It’s a warm summer evening in Breckenridge. Barbara Calvin is in her kitchen, cooking. Out on the deck, a group of young 20-somethings hangs around the hot tub, casually chatting. Barbara’s husband, Jim, walks in and out, putting out plates and silverware on the outside table. As mouthwatering smells drift out from the kitchen, the hot-tubbers towel off and troop in to carry the food out onto the porch.
This is a common scene at the Calvin household during the summer months, as with others around Summit County, who are all part of the National Repertory Orchestra’s Community Links program.
Community Links connects visiting NRO musicians with local host families. Matches are made based on mutual interests, whether they like hiking and biking, or prefer indoor activities, for example. Host families commit to preparing dinner for their musician several times a week. The musicians keep a tight schedule, with rehearsal, classes and special activities, so sitting down with other people and having a homemade dinner can be a special treat.
“We say that it is trying to link the musicians with the families here, so that they have a family away from home,” said Barbara Calvin, who heads the program.
While host families are not obliged to do more beyond providing dinner, many do. They may invite their musicians, and sometimes others, to go biking one day, or boating or picnicking. Some years, the musicians get together with the host families to go on bigger trips, such as rafting or to Rockies ball games.
“They don’t have to climb a 14er every time that they have a day off,” Barbara Calvin said. “Some people just like to have dinner together. That’s fine.”
Unique insight into the orchestra
Dennis Dineen is on the Board of Trustees and has hosted musicians for a number of years.
“It’s a lot of fun. You get a unique insight into the orchestra,” he said.
Dineen has remained in contact with past musicians and said he enjoys watching them grow into their careers.
“It’s fun to do that because they go on from here and get into some pretty interesting situations,” he said.
One of his previous hostees, for example, now plays for an orchestra in San Francisco.
“When I hear about this orchestra playing in San Francisco, I know someone in that orchestra,” Dineen said.
He added that personally knowing a musician enhances his NRO concert experience, as well. When he’s sitting in the audience, “you look at the person next to you and say, ‘that’s my kid.’”
Barbara Calvin agreed and said that the benefit is mutual.
“When you sit down, they know where you sit. You exchange a smile, and you hope that you’re conveying ‘good luck tonight, play well, we’re here to support you,’” she said. “They know they can count on seeing you in the audience; you know you can count on seeing them right where they sit in the orchestra. That’s mutual support.”
‘Zero budget’ dinners
In addition to regular host family dinners and group activities, the Community Link program serves its musicians dinner at St. John’s Episcopal church on Thursday nights.
Nancy French has been in charge of the Thursday night dinners for the past four years. Along with a small cadre of volunteers, she feeds approximately 110 people a week out of the church’s tiny kitchen. It’s so small, in fact, that most of the food is prepared elsewhere and brought over.
“All of my cooks not only volunteer their time but they buy their ingredients. This is a zero budget,” French said. “Everything is donated.”
The volunteers are all people who want to help in some way, French said. Some are also host families. Others may be too busy to be hosts but are happy to bring by a homemade dish from time to time. Others may be too busy to host or cook but still want to help, bringing paper plates and plastic silverware.
“They still want to give something; they want to be a part of it, so they find something that they can give,” she said. “We need all those things, and when people want to give something and they are not in the position to cook, this way they can still help.”
All of these efforts don’t go unnoticed by the musicians.
“Everybody here is wonderful,” said Evan Vicic, who plays viola. This is his second year with the NRO, and the Calvins are his host family.
“They’re wonderful people. They’re basically a safety net. If (there is) anything I ever need, I know I could count of them to be there for me,” he said. He admits that on his own he usually makes peanut butter sandwiches for dinner, so having a homemade meal is a big help, as are the leftovers they always send back with him.
Violinist Hugh Palmer, this year’s concertmaster, said that having a host family allows him to take a mental break from the rigors of the program.
“You make a lot of friends in orchestra, but it’s nice to have someone outside of that, kind of a parental figure really, someone older to take you out and engage in different kinds of conversations,” he said. “They know the place, so you go places that you don’t know. It’s just very comforting.”
While hosting takes a little extra work, it’s all worth it, Barbara Calvin said.
“It’s a lot of work and a lot of joy,” she said. “It keeps me going. I absolutely love it.”