It is 9:30pm on a frigid Tuesday when I happen to pass by 66 Greenwich Avenue. The words painted on the window catch my eye first, “EXPLORE the SONG in YOU.” A piece of paper taped to the glass advertises free entry, another simply saying, “Come make music.” Inside, a man I later come to know as resident artist Amen Ra paints a cityscape in blue over butcher paper at a table by the window while a trio sits at instruments just beyond him, chatting. Thoroughly intrigued, I find myself stopping to read a pamphlet by the glow emanating from the storefront’s stringed lights in the dark, but before I can get to the second paragraph, a young woman at an electronic drum set beckons me in with a wave, and I am drawn through the portal of a door into the creative space that is the Musical Intervention Greenwich Village Pop-Up.
Founded by Connecticut-based artist Adam Christoferson, Musical Intervention is an organization focused on catering to the needs of the community through providing people from all walks of life with a safe space and the resources necessary to pursue expression through music. Their permanent headquarters in New Haven, CT, hosts a variety of events throughout the week, from open jam hours to songwriting workshops and open mics, but their involvement in New Haven continues beyond their doors, reaching the homeless, students, and patients of local hospitals, encouraging and enabling all members of the community to find their song. In 2017, Musical Intervention was invited to be a part of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, allowing festival-goers to engage and jam with each other under the shade of a pop-up tent.
For the month of January, Christoferson and Ra were given the opportunity to set up shop at 66 Greenwich Avenue in the Village, attracting passersby of all ages and levels of experience and giving them the tools to collaborate and record original songs. In closing, the pop-up held their final event, an evening showcase, on Saturday, January 20th, featuring a variety of artists from the new community that has emerged around the space, so reminiscent of the spirit of free and shared expression from the Village’s older days.
We interviewed Christoferson about music, the origins of Musical Intervention, and his vision for the future.
INTERVIEW WITH ADAM CHRISTOFERSON
SAM (HIGHLARK): When did you start playing music?
ADAM CHRISTOFERSON (FOUNDER, MUSICAL INTERVENTION): My earliest recollection of making music was at about eight years old. I remember there being a guitar in the house; I didn’t know how to play it, but… drums. My father gave me a drum set at eight years old. It was a big deal. It was a nice, blue, sparkly Pearl 1960s drum set, and I beat the living daylights out of it because that was my outlet. And I was allowed to; I was allowed to play as long and as loud as I wanted to in the basement of my father’s house.
SAM: What kind of role has music played in your life since then?
ADAM: I would say, from that very moment until now, music has been my anchor to maintain my sanity, also a vehicle which I’ve built a career around, and a way of communicating. I can have a difficult time being intimate with people at a conversation-level, like strangers. Most of the time, I can get pretty open and vulnerable with a stranger, but with music, I’m able to have more fun and communicate with music with other people a little more safely than [with] words and just regular conversation.
SAM: How did you come up with the idea for Musical Intervention?
ADAM: When I was about seventeen, I wanted a performing arts space, and at the time, it was called Cafe Cave, and I was working with politicians to make it a reality, and it just wasn’t really working. So I went to college, and through that experience, I started working with a woman named Susan Feldman, a social worker and folk singer, and she was working at a program called the Village of Power with women who had AIDs, substance abuse, dual diagnoses, [and] homelessness, all in the basement of this building, and she asked me to do music with them. At the end of the group, I got the chance to meet a lot of them and make music, and she gave me a check, [so] it was like a paid gig, which was rare.
I got my degree in recreation therapy from Southern Connecticut State University, and I started working at a child psychiatric inpatient hospital, and there was this girl who was there. She was fairly violent, had a very traumatic past, and it was a tough experience for her there because there was a lot of hands-on [contact], like when somebody was unsafe, they would have to be held down, and so there was a lot of that going on at the hospital, but this girl was drawing a picture of somebody singing, and so I asked her if she was a singer, and she said yes. That was my first week, and I asked my supervisor if I could bring my recording and music equipment in and start making music with the kids, and she said yes, so from that point, for five and a half years, I was working at the inpatient hospital, writing and recording original songs for the kids there.
The medical director at the time suggested I do it at other places, and my supervisor hooked me up with somebody, and I think that’s when Musical Intervention became itself, and I started working outside with adults with intellectual disabilities, after school programs, and things like that, mainly just writing and recording original music and giving them CDs of it, and that’s basically how Musical Intervention was shaped.
Then, I got a grant through the National Endowment of the Arts to do some work with the homeless in New Haven, and during that process, after the project was over, I realized I had a community of people that needed a space to go that’s warm and safe, free of drugs and alcohol, and so the dream that I had at seventeen years old became realized by having the courage to open up a space that I wasn’t sure I could afford, but I did it anyway, and miraculous things kept happening, and now it seems to be moving and grooving. We just got a space in Greenwich Village temporarily, for a month, just to evaluate the space and the demand and what it would be like to open up another one in another location. That’s probably the goal moving forward.
SAM: What has been your favorite thing about this project so far?
ADAM: I get to be on the other side of the sound condenser microphone for people who have never heard themselves sound so good and find their voice, and their eyes dilate and they get glossed over, and there’s this huge smile. Those things keep me going.
I think I do like the affirmation that people have, like, “Thank you for having this space. I really need it,” because it was a space that I needed, and to see that other people need it too gives me more validation that this is something that is important for humankind, to have a space to gather.
These visions that I have of making this available to people throughout the country and making an impact on the world and leaving a legacy, they fuel a lot of my energy to keep focused on doing the best I can to embrace the moment, but also being the driving force to push it to see how far it can go, what kind of impact it can make.
And serving people. I just feel like it’s the great thing to do. It feels good to make a difference, and so I’m trying to carve a way for other people to do similar things so that they can make a difference and be able to make money and survive and live their life and contribute and make art and music full-time. You know, it’s hard for artists to make money, for musicians to make money just as musicians, but if I find a little niche, a new way to do things that’s valued by the healthcare industry and stuff like that, then maybe there won’t be so many starving artists out there and people can also stop being so isolated. They could be inspired and contribute to society.
SAM: In that vein, is there anything you would like to say to anyone who might have a similar passion for sharing their talents and promoting expression but might not be sure of where to start?
ADAM: Sure. Some people have resources to be able to not work and volunteer; some people don’t have any time. In a perfect world, if there’s opportunity to reach out to a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen and see if they want some music, you can go there and play, meet people, and develop relationships, and maybe you can meet somebody who can help with some capacity. I think that’s a good place to start. People often don’t know what to do with the homeless besides give them a buck or whatever, but I think [music is] a good way to engage that population, and maybe you can create a conduit where they can feel good about themselves and pursue housing and the other things that are available to them.
SAM: From your main base in New Haven to your 2017 Bonnaroo pop-up and now this one in Greenwich Village, what’s next for Musical Intervention?
ADAM: We’ve increased our contract base in Connecticut and are working a lot more with the hospitals, so we’re able to subcontract other songwriters and producers to help people make original music in hospitals, and so that’s going to create some financial stability for the headquarters and for the organization at large to do more programming within the headquarters. We’re partnering up with other social service organizations and nonprofits to reside in our headquarters so that there’s case managers and social workers onsite, just in case people dropping by need anything, so they don’t fall through the cracks, because sometimes it’s really hard to stay with your meetings and all of that stuff.
We’re developing Musical Intervention Publishing, our publishing department, where we can find talent and give them the copyright and try to represent their material and get it up there so that folks who are homeless or whatever who have a song or something like that and need to get it out there for somebody to cover, or [for] getting into a commercial, or to license it in some way, can. I’d really like to start that this year, maybe get some music out there from some of the talent that we find, and find the right partners and team-players to open up more headquarters around the country and make it sustainable.
SAM: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
ADAM: It’s really special to be in the Village. I have a lot of memories as a young guy coming to the Village, visiting, and to come back with its rich history, I would say that the best compliment that we’ve gotten, on multiple occasions, is that our space is reminiscent of the old Village. It’s an honor to be in the Village and to weave whatever fabric into the history of the Village that we’ve left. It is very sad to leave, because we’ve developed a community here. There are probably around eight or nine people who are coming to us on a regular basis, and that’s only with a month of doing this and keeping our doors open, so it is sad to say, “Sorry, we can’t afford $10,000 a month rent,” but we hope to be back. Come visit us in New Haven in the meantime.
SAM: It’s not a “goodbye”; it’s a “see you later.”