It seems so natural, such an everyday event, says Lindsay O'Donovan, for an adult to share music with a child, to sing and dance together – as O'Donovan has, whether with her own four children or the kids of relatives and friends.
But there are far too many children in the world who seldom, if ever, know the pleasure of sharing music, and O'Donovan hopes to change that, even if it's just in a little corner of Africa.
This April, O'Donovan will bring her musical mission to One Home, Many Hopes (OHMH), a home for orphaned and abandoned girls in Mtwapa, Kenya. The organization provides not only shelter and care for the girls, but also gives them an education and – perhaps most importantly – the support and motivation to be agents of change in their community and help end the cycle of poverty and desperation. [The organization's website is at ohmh.org]
In addition to spending a month at OHMH, O'Donovan and her family will host a concert in their Newton home on Feb. 6 to raise funds that will go toward the construction of a new, improved house for the girls. The performers – all Boston area residents – will be Long Time Courting, an all-female quartet that combines impeccably harmonized songs with stirring traditional Irish tunes, and Hanneke Cassel, who plays traditional, contemporary and original Scottish fiddle music.
For O'Donovan, her involvement with OHMH, and the willingness of local musicians to support the cause, exemplifies music's power and place in the community: a means to unite, form a connection, and serve as a force for good. Music is not something just to be listened to; it makes things happen.
"Some who go to help out at One Home have special skills, like carpenters, electricians, or teachers," says O'Donovan. "I am not any of those. But what I can do is to give the children my time, my attention, and share the music I know and learn music from them. And I can tell them about this concert, and that these Boston women are there for these Kenyan girls.
"It seems like a small thing, and perhaps in the great scheme, it is," says O'Donovan. "But if one kid thinks someone loves them enough to sing and dance with them, talk with them, listen to them, they can carry that with them – and maybe it will help empower that child to help others. And if you do the same with other children in need, who knows what can happen?"
That is precisely the message One Home Many Hopes is built on, says OHMH founder Thomas Keown, a native of County Down now living in the Boston area. In a world full of desperation and want, reaching out to a few dozen girls in Africa may seem like the smallest of steps up the tallest and steepest of mountains. But to do is an affirmation, he explains, and a way to personalize the act of giving.
"When we watch the news and hear about people who are living in need, it's easy for us to feel numb - it's all too big, too far away for us to imagine," says Keown, who founded the organization after a 2007 trip to Kenya during which he met the journalist Anthony Mulongo, who started the orphanage with his own time and resources.
"When you see the situation first-hand, as I did, the feeling is very different. I look at it this way: If my friends in Boston saw a child who was starving, or who was being taken away by someone to be abused or exploited, they'd want to help. Being an orphan is tough enough, but in Kenya orphans tend to be stigmatized and marginalized from society.
"So how can the help we offer do any good? In the long term, these kids will be the lawyers, doctors and teachers in their country; they will be the ones who can build their nation and improve lives. In the short term, we can help them have a normal childhood: a home, food, school, and people to care about them, so that they can grow up believing they can make a difference - as others made a difference for them.
"We're very happy that Lindsay will be coming to One Home Many Hopes, sharing the gift of music and using it to help build community. After all, how many generations of Irish have sat around and enjoyed music together? Music is such a foundation for so many of us, we often take it for granted. To the girls, music is very powerful, very important, and they love having the opportunity to enjoy it with someone."
Music has been a significant part of O'Donovan's life, too, not only inside but outside home: A pianist and vocalist, she has taken part in many performances, notably with "Christmas Celtic Sojourn" - the creation of her husband Brian, host of WGBH's "A Celtic Sojourn" - and has supported, formally and informally, countless musical endeavors.
O'Donovan will bring along brand new recorders - contributed through the All Newton Music School - which she plans to teach the children to play. In addition, she is arranging for a keyboard donated by her four children to be shipped to the home, providing another musical resource for the girls.
But O'Donovan reiterates that this will be a mutual learning experience: She expects to get an education herself. "I am taking manuscript paper along so I can write down their music and bring it home to learn," she says. "Who knows - maybe I can teach it to some of our musician friends and we can record the songs to send back to them.
"I just think one of the best things you can do is to give children the gift of learning to express themselves through music. If you have music in your life, you can use it to make yourself happy, and to make others happy. No matter what else happens, no one can take that away from you."
House Concert Feb. 6
The benefit concert for One Home Many Hopes will be held at the home of Lindsay and Brian O'Donovan in Newton on Sat., Feb. 6, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $45, and include a lasagna dinner with wine preceding the concert at 6:30 p.m. Space is limited. For reservations and information, e-mail Lindsay O'Donovan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Long Time Courting's four members are all accomplished musicians and singers who have cultivated success and acclaim well beyond Boston. Shannon Heaton (flute, whistle, accordion) is one-half of a popular duo with her guitar-playing husband Matt. Liz Simmons (guitar) is a member of the "alt-trad" quintet Annalivia, which has gained a following with its imaginative mix of Appalachian, Irish and Cape Breton music; Ellery Klein (fiddle) is perhaps best-known for her stint with the folk-rock band Gaelic Storm; Ariel Friedman (cello) has performed with Hanneke Cassel, Lissa Schneckenburge,r and Childsplay (as has Heaton), among others, as well as her sister Mia. [See longtimecourting.com]
Hanneke Cassel, a former US National Scottish Fiddling Champion, is widely viewed as one of the best performers, composers, and innovators in the Scottish fiddle style. She has given concerts and taught across North America, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and China, and in addition to her own band has appeared with Childsplay, Cherish the Ladies, Alasdair Fraser and The Wayfaring Strangers, as well as Joey McIntyre (New Kids on the Block). She has played on numerous albums and released several of her own, including her newest, "For Reasons Unseen."
Cassel will be spending a week with O'Donovan at One Home Many Hopes. "I've played at orphanages in China, and meeting the children and hearing their stories really changed my perspective – my whole life," she says. "Nobody can solve the world's problems on their own. But when you make that connection to a child who needs to know somebody cares about him or her, you are changing that child's life."
If you cannot attend the house concert but would like to contribute to One Home Many Hopes, you may make an online donation at ohmh.org, or send a check to: Lindsay O'Donovan; 58 Adella Ave., Newton, MA 02465.