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Dear Friends of Heart & Soul

Dear Friends of Heart & Soul

I was packing up after a show the other day, wrestling my upright bass into its floppy case, and I remembered I’d promised to write this letter. I thought, here’s my chance to get some material!

The show had gone well. I was providing the low notes for singer and guitarist and Heart & Soul legend Gene Sartain, and the audience couldn’t get enough. It was a very lively adult care center, and thirty or forty of those adults were sitting in a huge circle, moving to the music and calling out requests and having a great time. There was even a little dancing. After the last song, nobody got up to leave. So I set down the bass and asked the room, “Hey, what’s it like when musicians come in and play for you?”

Oh my goodness, the smiles that broke out!

It was like turning on a chandelier full of light bulbs. A dozen people started talking at once, and hands shot up, and suddenly I was being approached from all sides—everyone had something to say. Sometimes they waved their finger to make sure I was listening. “It’s fun.” “It’s the highlight of the week!” “And it’s good music, not like the loud stuff on the radio.” One lady said, “It’s good for the soul”—and then she added, a little darkly, “if you have a soul.”

Someone else said something I didn’t expect: “You tell us the truth. You don’t just come here and talk down to us.” I wondered what kind of truth she meant. Gene had told some funny stories between songs, and I’m sure they were mostly true. But I think she was talking about the music, and the truth of the connection that music makes between people.

Heart & Soul has been nourishing that connection since 1994.

The organization pays musicians a little money to bring their music to people who can’t go out to get it. The pandemic has been hard for the people we play for—many of them endured a terrible isolation—and it has of course presented challenges for Heart & Soul. As a member of the board, I’ve been thrilled at the way our new executive director, Ainsley McLaughlin, has risen to the challenges. For months there were no indoor concerts; we switched to Singing Telegrams (personal concerts piped in live on an iPad) and, weather permitting, Courtyard Concerts. The live indoor concerts resumed in April, but we all know we’re not out of the woods. There are still occasional lockdowns.

Since we’ve been back in the homes, I’ve had the distinct impression that the audiences are sitting closer than they used to. I know this can’t be right! Everywhere, the staff are careful about social distancing. (And how amazing those staff are; the care that makes them careful is something to see.) Sometimes there are lines on the floor to keep performers and residents six feet apart. But they seem to bend toward us, and we bend toward them; or we’re all drawn to the music, the connection. You might think music travels from musicians to listeners, but actually it fills the space between us; it’s something we share.

You can share it too. Heart & Soul is a lean organization: 92% of the budget goes directly to programming, so donated dollars go a long, long way. Please consider sending some of your dollars in the direction of music, connection, and maybe truth.

Thank you!
Tom Stillinger
for Heart & Soul


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