Olivia Lee ’18 Learns Lessons In Class and at Hope House About the Power of Music

smiling student standing in front of a Collegiate Gothic building

Rhodes senior Olivia Lee didn’t know about the service component of  Prof. Mona Kreitner’s Music and Healing course when she initially enrolled in it, but it has proven to be a springboard for lessons about the power of music and hope.

Students in Kreitner’s course conduct music classes for the children at Hope House, located in Midtown Memphis, which serves as a resource for those who either have, or have someone in their family, affected by HIV/AIDS and poverty. Hope House includes a preschool, day care, and social services, and its vision is to be a catalyst for life-long change in the lives of those they serve. 

Kreitner has been involving her students in Hope House for five years, and she selected it based on the recommendation by a friend who teaches music for Shelby County Schools. “Music in early childhood is an incredible tool for developing language and general cognitive capacities,” says Kreitner. “It can teach children to cooperate, share, and express themselves in constructive, positive ways.” 

Lee says she observed some of the children, who were dealing with stressful situations in their lives, appear withdrawn until they began playing instruments with the Rhodes students. “The purpose of being at Hope House became less to offer music education, and more to offer an opportunity for the kids to engage in something tangible like music. It allowed the children to express themselves and truly communicate.” 

Lee says she was mesmerized at music as a “healing and unifying component,” and the way it works in communities guided her to return to Hope House as a 2017 Rhodes’ Summer Service Fellow. This time, she worked in the social services department of Hope House, which includes counseling, a food pantry, and a housing program via federal grants. Hope House also assists individuals in obtaining education and employment in order to remove them from dependency and to offer them a vision of economic choices for a fulfilling life.

When visiting tenants, Lee says she found herself involved in listening sessions with those who, for the first time, wanted to be open about their HIV status. “I was impacted by what they shared with me,” says the urban studies major. “This has been a season in my life that has allowed me to personally grow and also realize my passion for music.” This semester, Lee is enrolled in Prof. John Bass’ Music and Community in Memphis course.

Lee has been keeping a field journal throughout college, recording in it her observations, lessons learned, and reflections.  For one of her entries, she has written: “Pay attention to what you truly want and need, and learn to listen to the stories of others while also living your own story.”

By Meg Jerit ’20