Divisions seem stark and contentious these days in the United States. As they have time and again, the arts can help bridge the gaps between us. Here in the Queen City, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and its One City, One Symphony program is one example of an organization creating community through the arts.   

The CSO began One City, One Symphony five years ago with the simple goal of creating connections through music. This year’s event focuses on the theme of "home" – fitting, as the performances take place Thanksgiving weekend at the Taft Theatre. In advance of the performances, the CSO is hosting a series of gatherings around the city called Break Bread + Listen, November 2 through 22. These events feature a performance by a CSO musician, followed by light bites and an engaging conversation around the concept of home. 

I attended the Price Hill Break Bread + Listen event on Nov. 6. The exit of Daylight Saving Time left me a little sluggish, but the experience with a handful of strangers (and some acquaintances) woke me up. 

I took a seat at a table in the refurbished MYCincinnati Firehouse with an older couple, Ron and Gerri. They told me they were former long-time CSO subscribers, but health issues kept them home these days. Gerri whispered to me that Ron was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and his doctor had prescribed some light interaction with the world. Break Bread + Listen was one of their most recent forays. 

Facilitator Kathryne Gardette opened the evening for us with a reading of an excerpt of dialogue from Aaron Copland’s mid-century opera, "The Tender Land," followed by principal bassist Owen Lee performing his own beautiful arrangement of the work. I had never heard of it, but I knew about Copland’s connection to Cincinnati – he was commissioned by the CSO back in 1942 to create the now-famous Fanfare for the Common Man. Lee’s interpretation was beyond lovely. I didn’t know the bass could sound so multi-dimensional. I’d always thought of it as an accompanying instrument, never the star. Not so! 

After Lee's performance, Gardette asked us to grab some food (complimentary LaRosa’s, our hometown pizza) and chat about our first memory of home. Ron had one of the best memories. He remembered his mother hanging laundry on the clothesline in the backyard, and the fluttering clothing was his earliest memory. Such simple things can resonate so long and vibrantly.  

Then, Gardette prompted us to write down what each letter in “home” stood for in our minds. Consider how often you think about what home is. Is it a place, a fixed address? Is it a specific smell? Is it a person or group of people?
Finally, Gardette asked us to write down what communal places we thought of as being home-like. I wrote down Washington Park and Fountain Square, the Cincinnati Public Library Downtown Branch, the Newport Kroger, Coffee Emporium and a favorite bar or two. Many other people wrote down their neighborhood Kroger, a few also mentioned the library, many mentioned the MYCincinnati Firehouse itself, and a few named local Price Hill establishments, including Bloc Coffee and Price Hill Chili. 

Gardette pointed out how many of our home-y public places were the same. It was another nice reminder that even when we might feel disconnected and cut-off from our fellow man, common ground is there – if you take the time to find it. 

I left focused on my connections to my community, thinking about civic duty and being a good neighbor and citizen. If one hour and a half long interlude with a bunch of strangers can give me that kind of experience, imagine what the concert itself could do. 

I highly recommend checking out a Break Break + Listen before the end of November. A full list is here. One City, One Symphony information is here