Music creating connections across cultural barriers

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The great jazz keyboardist and composer Herbie Hancock once said, "Music happens to be an art form that transcends language." But when language is a barrier, music is the only way through.

Well-known electric violinist, Patrick Contreras of Fresno knows firsthand music is a universal connection for ages young and old.

In this room at the PACE Senior Center, no words are needed. Just notes and melody are present. Electric violinist Patrick Contreras takes time out of his schedule every month to play for dozens of senior citizens in Downtown Fresno. As he plays, they chatter, they knit, and sometimes they get up and move.

Two-thirds of the seniors are Southeast Asian. Four months ago when Patrick Contreras started playing, the Asian seniors didn't respond to his music.

But he was determined to reach them.

Day and night he practiced their traditional music so he could play for them. And then, something wonderful happened.

Patrick says, "What's cool about the violin and instrumental music is there are no words. So what may be a weakness in one area is a strength in other areas. I don't have the language barrier."

His music transcends language. The melody stirs the soul.

Naomi Sanchez is the activities coordinator at Pace. She says the music has been life-changing.

Sanchez says half of the seniors are either are wheelchair or walker users who, "Don't usually get up unless there's a reason to. They get up when Patrick is setting up."

88-year-old Neng Vue of Laos can't get enough of Patrick's music. Every week he asks the musician to play not traditional Laotian music, but a hymn, "Amazing Grace." Every time Neng hears the song, it brings him to tears.

Patrick says, "You know, I love playing anywhere. I just always have. It doesn't matter where I'm at."

As he plays, the music touches something different in every listener.

Says Neng Vue, "Music is good medication."

It's good medicine for the body, the soul, and the spirit.

Patrick Contreras plays his violin at PACE a couple of times a month and as you can tell the seniors look forward to his visits. Now the staff is working on bringing him in to give music lessons, as soon as they can collect enough violins for the seniors to play.
Copyright © 2019 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.