Music World Helps Newtown Heal Following Massacre
Artists from Paul Simon to Jennifer Hudson have helped Newtown recovery after its tragedy
When 6-year-old Dylan Hockley was memorialized at a service following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, his parents were especially moved by one song.
A writer, Dushyanthi Satchi, had reworked the lyrics to the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah," from Dylan's favorite movie, "Shrek."
"Dylan's Hallelujah" begins, "It's calm, it's clear, it's a peaceful day, walking through the heavenly gates, hand in hand with teachers and my friends."
"That one thing - that song - has been quite healing for us," Nicole Hockley, Dylan's mother, said Thursday.
There have been many musical tributes to the victims of the Dec. 14 tragedy, some put on by world famous performers, others by local musicians and many involving the children of Newtown.
Professional football players were on the verge of tears when a group of 26 children who escaped the Newtown shooting, including Dylan's older brother, Jake, joined Jennifer Hudson at the Super Bowl to sing "America the Beautiful." Another group of Newtown children will perform before the Grammy Awards this weekend.
"Humans have used music in healing forever," said Jane Matson, the choral director at Newtown High School. "It expresses our feelings and gets emotion out in a way that's constructive and beautiful. So I don't think it's any surprise that in trying to heal here, we would turn to music."
Members of Matson's chamber choir were among about 80 Newtown students who performed with dozens of Broadway stars including Brian Stokes Mitchell, Christine Ebersole and even Monkees frontman Micky Dolenz at a benefit show in Waterbury. The event "From Broadway with Love" was put on by Broadway producer Van Dean, who lives in nearby Trumbull and composer Brett Boles, who grew up in Newtown.
The choir joined star Michael Cerveris to sing "Sunday," a song from "Sunday in the Park with George" about finding the calm after chaos. They also sang "Somewhere" from West Side Story.
That show, whose audience included first responders and the parents of Sandy Hook victims, also featured the choir from Sandy Hook Elementary, on video, singing their school song.
"The idea was to have as many children as possible be a part of it, to give them something to get excited about," Dean said.
High school choir member Kyle Watkins said it was a chance for him and other Newtown kids to experience something positive, to express themselves and to feel like they were helping.
"Newtown is my home and the people are kind of like my family," he said. "A lot of us wanted to do something, but didn't know how to help. So for the choir, our way was singing. It was a miraculous experience."
That's also why Sabrina Post brought students from her performing arts school in Newtown to the nearby home recording studio of former Talking Head and TomTom Club band members Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, where they recorded a version of "Over the Rainbow" with folk singer Ingrid Michaelson.
Post said she wanted to show the children they could make a difference.
"One little girl, her neighbor died," she said. "And she said she thinks of her as singing with us when she sings."
The song rose to No. 12 on iTunes and to No. 2 on Amazon.com, said Tim Hayes, who co-produced the recording.
The children have been asked to perform this Sunday for the E! Network's Grammy Awards preshow, a segment that will air from Newtown. They also sang last month during a two-day concert event at the Ridgefield Playhouse, where other performers included Johnny Winters, Paul Shaffer and Paul Simon, who also sang at the funeral of Newtown teacher Victoria Soto.
Hayes said the children will do no other events after Sunday.
"We know the kids involved have had a wonderful experience, but we think this chapter is now done, and we want these kids to get back to being kids," he said.
Many of the events have raised thousands of dollars for various Newtown-related causes, such as mental health care for the first responders or children's programs at the local sports center. More than 50 local bands performed in clubs around Hartford one day last month to benefit the Sandy Hook School Support Fund.
This Sunday, a free concert will be held in Ridgefield. Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame helped organize the event after speaking with the family of Ben Wheeler, one of the children who died.
Yarrow said this performance, which features folk and blues artists such as Dar Williams and Guy Davis, is intentionally not a fundraiser. Guests, he said, will include Newtown families and first responder networks, educators and political leaders, with the theme of coming together to bring positive change to society.
"This is not post-Sandy, where you need supplies and food," he said. "My intuition is this community needs an event that brings music and a tone of caring, healing and togetherness. We need to let them know they are not alone in a way that is helpful to them."
Stokes Mitchell, the Broadway star, said that is exactly what he felt at Waterbury's Palace Theater while singing "The Impossible Dream," a song that speaks about striving to right the unrightable wrong.
"Music has this strange power, more than any other art form, to talk to your soul directly," he said. "In some ways, it can bypass your brain and it goes right into your heart, right into your soul, right into your being."
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