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

CARA

(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

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!

Daily Ditty - from my show Smotherhood: Bad Mother

Shall I start sharing from my show, Smotherhood?

BAD MOTHER

BAD MOTHER

BET YOU WISH YOU HAD ANOTHER

NOT THIS BAD MOTHER

 

A GOOD MOTHER

IS CONSISTENT.

SHE SETS LIMITS

AND REMEMBERS THEM

THE NEXT DAY.

 

A GOOD MOTHER

IS INSISTENT

EVEN WHEN HER CHILD’S

RESISTANT.

ALWAYS KNOWS THE RIGHT THING

TO SAY.

 

SHE IS NEVER TOO NICE, THEN TOO MEAN

SHE’S ALWAYS PERFECTLY, PLEASANTLY IN-BETWEEN

AND SHE’S NOT ME

 

BAD MOTHER

BAD MOTHER

I AM SUCH A SAD MOTHER

CAUSE I’M SUCH A BAD MOTHER

 

A GOOD MOTHER

KNOWS WHEN HER CHILD IS LYING

KNOWS WHEN HER KID

IS TRYING

CAN TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LAZY

AND DUMB

 

SHE WOULD NEVER LET HER CHILD TALK SASS

OR ADMIT THAT SHE SMOKED GRASS -

JUST ONCE.

Ok maybe twice.

 

SHE LISTENS QUIETLY.

DOESN’T PREACH, “WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE,“

DOESN’T SCREECH OR FLY INTO A RAGE

YEAH SHE’S NOT ME

 

BAD MOTHER

BAD MOTHER

“PLEASE DON’T BE MAD, MOTHER”

Sorry – I’M A BAD MOTHER

 

LIKE A BAD DOG –

BAD DOG!

STOP CHEWING UP YOUR LITTLE TOY

STOP SCREWING UP YOUR LITTLE BOY

IF I COULD I WOULD, BUT I CAN’T

(a hiccup of a heartbreak…then it kicks back in)

SO HERE’S MY RANT

 

BAD MOTHER

BAD MOTHER –

(MOM pulls the band back to a vamp as SHE speaks.)

 

What’s a bad mother to do,

When she’s a bad mother, through and through?

She could bemoan it

Or she could own it

Which is what this bad mother is gonna do –

(Band kicks in again.)

 

BAD MOTHER

BAD MOTHER

NOT A GLAD MOTHER

BAD MOTHER

Daily Ditty #58 - Blizzard, Schmizzard

A Mickey Mouse snowstorm. Thanks to Erika Amato for the title inspiration.

Blizzard, Schmizzard

So said Eddie Izzard

Blizzard, Schmizzard

So said NYC

Missed my night out

Cause they feared a white out

Gosh oh gee oh –

What emergency?

 

Mr. De B. – he is now my subway clown

Bet that he’s sad he shut the subway down.

 

Blizzard, Schmizzard

Fire that Weather Wizard

Blizzard, Schmizzard

How embarrassing

Daily Ditty #49 - Full House (Sleepover) - or Floodlight of Love

A Sunday morning reflection.

FULL HOUSE (SLEEPOVER)

To have a homeful of teenage boys

Giggling and guffawing

Is one of those motherly joys

I have never known.


What do they talk about?

Nothing my son will tell me.

I am content tonight to walk about

Inconspicuously, bringing more food.


In the morning, I find they have left the lights on

And dirty Kleenex everywhere.

And I’m pretty sure my son didn’t brush his teeth.

But it’s a full house and I don’t care.


They say you should shine a light

On the aspects you want to see more of.

A boy who trusts we won’t embarrass him,

Trusts we won’t pry and poke,

Won’t try to understand every joke.

A boy who likes to come home

And bring his friends home, too.

On this I shine

A floodlight of love.