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

Songs for a Cause - Benefit Show in Katonah NY for Hour Children June 28th

Hope Sings is co-producing its first music event in Westchester County NY on Sunday, June 28th at 5pm at the Katonah Library. 

"Songs for a Cause" benefits Hour Children, which helps incarcerated women rebuild their lives and families. They work locally with the Bedford Hills and Taconic Correctional Facilities. 

We are co-producing with the wonderful singer-songwriter and musical activist Elizabeth Kemler.

Hope Sings founder Beth Blatt, Ms. Kemler, and indie roots-rocker Jake Klar will be featured.

$15 includes wine/cheese reception - and the chance to do good for a wonderful organization. 

Please join us and support established and emerging local talent and women creating better lives!

What Happens When You Stop "Singing"? (or Thanks, Universe, for the Ear Infection)

I have a confession to make.

I told myself when I started Hope Sings that it was all about helping people – to empower women, to “harness the power of song and story to change the world.” My stated mission was to put the power of inspiring true story back into pop music – to Sing Stories and Change Lives (to misquote our tag-line). Sounds good, right?

In my heart, I knew a big part of why I started Hope Sings was for me. I wanted to swim in a bigger pop/international pond than the musical theatre one where I’d been. I dreamed of writing with all different kinds of big exotic fish, traveling the world as I created huge hit songs.

We have had many satisfying successes - our songs supporting microfinance, our Songs for Sandy initiative, the anthem for UN Women. I believe we have helped people. And I know I've written next to nothing in the four years since I started Hope Sings

And now I find myself facing a crisis – a crisis of inspiration.

I am facing it because of an ear infection.

A summer swim with my son, an overactive Q-Tip, a stubborn plug of earwax, a visit to an ENT who noticed something I hadn't – and today, here I am looking at what truly inspires me, what my real talents are, and what happens when you stop singing - literally and metaphorically.

I've pondered whether this line of posting of belongs with Hope Sings. But I think there is something worth sharing about this journey I'm beginning. Another more personal aspect to the idea of hope and singing.

In recent weeks, my energy and attention has shifted from creating songs and shows to another use of my creative energies - healing myself. And trying to uncover where the disease (or "dis-ease" as Esther Hicks calls it - genius) came from.

I believe that when you are blocked creatively - or in any part of your life, since your life is your biggest and best creation - disease will follow. So letting yourself Sing - and letting your hopes and dreams Sing - isn't just nice, it's fundamental. It's key to wellness and thriving, a matter of life and death - as much as microloans are essential to women in Latin America. 

More on What the ENT Saw in the next post.

But first: a song that reminds us how SINGING defines who you are (however you define singing) – whether you achieve “Success” or not. Jim Croce’s “I’ve Got A Name”:

Like the North wind whistling down the sky

I've got a song
, I've got a song

Like the whip-poor-will and the babies crying

I've got a song, I've got a song

And I carry it with me and I sing it proud

If it gets me nowhere, I'll go there proud

Moving me down the highway

Rolling me down the highway

Moving ahead so life won't pass me by.


New Idea: MUSICALS for Change!

Hi - Beth here, founder of Hope Sings.

As some of you know, I lead sort of a double life. In one half, I run Hope Sings. In the other, I write musicals. 

Sometimes, I've felt a bit schizophrenic, like there's a Berlin Wall between my two existences. 

Until recently, when I had an epiphany. That my musicals - and all the musicals I love - are up to the same thing as Hope Sings: harnessing the power of song and story to inspire change.

So coming soon to Hope Sings: a broadened focus to include musicals. 

Coming really soon (a/k/a NOW), a shameless focus on my latest musical, Oneida (I am doing book/lyrics, music is by Lizzie Hagstedt).

I just returned from 10 days in Hanover, NH at the first ever VoxFest at Dartmouth College. Vox Theatre aims to bring Dartmouth alums back to the college to create new theatre works. This festival presented seven new works in various stages of development - including Oneida.

Oneida is about our desire (struggle?) to be happier, better, more loving people - and about the revolutionary community in upstate New York that created amazing ways of living and loving in pursuit of that desire (struggle?). They were front page news for 30 years in the mid-1800's (in fact, the founder coined the term "free love" - way back then!) - but now the only thing most people know is the silverware they made (Oneida - obviously). 

We had an incredible cast that was a combo-pack of professionals and students - here are some of us - and I'm happy to report the audience loved our informal presentation - more news to come!

Oneida (left to right): Paul Frazel, Chris Gallerani, Beth Blatt, Katie Bruestle, Emma Orme, Katelyn Onufrey

Oneida (left to right): Paul Frazel, Chris Gallerani, Beth Blatt, Katie Bruestle, Emma Orme, Katelyn Onufrey

UN Women artist Concha Buika comes to NYC - yay!

Concha Buika is one of those singers that grab you in the heart - even though she sings mostly in Spanish, you get it.


Concha was named one of "50 Great Voices by NPR, and if you live in NYC, you can judge for yourself on June 13th when she appears at Town Hall as part of the Blue Note Jazz Festival.


Concha mixes flamenco and jazz - she was raised in Majorca by African parents - and her last album won her a Grammy. Her next release is due out June 4th.

Q&A with Songs for Sandy Artist Christina Li


Christina was the first artist to step up for the S4S project - and boy, we were happy to have her! Check out her new video, Disappear, and you'll agree.


And now - the Q&A!

Who/what are your musical inspirations?

I get inspired by other people with true passions – even or especially non-musical ones. My friends
and family inspire me daily with their own talents.

What gives you hope about the world?

Small, unselfish acts of kindness.

Do you write and sing from joy and hope - or from fear/ anxiety/ need?

Probably from fear/anxiety/need. My music comes from an emotional place that I don't often show to people, so performing and singing is a much needed catharsis.

What’s your favorite chord?

Bb minor

Q&A with Songs 4 Sandy Artist Mario Moita

We connected with Fado-artist Mario through WOMEX, the World Music Expo. Though Mario is from Portugal, and was on tour in Brazil, he wanted to do his part to help Sandy victims - going so far as to include the sounds of Brazilian waves on his song!

It's clear Mario has a huge heart - and from the insights we get below, tremendous faith as well. What a gem!


Who/what are your musical inspirations? Love, peace

What gives you hope about the world? Hope in god

What causes do you support – in your heart and/or with your actions? All I can, in my town and in the world, always, when I can.

What fills you with great joy? A smile.

What breaks your heart? Bad persons who complicate my life...

Do you write and sing from joy and hope - or from fear/ anxiety/ need? Always for joy and hope.

What gets you out of bed in the morning? Travel with a flight very early

What was your biggest setback, and how did you overcome it? In 2001 I lost 20.000 euros with a producer. I overcame that with hope in life. In 2012,  a Brazilian producer took me to court just to get my money. Again, faith in God always guided me thru the road of life.

Do you meditate? Yes. And pray.

What’s your favorite chord? C.  Because in life the most simple sings are the most beautiful.

What word or phrase do you overuse in your lyrics? “My love”

What are you most proud of about yourself? Respect for everyone, and have many friends that love me around the world. not having debts and sleep soundly!

What’s your favorite food? Portuguese alentejo coriander soap



Q&Q with Songs for Sandy Artist Maddy Rodriguez

It's hard to believe that Maddy Rodriguez is only 18. Her vocal and songwriting maturity are such that she was named the youngest winner ever in the US-based International Acoustic Music Awards Competition. Learn more about the Ontario, Canada-based singer-songwriter, what gets her out of bed in the morning and what breaks her heart (hint: one of these items starts with "b").


Why do you write?

Because I have to. Everybody has their own way of expressing what's inside of them. For me, it's writing. 

Who/what are your musical inspirations?

Life, love, pain, people. And great artists like James Taylor, Elton John, Zac Brown, Taylor Swift and Shania Twain.

What gives you hope about the world?

Good people.

What causes do you support – in your heart and/or with your actions?

The Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto (since I was a kid - I used to make crafts and sell them to raise funds for them) Ability Online - it's a wonderful organization. They created something like a Facebook social network for kids and young people with disabilities and some health conditions.

Free The Children - I went to a presentation by the Kielburger brothers and they do awesome work. I recently performed at an event for my university's Free The Children chapter.

What fills you with great joy?

Christmas. When I finish a song. Even more when I record it. And family & friends.

What breaks your heart?

Boys. Hahah! And sometimes the music business. It can be a brutal pursuit. But mostly, seeing children suffer.

Do you write and sing from joy and hope - or from fear/ anxiety/ need?


What gets you out of bed in the morning?

The idea that "today" is full of possibilities.

What was your biggest setback, and how did you overcome it?

In my eyes, I didn't do very well at my very first important performance. I was 15 and I wasn't ready. I felt I let myself and everyone who believed in me down. But I realized I had 2 choices: work harder or give up. I chose to keep going and work hard, and here I am. I still struggle with nerves but I am much more confident than I used to be... It gets better everyday.

Do you meditate?

Not really. But I pray sometimes at night. I hope that one day I'll be more in touch with my spiritual side. For now, I'm to restless to sit and be still. Lol.

What word or phrase do you overuse in your lyrics?

Nothing comes to mind, really. I always obsess about my lyrics and make sure that I use a wide variety of words & phrases - sometimes it takes me days to get a verse right.

What are you most proud of about yourself?

Besides my songwriting talent, which I'm very proud of, I'd have to say I'm most proud of my strength and my ability to laugh at the disappointments in life.

What’s your favorite food?

This is the toughest question. Cheese. or mushrooms. or mashed potatos. or chocolate. KETTLE CORN.... I can't decide, haha.


How much money will really go the Red Cross?

Just read an article in the NY Times from 12/2/12 that addressed the issue of how much of that money raised for charity really goes to the charity.

I certainly wonder that myself when I give - so thought I should address it for our Songs for Sandy initiative.

First of all, I chose the Red Cross to partner with because its spends 92% of its money on programs, not administrative expenses, fundraising etc (according to Charity Navigator). It is also doing an amazing job for Sandy victims. 

Second of all, our numbers.

We are selling five songs for $5 - so $1/each. From that, we pay the artists who choose to receive royalties 18 cents - 9 cents for the use of the recording, 9 cents for the use of the intellectual property of the song itself. 2 of the 5 songwriting teams elected to donate their royalties.

Paypal takes 6 cents per unit. 

Hope Sings is taking zero for admin, overhead - nothing.

So here's the math:

$1.00 - paypal = $.94

$.94 - royalties = $.76 net per song 

2 songs w/no royalties - $.94 x 2 = $1.88

3 songs w/royalties - $.76 x 3 = $2.28

total net proceeds of a five song package (with minimum $5.00 payment) = $4.16

Hope Sings MATCHES that - so your $5.00 purchase results in a donation of $8.32 to the Red Cross.

PLUS you help emerging singer-songwriters AND get five fun songs to boot.

Not bad (we think).

What do YOU think?