Creating a Community of Belonging Through Music

How Concert Co-op is changing perspectives around Cincinnati

Nathan Lewis has been with Melodic Connections since 2015 and is responsible for several programs including Conservatory, CSO volunteers,  Concert Co-op, and he is Employment First Certified. Nathan is also an accomplished musician and plays with the band Ernie Johnson From Detroit.

He has been working with Sam and Kameren for about two years – teaching them about cables, mixers, speakers and more. As their knowledge and experience has grown, it’s become part of their identity outside the Melodic Connections Studio.

Below Nathan shares in his own words the work they do and the positive impact Sam and Kameren have on the community.

New Roles and a New Identity

They like to be in the warehouse where others may choose to hang out in the lobby. When they help get things ready, they’ve contributed. We trust them with certain responsibilities and being part of Concert Co-op is another identify for them – they are “The Co-op Guys.” They see themselves as ambassadors for Melodic.

Co-op has changed and evolved from handling the central components of a production to taking care of whatever needs to be done. For the shows we plan ahead and have benchmarks, but on other days there is a lot of flexibility. They show up and ask, “What do we get to do today?” We’ll get a list of things on the spot and go. They trust me to try something we haven’t done before.

Changing Perceptions 

From venue scouting to picking up parts at the hardware store, we visit places around the city as part of our responsibilities. We have recurring errands we run, and we’ve developed relationships with people who work in these places. When we go in, they know us. They’re friendly and chatty. They ask about what projects we’re working on. By doing things in the community, we’re changing perceptions.

Forming Relationships

We’re also involved with a group that puts on monthly pop-up performances throughout Cincinnati. Kameren and Sam help the bands set up equipment, prepare the space, start conversations with guests and in doing so – they’ve formed relationships with other volunteers.  At one concert, Sam event took the initiative to approach and then introduce himself to a Cincinnati music journalist.
They are who they are all the time, but there’s a shift in how people see them. Sam is Sam whoever he is with. And Kameren is going to be doing his thing no matter where he is. But others now see them in a different light. They embrace who they are and lift up their contributions.
We’ve met with a couple of the volunteers separately from the concerts. We met in OTR and hung out for an hour, just there being people. There was no agenda – we didn’t have to talk about the show. The connection was music but our meeting didn’t have anything to do with music. We were hanging out and they enjoy Sam and Kameren’s company.

There are people who come to the concerts every month and they see Sam and Kameren. It’s not just the team members, but the concert goers. There are probably five or 10 people who have been to most of the shows and they make a point to say “Hi.”

At this point, if Sam or Kameren didn’t go, it wouldn’t be the same. The people who come are proud to have them there.

Creating a Community of Belonging

We’re changing the narrative for other people who may not have had the opportunity to have relationships with people of all backgrounds and abilities. I’m confident and secure enough in myself and my place in this world to be vulnerable with people. Sam, Kameren and I have a such a great relationship and I try to set an example. Others see me giving Kameren a hard time and nudging him in a playful way – that’s our back and forth – ribbing each other. They take their cue from me on how to interact with them.

I can see it takes a hold. It’s affirming that the work we’re all doing at Melodic Connections is impacting reality for our clients and changing our world in Cincinnati. We’re exposing people to different possibilities.