is the Belonging Revolution, you ask? For four years, the City of Longmont’s Police Chief, Mike Butler, and his friend and community activist, Dan Benavidez, have been walking the streets of the City of Longmont, introducing themselves to everyone they meet and expressing to each person that they are a valued member in the fabric of the community. Chief Butler wants everyone in Longmont to feel like they are a part of the community, because he believes everyone can bring something to the table. He says that “belonging” in a community involves two dimensions — that a person feels they belong and the community belongs to them. [read more]

When we met the first few people on our walk, it occurred to me that it may be a bit scary to have the Chief of Police come up to you and say “Hi, I am the Chief of Police here in Longmont, do you have a few minutes to chat?” To my amazement, Chief Butler made everyone feel at ease within just a few moments. He engages people by asking if there are any issues that they have noticed with which he may be able to help. One man suggested that lights be put up around an outdoor neighborhood basketball court so that local kids can play later in the cooler summer evenings. Another man welcomed Chief Butler speaking with him and his neighbors to solve a minor issue regarding parking on the block. What all of our interactions had in common was that relationships were forged, trust was earned, and community was built — one person at a time.

There are two sides to belonging to a community; one is the feeling of belonging to community — “I belong here, this is my home.” The other side of belonging is a sense of ownership — “this is my community, I want to see it flourish!” As an orchestra conductor, I want musicians to feel like the orchestra is their orchestra (as opposed to it being the conductor’s orchestra or the board of director’s orchestra), and it is their voice that dictates which direction we move in. This approach gives ownership to the musicians and is a very different approach than the more autocratic conductors of the past. Also, it is a powerful paradigm shift that fosters shared leadership among colleagues, rather than the typical “top-down” approach.

As I observed each person’s growing sense of ownership throughout the Belonging Revolution conversations, I wondered: “What do we have to do as an orchestra to make everyone in the community feel like the Longmont Symphony is their orchestra? How do we give patrons the feeling that a concert is more than a place to sit quietly and listen to beautiful music, it is a space to come together and celebrate our shared humanity?

LSO Music Director Elliot Moore with Richard’s family. Longmont Chief of Police Mike Butler is far right. (Photo Credit: Dan Benavidez)

Part of an answer to this question came to me when we met a man, Richard, and his three sons. I asked one of the boys if he played an instrument – he shook his head “no.” Richard said to us, “It would probably be good if he played an instrument…it keeps kids off the streets.”  I had the idea that if orchestras existed to help parents keep their children safe, could a community see the orchestra as more than entertainment?

This is the mission of the international El Sistema program, which has a Colorado chapter. El Sistema is a visionary movement that transforms the lives of children through music; a new model for social change. El Sistema Colorado provides an intensive music program that teaches youth the importance of teamwork, promotes self-confidence, and instills the value of social responsibility. The overarching principle is to advance children first and music second. In the coming months, I am interested in exploring how the Longmont Symphony can help to shape at-risk children’s bright futures!

The walk and the conversations that ensued led me to consider what I can do for Longmont as the steward of its fine orchestra:

  1. Meet the Latino population halfway — learn their language.
  2. Be an advocate for increased access to musical instruments and quality music instruction for children.
  3. Help parents by giving kids structure and meaningful interactions with other teachers and students.
  4. Be a welcoming presence by providing access to the orchestra.
  5. Express to patrons that they are valued…they are welcome and they belong; explain the story behind the music to our listeners.

As we returned to our cars at the end of our walk, it occurred to me that Chief Butler had not taken down my contact information to be recorded with the other people’s that we had met that day. I asked him to take my information down, and let him know that I would be happy and honored to be of service should the need ever arise.