In 2003, the YMCA of the Greater Tri-Valley in Rome, New York, saw a need for children in the community. Many of the area’s youth were without afterschool care and programs and turned to the YMCA for services. Hank Leo, CEO of the YMCA, visited New Orleans and the famous New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) a stand-alone arts school for aspiring students. From his visit, he brought back the concept that many kids, if engaged, can turn their lives around through music. Leo wrote a grant to the NYS Philanthropic Fund to ask national recording artists to put on interactive workshops and concerts for the YMCA to help the Y raise funds for its new music program. Over 100 students enrolled in music programming and Leo booked the world-famous Preservation Hall for his students to perform. Then, Hurricane Katrina hit. Many New Orleans musicians were without homes and without work. Leo contacted several of them and brought them to Rome instead to work with young musicians now enrolled in the Y program.
While performing benefit concerts and presenting incredible workshops, the musicians were asked to record songs with the YMCA students during their stay. They offered to help in any way they could. The Y also had the forethought to video each session carefully and candidly to capture the wonderful experiences. The result was the completion of “Collaborations 1: Big Easy Connection” which features 14 New Orleans classics and standards, pairing YMCA music students with some of New Orleans’ finest. From there, several other artists heard of the project and wanted to become involved. The workshops and concerts continued, giving birth to the second recording: “Collaborations II: Jazz!” This recording featured many of our nation’s jazz greats playing solo lead or providing vocals to complement the YMCA students’ instrumentals. Grammy winners and nominees Brenda Russell, Jennifer Warnes, Joanne Shenandoah and other jazz icons Javon Jackson, Jason Marsalis are present in this lively, upbeat disc.
As the project drew to a close, even more partnerships formed through connections that now extended countrywide. The Y program drew the attention of the famed Boys & Girls Choir of Harlem Alumni Ensemble, Brian O’Neal, Bill Medley, Melba Morre, Nicole Henry and several other national artists. Additional funding came in to complete the remaining videos, finish a third and final recording, and produce a documentary entitled “Hope Is In Me – A Musical Journey.”
Since last year, the YMCA of the Greater Tri-Valley has aired the Nexstar Broadcasting-produced documentary, “Hope Is In Me – A Musical Journey.” This CD/DVD combination is currently on sale and all proceeds will to the Y’s Heroes Support Campaign, holding those in need affordable services.
To learn more about the music programs currently offered at the YMCA of the Greater Tri-Valley, please visit www.ymcatrivalley.org. Click on Our Programs and then click on to Music Program.