This year's Piccolo Spoleto Festival includes a series of concerts aiming to provide healing for listeners and funds to help the area's hungry, homeless and hurting.

Notes for Nourishment will join the festival for the first time this year, featuring artists from different cultures playing instruments, such as the Latin American harp and Chinese guzheng, in more than 10 different concerts at Pauline Books and Media on King Street.

The events are free, but organizers will accept donations that will go to local nonprofits. The purpose is to give musicians a platform to use their talents to raise funds for a cause.

"Our goal in coming to Charleston is to hopefully have enough musicians in the Charleston area come out and say, 'Maybe we can do this project here year-round,' " said Donna Stoering, the event's founder.

Stoering grew up in California before receiving a Marshall Scholarship at 19 to study music in England. A classical pianist, Stoering said she served as an artistic ambassador for the British government and was sent to different countries to perform and teach.

Stoering founded Listen for Life to create a large platform for artists to share music from their cultures. The nonprofit began the Notes for Nourishment concert series three years ago "to inspire and empower musicians themselves around the world to use their gifts in the service of others," Stoering said. In the concert series that has been hosted across the nation, artists offer their gifts while raising money for causes they care about.

The music also can be used to "nourish" listeners, Stoering said, adding that her nonprofit conducts research on the health benefits that music provides.

Stoering recalled playing in concerts years ago in California when patrons approached her stating, "When your hands touched the keys, I felt God was talking to me and healing me of something.”

“I saw the music of being reflective of the spiritual life," Stoering said.

Studies have shown that music provide health benefits, such as reducing stress during illnesses and before surgeries, according to Harvard Medical School publications.

Music therapy also is entering public schools where therapists work with students on social skills, self-control and emotional regulation.

Anna Maria Mendieta, a concert harpist based in San Francisco who has played in Notes for Nourishment concerts in California, will be part of this year's series in Charleston. She's been called by doctors to strike soothing tunes in medical facilities for child cancer patients. 

Mendieta recalled one moment when she was asked by nurses to play for a hospice patient. Inside a crowded hospice room, Mendieta struck the chords of her harp. The man smiled and cried.

"It was quite amazing to be a part of that," she said. "I’ll never forget that.”

The harp is an age-old instrument that can provide nourishment, Mendieta said. She pointed to biblical references where the instrument was played by David to calm King Saul.

Mendieta will play in this year's Notes for Nourishment series, offering Joaquín Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, written shortly after the Spanish Civil War as a gesture toward peace and unity.

Mendieta's CD's are featured in bookstores operated by the Daughters of St. Paul in California. She said donations made during her Notes for Nourishment session will go towards the Daughters of St. Paul in Charleston.

Guests at the concerts will have an opportunity to nominate nonprofits that should receive funds, Stoering said.

Launched in 1979 by the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs, Piccolo Spoleto Festival includes art exhibitions, poetry readings, a multitude of music concerts, theater productions, dance presentations and more. It runs May 24-June 9. For a full schedule, go to www.piccolospoleto.com.

Festival organizers are excited to have a new venue and new series as part of Piccolo Spoleto.

Organizers work with a range of artists and organizations interested in healing through the arts, said Scott Watson, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs.

"One of the strengths of the festival is its ability to bring together audiences and artists who might have varied, at times divergent, interests and perspectives," he said.

Follow Rickey Dennis on Twitter @RCDJunior.

Rickey Dennis covers North Charleston and faith & values for the Post and Courier.

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