"In Her Words," play inspired by refugee women, centerpiece of gala in Larchmont NY

A sell-out crowd came to support Neighbors for Refugees on June 22, 2019 in Larchmont NY in honor of World Refugee Day.

The centerpiece of the gala was a presentation of the play, “In Her Words,” created by Hope Sings founder Beth Blatt. Women from the community - many who had never acted before - bravely and believably took on the roles of nine women refugees and others in their lives.

Cast Pic Ref Play Larch 2019.jpg

The cast featured Meya Abed, Amanda Amodio, Lindsey Belisle, Susan Brust, Ava Delaney, Meg Hosey, Sara Kandler, Farah Kathwari, Lynn Neidorf, Jordan Reilly, Courtney Ross, Rania Saghir and Naomi Young.

Holly Fink Rosen, Alex Hutton and Elaine Wanderer produced the lovely and lively event. Zachary Moore did a wondrous job directing a large cast in a very short amount of time. There was an authentic, scrumptious (and sometimes spicy!) Afghan meal prepared by Farid Ahmad. St. John’s Episcopal Church offered a fittingly exalted venue.

Producer Holly Fink Rosen, writer and Hope Sings founder Beth Blatt and director Zachary Moore

Producer Holly Fink Rosen, writer and Hope Sings founder Beth Blatt and director Zachary Moore

Most importantly, the event was a success for Neighbors for Refugees - and for refugees:

Thank you to Beth Blatt for gathering the stories from around the globe and weaving them together. Thank you to Zachary Moore, for having a vision of what could be and to Emily Dombroff for contributing to that vision. Thank you to the cast for giving flesh to the words and letting your hearts connect us to the women in those stories.

Saturday evening was not just a fundraiser. It was a community coming together to celebrate, to learn, to be challenged. We broke bread together and then we were blessed by your offering.

Jmel Wilson, President - Neighbors for Refugees

If you are interested in using “In Her Words” to support - or awaken support - for refugees in your community, please drop us a note here.

World Trade Organization group records "One Woman" anthem for Int'l Women's Day

In January, 2018, I was surprised - and thrilled - to receive an email from a woman at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland asking if she and her colleagues could do their own recording of “One Woman,” the anthem I co-wrote for UN Women.

My answer was a resounding “Yes!”

Front row, left to right: Cyril Cottereau (voice), Ninez Piezas-Jerbi (voice), Sroda Bedarida (voice),Helen Favez (voice), Sheila Coyle (voice). Back row, left to right: Steve Tanner (electric guitar), Majda Petschen (flute), Hannu Wager (bass guitar).

Front row, left to right: Cyril Cottereau (voice), Ninez Piezas-Jerbi (voice), Sroda Bedarida (voice),Helen Favez (voice), Sheila Coyle (voice).
Back row, left to right: Steve Tanner (electric guitar), Majda Petschen (flute), Hannu Wager (bass guitar).

And a little more than one year later, they did it. Recorded their own instrumental tracks, vocal tracks, produced a video - the whole shebang. And shared it, in-house, on International Women’s Day.

I asked her Ninez Piezas-Jerbi about the “making of” their song. By day, Ninez is a Senior Statistician, WTO Gender Network advocate, and the WTO Employee Networks coordinator. By night and weekend, she made “One Woman” come to life. We both hope this will inspire others to create their song so they can feel the joy and power when we sing together.

Beth Blatt (founder Hope Sings): Where did you get the idea to do your own in-house recording on “One Woman”?

Ninez: I got the idea during our preparation for International Women’s Day 2018.  After listening to the song again, I said to myself, “Why not see if our in-house musicians could do this, too?”  If we could pull it off, perhaps other international organizations could do the same!”  We had an amateur rock band at the WTO and a makeshift recording studio as well.  We could rehearse there and see if there was money to buy us a few hours to record the song in a proper studio.  For a long time now, I had been trying to find a way for us, WTO staff, to do something symbolic for Women’s Day and in our own unique way.  With our love for music at  the WTO, this was how we could do it.

So that’s what we did.  With the money entrusted to me as volunteer WTO Employee Networks coordinator, I bought 3-hours of recording time one Saturday afternoon in April 2018 in the cheapest recording studio we could find in Geneva.  We had a few volunteer musicians:  2 guitarists, a drummer, 3 female and 1 male vocalist - all of us sacrificing our weekend to do this song.  Lucky for us, too, our male vocalist did sound engineering as a hobby.  He had just been hired by the WTO on a short-term contract. Given our limited funds, we were so happy we could use him to help us edit our recording. 

Beth: What it was like in the studio to sing and edit? How did you feel before and after? 

Ninez: It was an experience to sing in a recording studio!  The special microphones for vocalists especially amplified our voices, we sounded like real recording artists!  It felt awesome!  As for the editing, given our work schedules, this was the difficult part.  It took a while for us to figure out how to make our sound better.  Some parts were not in the right tempo, some were out of tune and some needed more volume. Our volunteer sound engineer colleague had a lot of editing to do!  Moreover, his short-term contract ran out that he had to leave the WTO and Geneva!  After corresponding by email, though, he finally got the sound track finished in December 2018.  It was such a great Christmas gift to hear the final version! 

My next problem was getting the video done.  We didn’t have the money to get a proper videographer, so I had to do it myself.  I’m not a particularly great video editor, but I manage.  I had to learn, however, a new video editing software.  In the end, it took me 4 weekends to get it done, just in time for Women’s Day 2019!  It was really a labor of love because the video was the only way I could show off the hard work my colleagues and I put into the recording.  It’s not an official video of our organization, but just a symbolic gesture of support from some of the people who work there.

Beth: What a labor of love! Are you glad you went through it?

Ninez: What a rewarding experience it was!  For us colleagues who don’t normally work together, it was a great bonding experience and opportunity to use our love for music and do something meaningful together.  To highlight the end of our WTO International Women’s Day 2019 celebration, we were asked to sing the song live in our Atrium.  As we were singing, I really felt the support of colleaguesfor the hard work we had done to create this positive moment.  They all knew we were amateur musicians who only came together to sing this one song.  They especially got out of their offices to listen to us and give a supportive applause.  It was so touching!  It created such a positive moment for us all, especially when many joined in singing that last “Shine, Shine, Shine”!

Recording April 2018.PNG

From left to right: Ninez Piezas-Jerbi (voice), Steve Tanner (electric guitar), Majda Petschen (flute), Beatriz Alvarez Castillo (voice), Isabel Calderon (voice), Hannu Wager (bass and acoustic guitars), Lilo Prizzi (percussion), and Kivanc Inal (voice, sound).

About Refugees - a case against letting them in?

I am helping create a theatre piece inspired by the stories of women refugees from all over the world.

I don't want to preach only to the choir. I want to speak to people who may be fearful refugees, some or all of them refugees. I want to understand their point of view, and for them to feel heard so it's a dialogue, not a lecture.

Courtesy of Getty Images

Courtesy of Getty Images

But I live in a bubble - liberal, arty, New York City. It feels like everybody sings the same tune.

If you have fears or frustrations about letting refugees into our country - or the amount of money that helping them consumes around the world, or whatever -  please share them. If you want to remain anonymous, fine. Or say, "I have a friend..." Or send links to chat rooms or forums that express views you share.

Courtesy of Tasnim News

Courtesy of Tasnim News

Radio interview with Elizabeth Erin Kemler

Elizabeth is not only the Director of Local Programming for Hope Sings, she is an uber-talented singer-songwriter. And she has just released an incredible album, The Weight of Mortal Skin. 

Elizabeth Erin Kemler, the New York Cowgirl and her latest album The Weight of Mortal Skin

Elizabeth Erin Kemler, the New York Cowgirl and her latest album The Weight of Mortal Skin

"This is some of the most rewarding stuff I've had the pleasure to work on. I can listen to it over and over again from top to bottom."

Eric Michael Lichter, Producer, Dirt Floor

Elizabeth just snagged an in-depth radio interview with Northern Spirit Radio on their "Song of the Soul" program. It is an entertaining and enlightening look into the album, her inspiration and her life. Catch it here.

Purchase the album here. You'll be glad you did. 

Musicals for Change: The Mistress Cycle

Beth Blatt fell in love with the power of story long before she started Hope Sings. It began when she started writing musicals, after many years of performing in them. She is most attracted to stories of transformation, usually ones that center on women who fight to be free from outside strictures and, in so doing, access their power – become fully themselves.

The Mistress Cycle is a prime example of this. The musical, with words by Blatt and music by Jenny Giering, has received award-winning productions in New York, Chicago and London. And now it will be seen October 5-29 just outside Washington DC at the Creative Cauldron, where it is the season opener.

Of the New York premiere production at the New York Musical Festival, where it won the Director's Choice Award, critics said -

"…the kind of morally challenging, aesthetically accomplished work that could thrive with audiences who don’t need to feel good to enjoy musical theater.”                   (Variety)
…an extraordinary and exquisite chamber musical…a beguiling piece of musical theatre…                                                                                                (Broadwayworld.com)

The show began as a song cycle. “To You: A Song cycle of Mistresses” won the prestigious NATS Art Song competition in 1996. Then Blatt and Giering, who met in the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, decided to turn the four songs into a full theatrical piece.

Beth and Jenny developed the show at the O’Neill Musical Theatre festival and Theatre Works Palo Alto; along the way, the work helped win the team recognition like the Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre from 2nd Stage (NYC), a fellowship from the Dramatists Guild and a grant from the Jonathan Larson foundation.

The story is largely told through song. Blatt dubbed the form “song cycle plus,” since it has more of a dramatic arc than a typical song cycle, but less spoken material and plot than a traditional musical.

The main character is Tess, a photographer in New York who is offered an offer by a wealthy, attractive, older man to be “kept” as his mistress. As she processes her reaction to this, “other women” from different cultures and eras come to share their stories: a 14-year-old Chinese concubine from the 12th century; Diane de Poitiers, royal mistress to King Henri II in the 15th century France; Lulu White, successful bordello madame in turn-of-the-last-century New Orleans; and Anais Nin, famous diarist and infamous sexual adventurer (and bigamist) in the mid 1900’s.

The show offers vocally and emotionally rich material for women of different ages, vocal types and ethnicities. The power of the songs and stories has attracted the voices of such talents as Rebecca Luker (Mary Poppins, Secret Garden), Julia Murney (Wicked), Sara Ramirez (Grey’s Anatomy), Jessica Molaskey, Judy Blazer and Liz Callaway.

If you’d like to “try on” being one of these women, as Tess does (or have vocal students you are ready for challenging yet rewarding materials), drop us a note for music. 

Interested in producing a show that features five meaty roles for women? Beth Blickers would love to hear from you. 

Angela Ingersoll  as Anais Nin (in a Chicago production of The Mistress Cycle)

Angela Ingersoll as Anais Nin (in a Chicago production of The Mistress Cycle)

Mary Bond Davis, Sally Wilfert and Stephanie Bast (NYMF production, directed by  Joe Calarco )

Mary Bond Davis, Sally Wilfert and Stephanie Bast (NYMF production, directed by Joe Calarco)

From the Chicago production starring Susie McMonagle, Angela Ingersoll, Charissa Armon, Karen Marie Richardson and  Christine Bunuan.

From the Prospect Theatre's "Good To Go" evening, featuring Julia Murney.

"Forget everything you thought you knew about musical revues in the past. Though light on dialogue, the Mistress Cycle has a strapping narrative arc, a compelling and moving plot, told through one emotionally reverting song after another."   (The Edge, Chicago)


International Women's Day 2017

It's hard to believe it was four years ago that we released the recording of "One Woman" - the anthem Hope Sings created for UN Women - at the United Nations on International Women's Day.

Since then, the song has been heard by almost 1.2 million people on-line - plus who knows how many people live, in-person. Every year, women's groups and singing ensembles ask to perform the song, and we are thrilled when they do.

Since 2013, the song has been recorded in Chinese, Arabic and in a Japanese karaoke version. And this year,  the National Orchestra of Chile, led by conductor Alejandra Urrutia, will perform a symphonic version of "One Woman" (arrangement by Ignacio Perez) in honor of UN Women's HeForShe Arts Week.

Today, it is with a deep sense of gratitude that I acknowledge all the collaborators who allowed myself and Hope Sings to do the work that gives us our purpose and joy: creating songs inspired by success stories from organizations/causes that help women and children, songs that inspire people to support this great work.

I want to thank the composers, Graham Lyle and Fahan Hassan, and to our producer, Jerry Boys. Thanks to the people from UN Women who took a leap of faith - Michelle Bachelet, Nanette Braun, Jeca Taudte, Jaya Jiwatram and so many others. Thanks to Microsoft for the financial and technical support - Orlando Ayala, Oriana Spaulding, Alethea Lodge-Clarke.

And thanks to the amazing artists from all around this world who donated their time and talent - Ana Bacalhau (Portugal), Angelique Kidjo (Benin), Anoushka Shankar (India), Bassekou Kouyate (Mali), Bebel Gilberto (Brazil), Brian Finnegan (Ireland), Buika (Spain), Charice (Philippines), Cherine Amr (Egypt), Emeline Michel (Haiti), Jim Diamond, Keith Murrell, Lance Ellington (England), Idan Raichel (Israel), Jane Zhang (China), Maria Friedman (England), Marta Gomez (Colombia), Meklit Hadero (Ethiopia), Rokia Traore (Mali), Vanessa Quai (Vanuatu), Ximena Sarinana and Yuna (Malaysia).

I thank the inspiration that came to me on a playground in New York City (video of the origin story here). 

Most of all, thanks to all the women who inspire me every day, at home and around the world. To you, I say - Shine, Shine, Shine.

One Woman

In Kigali, she wakes up,
She makes a choice,
In Hanoi, Natal, Ramallah.
In Tangier, she takes a breath,
Lifts up her voice,
In Lahore, La Paz, Kampala.
Though she's half a world away
Something in me wants to say ...

We are One Woman,
You cry and I hear you.
We are One Woman,
You hurt, and I hurt, too.
We are One Woman,
Your hopes are mine.
We shall shine.

In Juarez she speaks the truth,
She reaches out,
Then teaches others how to.
In Jaipur, she gives her name,
She lives without shame
In Manila, Salta, Embu.
Though we're different as can be,
We're connected, she with me

We are One Woman,
Your courage keeps me strong.
We are One Woman,
You sing, I sing along.
We are One Woman,
Your dreams are mine.
And we shall shine.
We shall shine.

And one man, he hears her voice.
And one man, he fights her fight.
Day by day, he lets go the old ways,
One Woman at a time.
Though she's half a world away,
Something in me wants to say.

We are One Woman,
Your victories lift us all.
We are One Woman,
You rise and I stand tall.
We are One Woman,
Your world is mine
And we shall shine.
Shine, shine, shine.
We shall shine
Shine, shine, shine.
We shall shine.
Shine, shine, shine.

For you Spanish speakers, readers - with subtitles!

One small thing you can do to support women today is support the work of UN Women by   buying a download at Amazon or iTunes (One Woman: A Song for UN Women).

Guest Blogger Tyné Freeman - Post #2

Hi again everyone! Thank you to all who read my first post introducing this project. To recap, I am recording a collaborative album, co-writing the songs with artists from seven different countries. I am currently a senior at Dartmouth College, and I’m spending my senior year completing this independent project -- which includes a scholarly ethnography -- in lieu of classes. Over the past month, quite a bit has happened, as the project comes to life.

Sanborn House - Dartmouth College

Sanborn House - Dartmouth College

Much of the month was spent writing the ethnography, which explores the themes that are emerging in my cross-cultural collaborations.  It is entitled Sojourner’s Song: Retracing Afro-diasporic Pathways through Collaborative Songwriting (a mouthful, I know). I recently submitted the first 30 pages to the fellowship committee, who will review my work throughout the year. In these pages, I discuss my ‘hyphenated identity’ as a African-American-Jamaican, and share the ways I have been able to connect with each of my collaborators. In this section, I also “unpack” my songwriting process with Peddo Brian, a collaborator from Nairobi, Kenya. I share the ways we trade lyrics back and forth, and work across languages other than English.

An outdoor concert in Nairobi, Kenya.

An outdoor concert in Nairobi, Kenya.

Working on the album itself is also very exciting. Over the last month, I have delved into the songwriting process with my collaborators. Each piece is unfolding uniquely.

My collaboration with Peddo has birthed a song called “Wanipenda,” which translates as “You Love Me.” It features an intertwining of Swahili, Luo and English. The song is a duet, narrated by a pair that is geographically separated. The rhythm and progression draw primarily upon reggae, with neo-soul and jazz influences. I found this fascinating -- a song inspired by a Jamaican genre, and featuring a compilation of East African languages.

This song was birthed over a year ago, when Peddo sent me a draft of it, proposing a collaboration (I still treasure that first moment of musical connection). Below is a chart including a section of Sheng lyrics and their English translations.

From his Sheng lyrics, I’ve been able to gather the concept and elaborate upon Peddo’s words. Although the full English translations are not always seamless, I thank I’ve captured and expanded the intent.

VERSE (Sheng original):

I’m sitting by myself, talking to myself


siku gani nitakucheki ma

every night

I’m calling from my cell, chatting kwenye text


siku moji nitakumarry ma

VERSE (English translation):

I’m sitting by myself, talking to myself

I wonder

when will I see you again

every night

I’m calling from my cell, texting

I think

one day i’m gonna marry you

if you love me for real

On a personal note, the lyrics also speak to my collaboration with Peddo and our ability to connect, despite the literal sea that separates us. The melodic dialogue of the piece reflects our ongoing correspondence, as we have gotten to know each other. The song is an exchange, our vocal parts diverging and coming back together, as Peddo and I overlap lines, swap languages, and tell a story together.

When song comes together, it is so exciting. Here's a video of me singing with Joel Almeida, one of my collaborators from Cape Verde. He translated sections of a Cape Verdean song into English, so we could sing a duet. We recorded it at Dartmouth last summer, while he was here completing a fellowship. 

As with any large project, challenges are emerging. A big one has been setting up rehearsals. My band is located in Boston, and I am in Hanover, NH. It has been difficult to schedule rehearsals -- which is where I had planned to spend time with the band on each piece, gaining a stronger sense of what the song will sound like, how to improve upon it, what to add and remove. Thinking I would have time in the room with the musicians to flesh out the songs, I planned to simply put together lead sheets for the band, from which they would improvise. (A little explanation: Lead sheets are a popular way of communicating the chords of a song, often employed in jazz and popular music. Rather than specifically notating each instrument’s part, it includes only the chord changes, leaving room for players to improvise more freely.)

Since rehearsals have been tricky to schedule, I decided to produce a demo of each song, in addition to lead sheets. I am using an audio production software to create a virtual mock-up of what each live instrument will be playing. This is more work for me, but it gives me a way to work on developing each song itself, even before working with the band. These demos will also be helpful to the band, giving them a sense of each song’s structure and feel, so we can maximize the time we have, and focus on bringing each piece to life. Although a challenge has emerged, I have learned from past projects that flexibility is essential. When things aren’t falling into place, I know that I have to make adjustments and calibrate my plans in order to bring the vision to life.

The first month has been an adventure in other ways. I am working to juggle the varied schedules of my collaborators and band members, along with my other commitments at Dartmouth. I’m a member of several ensembles, and perform frequently across campus. I also take jazz piano and vocal lessons, and serve as a teaching assistant for two music courses.

To be honest, things began to feel slightly overwhelming. So I took a step back, to regain some perspective and inspiration. I thought back to dreaming up this project my freshman year. I travelled back in time, retracing the path that has brought me to this moment, this opportunity. Being able to pursue this project is such a blessing. It’s easy to begin taking it for granted, to get caught up in the details. So many things have aligned in order to make this a possibility. I’m so grateful for the experiences that led me here, and the plenitude of support I’ve received along the way.

Hearing the songs, even in their beginning stages, is so exciting. I look forward to hearing them continue to evolve. Even more so, I can’t wait to share them with you! Thank you for taking the time to read and follow this journey.

Tyné Freeman has performed at the Kennedy Center, composed for the Grammy Foundation, and been featured in Seventeen Magazine. She has released several EPs, and most recently recorded a charity album in support of the Global Village Project, which runs a school in Georgia for teenage refugee girls; she composed a song for the girls to sing and featured their voices on the record.

Guest Blogger Tyné Freeman - Blog #1: Trading Homework for Harmonies

Hello all! Tyné here. I’m so excited to be writing for Hope Sings, and grateful to Beth Blatt for extending the invitation.

Tyné  (in red) with girls from the Global Village Project

Tyné (in red) with girls from the Global Village Project

Just to provide a bit of background: I am a singer/songwriter and Senior Fellow at Dartmouth College. As a Fellow, I am pursuing an independent project throughout my senior year. Since 1929, Dartmouth has provided this opportunity for students to pursue endeavors that extend beyond the traditional classroom setting.

For my project, I am engaging in cross-cultural musical collaborations, composing songs with artists across the African continent. I’ll record the songs professionally with a band in Boston. Then, each artist will record their vocal part remotely, from whatever country they are in. They will send the audio over, and I’ll work with an engineer in Boston to piece everything together.

Finally, it will be released as a full-length album in 2017. The album will feature a variety of artists, genres, and musical traditions. It will be accompanied by an ethnography (approximately 25,000 words), which will explore the process of intercultural collaboration through a more academic lens. All that in nine months!

Tyné  (far left) with the Jabulani African Chorus, which she directed at Dartmouth

Tyné (far left) with the Jabulani African Chorus, which she directed at Dartmouth

The idea initially emerged during my freshman spring. I had developed some wonderful cross-cultural friendships on campus throughout the year, and wondered if I could somehow blend that with my love for music. In the spring of 2014, I enrolled in a course called Caribbean Lyric and Literature, and my creative wheels began to spin. In the course, we explored the societal impact of Reggae song lyrics, in Jamaica and beyond. I began to consider the role of music in different cultures, and the ways it can bring people together -- themes that would eventually birth this endeavor.

Over the next two years, I continued to fantasize about the possibilities of this idea as I completed other relevant classes, studied abroad, recorded an album, and toured Cuba as vocalist with the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble.

A pivotal moment in the project’s development occurred when I visited Nairobi, Kenya last fall. I attended an outdoor performance featuring local artists, right in the center of the city. I recall watching as a young man with freeform dreadlocks and an acoustic guitar prepared to sing. He strummed a few bars then began: “I remember when we used to sit / in a government yard in Trenchtown.” My ears perked up as I recognized the lyrics to a Bob Marley song, “No Woman, No Cry.” My mind flashed back to a lyric study we did of this particular song in the course I mentioned earlier. I recalled sitting in class, many months ago, many miles away. As I sang along to the words of Marley, I felt an inherent familiarity and connection.

Next, a spoken word artist took the stage, and launched into an energized piece dealing with politics in Kenya and critiquing the current regime. His piece interwove English and Swahili, a technique the artist Peddo Brian would later explain to me as Sheng. Sheng is popular amongst millennials in Nairobi, and is typically incorporated in music, movies, and other popular media. I loved it.

After the show, I introduced myself briefly to Peddo. Two weeks later, out of the blue, he sent me a half-written song, with lyrics in Swahili and Luo. “Write the other half!” he urged me. And I did.

I was so inspired by Peddo’s initiative and talent, I decided to pursue more such cross-cultural collaborations and reach out to other artists, just as he had reached out to me. When I returned to campus as a junior, my experiences abroad formed the basis for a concrete project concept which would involve international artists representing 7 different countries: Ghana, Kenya, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria.

Tyné  singing with a band in Ghana.

Tyné singing with a band in Ghana.

I proposed the idea to the College, under the advisorship of Professor Ted Levin, an internationally-renowned ethnomusicologist at Dartmouth.

I was elated to receive a letter a couple months later, notifying me that I had been selected as one of five Senior Fellows.

Currently, the artists and I are in the beginning stages of the songwriting process. Over the past month, we have been collaborating by exchanging ideas virtually, which is both exciting and unpredictable. The process is rather fluid so far -- we send over audio files containing ideas in rough draft form, elaborate upon them, and then send back what we come up with. I am loving getting to know each artist on a personal level. Our conversation topics have ranged from politics to love, from cultural identity to Myers Briggs personality types. It has been a revealing experience already, allowing exposure to different perspectives and experiences - and I’m also learning a lot about myself.

For me, this project is bigger than just these songs. I want to examine the ways music can facilitate and sustain relationships, and see how these interactions extend beyond music. I want to discover if meeting through music making can prompt meaningful interactions that transcend cultural and linguistic differences. I am interested in seeing how my own worldview evolves, and am eager to discover what value I find in building a cross-cultural musical network.

I am three weeks into senior year, and currently preparing for the first full band rehearsal in Boston this upcoming weekend. There’s so much more to come over the next nine months, as the project continues to unfold, and as graduation nears. I am experiencing a flurry of emotions…

It’s a big project, and it’s a bit overwhelming at times, as I try to navigate the typical senior year anxieties -- securing a job or a spot in grad school, etc. In any case, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to dedicate my final year to this project. I’m just taking it one day at a time, learning something new each step of the way. I welcome you all to come along with me on this journey! It’s sure to be an unforgettable year.

Tyné Freeman has performed at the Kennedy Center, composed for the Grammy Foundation, and been featured in Seventeen Magazine. She has released several EPs, and most recently recorded a charity album in support of the Global Village Project, which runs a school in Georgia for teenage refugee girls; she composed a song for the girls to sing and featured their voices on the record.


My cell phone is Android-based, it's not an iPhone. My son is terminally irritated by this.

One of the things I love about the Android is you can SWYPE to type. That means you drag your finger, ouija-board like, from letter to letter to create a word. Kind of like cursive - you never have to lift your writing implement (i.e. your finger), so the writing is much faster.

Swyping comes with a major irritant. When the artificial intelligence kicks in, it auto-corrects your word in the wrong way. 

Example: today, I wrote "topsy-turvy." My phone wrote "tipsy-turvy." I liked the phone's version better. It spawned all manner of ideas about who would say that, or who would do that.

My instinct was to write a lyric (a/k/a) about this. Which I have done before. But today, I feel  the time has come to make it official this. 

I checked on-line and no one seems to own the idea of Swypoems, so I am planting my flag in the linguistic soil of the idea. I'm going collect them and spin them and see where they lead. And then and share them with you.

And I hope other Android owners (beleaguered and outnumbered as we are) will become Swypoets and share them with me and I'll share them with others and soon we'll all be giggling over our Swypoems.

First big question: 

Swypoems? Swypo-ems? Vote!

Second big question:

Since when is there the acronym SWYPO meaning "Sex with your pants on" (referring to food)???

Hope Sings Today with Lisa DeSpain

We had the pleasure of catching up with composer, jazz pianist, educator, all-around "inspirer" Lisa DeSpain last week.

Lisa’s awards include a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Fellowship and an Aaron Copland Fellowship; her commissions range from the ASCAP Centennial Commission Honoring Duke Ellington to the US Air Force Band of Flight and the Airmen of Note. 

She is also writing the musical "Red Light" (nee “Storyville”) with Kristen Anderson-Lopez (FROZEN) and Julia Jordan (Murder Ballad).

Oh - and her “day job” is running the music department at LaGuardia Community College.

How did Lisa come to be doing all the things she does – and does so well?

Lisa is writing a musical, "Red Light" (formerly “Storyville”), with Kristen Anderson-Lopez (“Frozen”) and Julia Jordan (“Murder Ballad”).

What gives Lisa Hope? She’s not the first one to give this answer…

What else gives her hope? This is a great tip for all of us…

This last one really surprised me – and is something I totally share…

Hope Sings at Hour Children Annual Luncheon

On Thursday, May 5, 2016, Hour Children – the charity that helps incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women rebuild their families and their lives – held its annual luncheon in Bedford, NY. 

And Hope Sings was there to celebrate the organization – with founder Beth Blatt reprising the song she wrote for them, inspired by letters between Kellie Phelan and her daughter when she was in prison.

Phelan now works at Hour Children as Program Coordinator for their Hour Friend In Deed Mentoring Program. Read more about Phelan on CNN.

The song, “Hour Children,” was originally presented at the Hope SingsSongs for a Cause” event in Katonah NY in June 2015. The event featured singer-songwriters Jake Klar, S4C co-director Elizabeth Kemler and Blatt and raised awareness of/funds for Hour Children.

Sharing the duet with Beth as Kellie’s daughter was Tara Curran, a 13-year-old middle schooler who has quite a musical career, appearing around Westchester and Putnam Counties with her duo, Justin and Tara, and her band Gilbert. Michael Minard, who is a successful composer who creates songs and musicals with incarcerated women, accompanied them.

The luncheon was a huge success. 170 people attended the event, which raised about $45,000 for Hour Children’s programs in Westchester County. Hour Children has strong local support thanks to their work with women and their children at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.

Hour Children Luncheon Minard Kemler Teesa Kellie BB.jpg

“Your performance at our luncheon enabled guests to really FEEL the complicated relationship between an incarcerated mother and daughter,” Rob Zopf, Development Director for Hour Children, told Beth.  “Your song captures the fears, anxiety, love and hope felt by countless incarcerated parents and their children.  That the characters portrayed in the song have a happy ending in real life, reminds us that “Love Makes the Difference” is not merely a motto, but a key element in Hour Children’s strategy to reunite families impacted by incarceration.”

Honorees at the luncheon included the inspirational and assured Miyoshi Benton, recipient of the Hour Exemplary Mother award. She has gone from being incarcerated, to working for Hour Children, to working for the Women and Justice Project.

Allegra Love - Santa Fe Dreamers Project

I came across Allegra Love in the Dartmouth College alumni magazine. How can you not be curious about somebody named "Love"?

Talk to her for a few minutes and you hear she is all about love: for her clients, for the other righteous lawyers with whom she works/volunteers, for her family.

Allegra is the founder of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, offering legal assistance to immigrant youth (“Dreamers”) and their families. She began her career at the Santa Fe Public Schools in 2005 as a bilingual elementary school teacher and followed her passion for working with immigrants to law school.

After graduating from the University of New Mexico School of Law, she came to work for the Adelante program of Santa Fe Public Schools, where she founded the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. 

Then there is Allegra’s work with Central American refugees on our border in the southwest. I had read about the groundbreaking work by volunteer lawyers in Artesia NM – how they had flown down there on their own dime to provide women and their children legal counsel so that, for the first time, they could earn refugee status. As victims of violence.

These women and children weren’t here looking for a job. They were here to save their lives. She feels this government - and previous administrations - criminalizes these refugees.

And Allegra helps them. And countless others. She volunteers extensively, both in her community and elsewhere, for organizations like the Santa Fe Youth Commission, No More Deaths, and New Mexico Dreamers in Action (NM-DIA). She has a BA from Dartmouth College, a JD from the University of New Mexico School of Law, and is a licensed teacher in the state of New Mexico.

This kind of work – the enormity of the task, the hours, the low pay - could get you down. But Allegra still finds lots of reasons for hope.

First of all, there are her clients.

Then there are the amazing lawyers from the CARA project. Yes, even you will think they are amazing :)

And last but not least: family. Namely, her nephews. Love of children binds us all - and has the power to keep us safe.

Please consider helping these worthy organizations - it could end up helping not just other families, but your own.

The Santa Fe Dreamers Project


(speaking of family, here are her cutie nephews)

Q&A with Elizabeth Kemler - co-producer Songs for a Cause

I want you to get to know Elizabeth a bit - she is an incredible activist, artist and human being!

Elizabeth Kemler

1) Why are you a singer-songwriter?

It feels somehow necessary. I've explored many modes of creative expression over the years, including theater and comedy (writing & performing), and enjoyed them both immensely, but there is something about music that nourishes me more deeply, and in a more sustainable way. I must admit that songwriting for me is a fairly labor-intensive process, due in part I think, to my lack of formal musical training, but I enjoy the puzzle-like quality of trying to find just the right words and melody to capture whatever message and essence I'm striving for. 

2) What are your major musical/creative influences? 

I am going to be wholly unoriginal here and say that I am flat out in love--madly, crazily so--with Bruce. I also have much love for Neil Young, Tom Petty, Chrissie Hynde, Gillian Welch (and David Rawlings of course), and the wildly brilliant Chris Whitley. 

3) What social causes move you?

Far too many to count, but at the forefront of them would be anything involving child welfare. Seeing children suffer from hunger, neglect, or any kind of abuse just kills me. 

Elizabeth and her guitar (and hat!)

4) Tell me about a few of your favorite songs you've written.

A lot of my songs explore what you might call the 'darker' aspects of the human experience and in truth, it feels good to have a safe and constructive place to do that; that said, my two  favorite songs (You Are Mine & A New Dream) are about the sweetest thing in my life, my 4 year old son Benjamin. The former is not a complex song; sparse, direct lyrics and simple chords, but somehow it just hits the spot when I sing it; the latter is a tad more musically interesting and is lyrically a bit more obscure but still has that same satisfying quality. 

5) If you weren't a singer-songwriter, what would you be? 

Well, during the daylight hours, I am fortunate to have work I greatly enjoy, creating social-emotional and job readiness curricula--primarily for underserved young adults. You can check out one of my programs at: thinkbuildlivesuccess.com