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Out of the Box: The Novel Voices Refugee Aid Project

Image of violist Molly Carr and pianist Anna Petrova
David Beyda
Violist Molly Carr (L) and pianist Anna Petrova (R), of the Carr-Petrova Duo

The Carr-Petrova Duo brings music to -- and tells the stories of -- refugee communities around the world, resulting in a fantastic debut album and a powerful new work for viola and piano by Mexican composer Fernando Arroyo Lascurain.

WHAT: Carr-Petrova Duo:Novel Voices - Duos for Viola & Piano by Khachaturia, Weinberg, Clarke, and Lascurain

MUSIC LISTEN: Fernando Arroyo Lascurain's Novel Voices

WHY THIS ALBUM: To be honest, I was first drawn to this album because it featured so much viola music (and man, do I love the viola). But the more I learned about the Carr-Petrova Duo, their mission, and the purpose of this album they built, the more it was a no-brainer... Novel Voices was a must for Out of the Box

I’m always tremendously moved by musicians who use their craft to help better other peoples' lives. And I don't just mean "helping" like "making music that's useful in getting through a break-up" (though thank goodness for that music too). I mean musicians taking action and providing meaningful aid through music. It's in helping others that the real, honest-to-goodness power of music is felt and seen.

You don't have to look far to know it's true. Local initiatives include Mistral Music’s recent "Hope and Harmony" breast cancer benefit concert at Jordan Hall, Kim Kashkashian’s “Music for Food” project focused on ending food insecurity in Boston, and the Eureka Ensemble and Women’s Lunch Place collaborative Women’s Chorus benefiting women experiencing poverty and homelessness in Boston, to name just three.

The Novel Voices Refugee Aid Project is incredible. As the duo states beautifully on their website, the project was designed “to give voice and visibility, through music and film, to the lives and struggles of both local and international refugee communities, and to educate and encourage audiences and artists alike to become connected and involved.” It was created by violist Molly Carr and pianist Anna Petrova as an extension of PROJECT: MUSIC HEALS US, Inc., and the duo spent a year bringing music to and telling the stories of the people living in eight different refugee communities around the world, including those in the Middle East, Europe, and right here in the States.

Along with them for the project was composer Fernando Arroyo Lascurian, who Carr and Petrova commissioned to create a new work inspired by the experience, and film-makers Victoria Stevens and Skyler Knutzen, who will be creating a documentary about the project and about the people it aims to help.

"Novel Voices" tries to capture works written by composers who faced tremendous adversity but who nevertheless used their art, through catharsis, to help find their place and voice in foreign lands. - Molly Carr

The Carr-Petrova Duo also released an album called Novel Voices, featuring, as they wrote in their liner notes, "composers who faced tremendous adversity but who nevertheless used their art, through catharsis, to help find their place and voice in foreign lands." Aram Khachaturian, Mieczyslaw Weinberg, and Rebecca Clarke all fit this description, as well as Fernando Arroyo Lascurain, whose duo (aptly titled "Novel Voices") appears here in its world premiere.

The piece is as powerful as it is heartbreaking. For viola and piano, Novel Voices pulls from all the visits the team had with children in refugee communities over the course of the last year, weaving together music from Bulgaria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Syria, Chechnya, Cuba, and Lascurain’s native Mexico.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the subject matter, the work is a bit challenging and gritty. Don't let that discourage you! Give Novel Voices a listen all the way through, and then another, and then another, even if it is challenging; the stories of the children and mothers and displaced people it’s trying to impart are deep and important, and deserve to be heard.

Novel Voices is in three titled movements. The first, called “Stories and Dreams,” presents both the difficulty of the stories that the Novel Voices team encountered while visiting refugee communities, and the quiet dreams that still live beneath those stories. “Dance of Uncertainty” follows, a rhythmic (and yes, uncertain, even untethered) movement, that leads finally into the more gentle and healing “Call and Prayer," which allows you to really breathe the experience of the whole piece in and process it.  

So, I invite you to set aside a little time to hear the stories, the dreams, and yes, the novel voices of the people represented on this fantastic new album, and then to keep them in your thoughts and actions.

Watch an interview with Molly Carr and Anna Petrova about the Novel Voices Refugee Aid Project on Bulgarian national television:

By the way, if you want to find out more about how you can help refugee communities near you, the Carr-Petrova Duo have put together this helpful map tool to connect you with refugee aid organizations in your area.

Chris Voss is the Weekday Afternoon Host and a Producer for CRB.