Street Symphony Brings Some of the World's Greatest Musicians to Skid Row

An ensemble of socially conscious musicians "dedicated to delivering the tremendous therapeutic power of live classical music.


Robert Gupta at a recent visit to the GOOD office

Downtown Los Angeles is a neighborhood of extremes. On one end, there's the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Frank Gehry-designed home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Less than 10 blocks away is Skid Row, the nation's largest congregating spot for the homeless, where as many as 50,000 people can be found on the streets on any given night. Robert Gupta, the Philharmonic's first violinist, is hoping to bridge the gap between the two sides by taking "music out of the ivory tower" of the concert hall and bringing it to people who would never hear it otherwise.

Gupta created the nonprofit Street Symphony, an ensemble of socially conscious musicians "dedicated to delivering the tremendous therapeutic power of live classical music to mentally ill individuals" in Los Angeles' poorest communities. Founded in 2011 by TED senior fellows Gupta and Adrian Hong, an activist for human rights in North Korea, the group performs concerts at clinics and shelters.

Gupta joined the L.A. Phil in 2007 at age 19 after receiving a masters in music from Yale and studying neuroscience as an undergraduate. Gupta came to realize the transformative power of classical music in the lives of the mentally ill while working as the violin instructor for Nathaniel Ayers, a schizophrenic Julliard graduate who landed on Skid Row (and whose life was portrayed by Jamie Foxx in the 2009 film The Soloist).

"My challenge has been to go into these places where there is no access to music," Gupta says, recalling how terrified he was the first few times he took music outside of the concert hall. "In these spaced the music takes on a new meaning." Barriers come down. Veterans who suffer from PTSD and appear "glazed over" begin to connect emotionally with the music. "I feel like we're doing something profoundly important, profoundly beautiful, and profoundly therapeutic as well," he says.

A Street Symphony concert typically consists of performances by a string quartet or sextet, following by an opportunity for audience members to ask the musicians about the music. But often, the musicians are the ones doing the real learning. "Performing for these audiences has taught us why we make music," says Gupta. "It's a human service that allows us to reach a deeply ostracized community."


McDonalds sells a lot of coffee. Over a billion cups a year, to be exact. All that coffee leads to a lot of productive mornings, but it also leads to a lot of waste. Each year, millions of pounds of coffee chaff (the skin of the coffee beans that comes off during roasting) ends up getting turned into mulch. Some coffee chaff just gets burned, leading to an increase in CO2.

Now, that chaff is going to get turned into car parts. Ford is incorporating coffee chaff from McDonalds coffee into the headlamps of some cars. Ford has been using plastic and talc to make its headlamps, but this new process will reduce the reliance on talc, a non-renewable mineral. The chaff is heated to high temperatures under low oxygen and mixed with plastic and other additives. The bioplastic can then be formed into shapes.

Keep Reading Show less

For over 20 years, our country has perceived itself as more divided than united, and it's not getting better. Right after the 2016 election, a poll conducted by Gallup found that 77% of Americans felt the country was divided on the most important values, a record high.

The percentage of Americans who agree that we disagree got higher. During the 2018 mid-term elections, a poll conducted by NBC News/Wall Street Journal found that 80% of Americans felt the nation was "mainly" or "totally" divided.

We head into the 2020 presidential election more divided than ever. A new poll from USA Today found that nine out of ten respondents felt it was important to do something about the conflict in our country. We can't keep on living like this forever.

Keep Reading Show less
via Honor Africans / Twitter

The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

Keep Reading Show less