Sharing the Comfort of Music with the Guests of St. Francis House

As a former attorney who switched careers to pursue her creative passions, Antonia Nedder is a big believer in the power of music. “Music is what I do, and what I love,” she says. “It can be incredibly healing, and I thought that it might be something that the men and women who come through the doors at St. Francis House would enjoy.”

In March 2011, she began running a music program here in our Resource Center. Every Thursday, just after lunch, Antonia began gathering with our guests to share in the pleasure of song and music. At this hour-long drop-in singalong, they cover everything from Frank Sinatra to Pink Floyd. For those who want to make a more serious commitment to music, Antonia started a choir that presents a monthly concert for fellow guests and staff.

“The talent here at St. Francis House is so amazing,” Antonia says. “I can’t tell you how many wonderfully talented people I’ve met. Some people just breeze in and begin playing the piano or the guitar. Others are great singers, and just want to belt out a song. Some people have never sung before, but after a short while, they are soloing. And some people just want to sit there and listen.”

Starting out, the music room was equipped with an old, out of tune piano. In need of an upgrade, she successfully applied to Boston’s legendary piano merchant, M. Steinert & Sons for a beautiful new electric piano. Over time, she added tambourines and percussion instruments to the mix, and tuned up an old guitar.

Antonia brought in her own ideas and sheet music – she is a pianist and singer who performed with the Tanglewood Festival Choir for eight years – and responded to the song requests of our guests. The group covers a wide range of old favorites: Beatles, Motown, Broadway, classic pop, current pop. Favorite songs include “Stand by Me,” “Lean on Me,” and “Hey Jude.”

“For one hour, it’s sheer joy, coming together and creating something together. I truly believe that the language of music unites everyone,” says Antonia.

Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic a temporary halt to the music program was required. Nevertheless, just a week after in-person volunteering was suspended – she began a weekly virtual music performance posted to Facebook and dedicated to St. Francis House. From then until late June of 2021, Antonia played and sang a favorite song of the guests each week.

Her audience included St. Francis House guests, staff, and friends and family. Each week she reached hundreds of people with her music, all while spreading the word about our mission. On the tenth anniversary of the Music Day program, she performed Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” – and raised over $2,500 for St. Francis House.

While necessary pandemic precautions are still in place, Antonia has been back in person at St. Francis House since mid-August. The drop-in program is fully up and running and she is hopeful the choir program will be able to resume in the current months. “When it was announced that Antonia was coming back to restart the music initiative at St. Francis House, I was both; excited and nervous about how it would play out. While watching Antonia playing the piano as she and the St. Francis House guests were singing, I was overcome with emotions by the guests’ enthusiasm and participation. Antonia’s passion for both music and our guests was overwhelming,” stated Jason Ercolano, our Associate Director of Day Shelter Services.

In addition to the joy of seeing old friends, Antonia discovered upon her return that David McGrath, a Trustee of The Highland Street Foundation, donated a baby-grand piano to the program, currently used to lead her in person sing-alongs.

“It’s pure joy to be back,” she says.

Watch a Short Video from one of Antonia’s Latest Sessions