On April 9, 2017, two young but established Waban institutions joined up at the Greater Boston JCC to create an afternoon of music and fun and to raise some money for a good cause. Newton Family Singers’ spring concert, One Voice, was a benefit in collaboration with Team Believe for Best Buddies, an organization that helps our neighbors and family members with developmental and intellectual disabilities find employment and build lasting friendships. Through sponsorships, tickets, raffles and concessions, they raised over $9,000!
Chris Eastburn, musical director of Newton Family Singers, chose a great setlist for the show -- although he claims little credit. “People suggested lots of great songs with themes of friendship, community and self-esteem and it was just a matter of choosing some that would sound good in four-part harmony.”
The show opened with “One Day,” a song co-written by Matisyahu, the Jewish-American reggae singer, which has a sentiment like John Lennon’s “Imagine”: looking forward to a world in peace. There were plenty of familiar songs that people sang along to, by the likes of Carole King, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Katy Perry, U2 and the Four Tops.
Scott Leung surprised the audience -- and even some of his partners on stage -- when he extemporized at the end of “You’ve Got a Friend,” singing “Here we are at the JCC / where it feels so good to have a Best Buddy” to laughter and applause.
Another highlight was Nejma Reza (11) leading the group in Natalie Merchant’s song “Wonder.” That song, with its lyrics celebrating the blessings of an unnamed child whose condition baffles doctors, inspired RJ Palaccio’s terrific novel Wonder (available at the Waban Library Center)! Our rendition also featured a solo by Ben Chelminsky, a young man with Autism who has sung with Newton Family Singers since 2012. “People see me/ I’m a challenge to your balance / I’m over your heads how I confound you and astound you,” he sang. Ben’s mother Daphne Romanoff says that singing in harmony with Newton Family Singers is one of Ben’s favorite activities each week.
Appropriately for Team Believe, the concert ended with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” featuring a string quartet arrangement by Eastburn. That finale featured some special guests -- members of Team Believe on stage singing along, including long-time Waban residents Josh, Alex, Marianne and Steve Yood, Matthew, Christopher and Theresa Fitzpatrick and Ava Harder.
When the concert ended, the band played an instrumental to walk people off the stage… but no one wanted to leave! The combination of good music, good will and a good cause was too potent to let go. “A few years ago we had a fundraiser for the Asperger/Autism Network,” said Monique Byrne. “The concerts where we’re raising money for a charity that is particularly meaningful to us really add something special to the atmosphere.”
If you’d like to hear a selection of songs from that concert, make sure to come out to hear the Newton Family Singers on Waban Village Day!