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Symphony musicians continue caroling tradition for those in need

"Our mission has always been to reach the indigent, the incarcerated in the critically ill," explains violist Allyson Dawkins, who for 32 years has been rallying her colleagues in the San Antonio Symphony to perform carols each December in some unexpected locations.

"We started out by going primarily to hospitals. And then we ventured off into going to the juvenile detention center and the Bexar County Jail... some of our most grateful listeners are in the Bexar County Jail. They are very respectful and very grateful that people took time out of their day to do something nice."

Listen using the audio player above to hear her conversation with TPR's Barry Brake about the San Antonio Symphony Caroling Project. A transcript of their conversation is below.

Barry Brake: Delightful Christmas music for you on KPAC... recorded here in San Antonio by our own San Antonio Symphony Brass Quintet. And if you like the sound of that and want to hear them in the wild, you're in luck. This coming few days, they're going to be performing and we've got Allyson Dawkins here with us to talk a little bit more about it. Hi, Allyson.

Allyson Dawkins: Hi, Barry. Thank you so much for talking with me.

Barry: Oh, it's a pleasure. Okay, so tell me all about this thing. You've got going on live performances around San Antonio with the San Antonio Symphony Brass Quintet.

Allyson: And yes, it's not only the brass quintet, it's members of the entire symphony. We have been doing this project for the past 32 years, and Symphony players volunteer to perform in locations where there are people who would not otherwise be able to hear Christmas music. Our mission has always been to reach the indigent, the incarcerated in the critically ill. So we try to do our best to get into that portion of our community. We started out by going primarily to hospitals. And then we ventured off into going to the juvenile detention center and the Bexar County Jail, which is absolutely fascinating. And some of our most grateful listeners are in the Bexar County Jail. They are very respectful and very grateful that people took time out of their day to do something nice.

Barry: I love it. And by the way, the the folks at Christ Episcopal Church told me that you all showed up early in December and they absolutely loved it. They had something like several hundred poor and homeless people that they were feeding. And they just, you know, the San Antonio Symphony group came and set up and they said they just absolutely loved it.

Allyson: Yes, I was there and it just added such a festive atmosphere to the event. It was their Christmas party. They serve breakfast every single Saturday for the homeless on the grounds of Christ Episcopal Church. They have an outreach center and they set up tables on the lawn. And a lot of the people who go there weekly have gotten into the habit of sitting at the tables and chatting with their friends, and they've developed a little community. And on this particular Saturday, Santa was there and they were also giving out toys, stuffed animals for children, and they had bags of clothing and bags of groceries in addition to their hot breakfast that people were enjoying.

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Allyson Dawkins
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Qizhen Liu performs for a service dog at Methodist Children's Hospital.

Barry: And that's going to happen again this coming Saturday, right?

Allyson: Sidewalk Saturday happens every Saturday, but there will be brass players playing again on December 18th.

Barry: Okay, let's do the rundown. Starting tomorrow, Thursday...

Allyson: Thursday, a string quartet will be playing at the Rehabilitation Institute of San Antonio. Otherwise known as RIOSA. Phil Johnson, a violinist who has played in the orchestra as long as I have always heads up this particular group. He's been taking a string quartet there for the past 31 years. (We're 32 years old. He started doing it the next year.) And then on Friday. I'm really excited about this. For the first time, we will be playing at Corazón, which is a ministry here in San Antonio that also feeds the homeless. Their location is in Grace Lutheran Church, which I'm told is steps away from the area under 281, where many homeless people used to live in tents. And the people of Corazón helped those people find housing and they feed the homeless every single day, which is totally astonishing to me. But they specifically asked me if we could bring a group on December 17th for their Christmas party luncheons. So we'll be there from 11:30 to 1, playing for them while other festivities are going on during the luncheon. I'm really looking forward to establishing a relationship with Corazon and working with them again in the future.

Barry: So that's the 16th and the 17th and the 18th. And you've got another thing next week on the 22nd.

Allyson: Right, on December 22nd. We'll be back at Methodist Hospital, which incidentally, is the very first place that I ever played Christmas carols as a volunteer with the symphony.

Barry: Well, I just have to tell you, Alison, you know, there really was a Saint Nicholas and he started this whole thing. Christmas wasn't even a big holiday, but he started to think because he had stuff to give and there were people in need and he gave what he had and this is what I see you all doing, musicians of the Symphony, and I absolutely love it.

Allyson: Thank you so much.

Barry: That's I mean, talk about that's the holiday spirit right there. Allyson Dawkins from the San Antonio Symphony Caroling Project. Thank you so much for joining us and talking to us today.

Allyson: It was my pleasure.

Barry Brake is a composer, jazz and classical pianist who has been a part of San Antonio's music scene for decades. You can find his musings and musical exploits online here: http://barrybrake.com/