Nyack event celebrates music that changed the world

April 11, 2017 - BACK TO ALL NEWS

Rockland children know Jeffrey Friedberg as the man behind the Bossy Frog Band, a musical group catering to the younger set. But for more than two decades, Friedberg has also been a music therapist, helping people heal through music.

"I've always been interested in music as more than totally entertainment, not to diminish the entertaining value, but just the functional value of music," Friedberg said.

Reading neuroscientist Daniel Levitin's book, "The World in Six Songs" - which talks about how music has shaped humanity - led Friedberg to think even more about music's place in society, "in building community, raising awareness and helping resolve social conflicts."

That got him to talking to Elliott Forrest, of ArtsRock, about putting together a night of protest songs. That conversation has led to an April 15 event, "Songs of Protest: Music That Changed the World," to benefit ArtsRock and the Arts Council of Rockland, at Ritterhausen Theater at the Old Nyack High School, 131 N. Midland Ave, Nyack.

(It was originally planned for Nyack's First Reformed Church, but outgrew that space.)

"It's not a rally, it's not a protest," Friedberg insisted. "It's a celebration of the power of the arts and music specifically to bring people together, to express feelings, to raise awareness and resolve conflicts and highlight our shared humanity. It just seemed like the right time to celebrate these songs."

The words "protest song" conjure the anthems of the civil-rights and anti-war rallies of the '60s and '70s. But Friedberg said there is still a place in the world for new songs to generate that kind of motivation.

"My 17-year-old daughter plays me songs that are being made now that resonate with her. They have the function of reflecting what she's feeling and giving her voice, but they're also helping her make connections to the culture. I think there's a lot of music being made now that really is having the same effect that those songs had for us."

Forrest said the night is nonpartisan and cross-cultural.

"Mikhail Svetlov, a bass from the Metropolitan Opera, will be singing a song that's meaningful in protest for the people of Russia," Forrest said. "Sean Fleming will be representing Ireland."

Every culture has its protest songs and the set list for the April 15 event will reflect that, Forrest said.

"It's safe to say we'll be covering music from Woody Guthrie to Lady Gaga. We're not going to just do what people expect. It's about the power of art to change culture and minds positively," Forrest said.

They didn't want to tip their hand too much, but Friedberg said Nyack's Sam Waymon will sing a song called "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free," which in the '60s became an African-American anthem.

"It really expressed the feelings and the desires of a community in our country using music in a way that wasn't lecturing, it wasn't dictating, it wasn't demanding. It's a beautiful, gospel, inspirational song, a way of sharing the whole community's feeling."

Another planned song is a John Coltrane instrumental called "Alabama," written in the wake of the Birmingham church bombing that killed four little girls.

"The story is that he based his composition on the eulogy given by Dr. Martin Luther King, reflecting some of the rhythms of his speech," Friedberg said. "It's this moving, intense and powerful instrumental piece."

There are so many songs with social impact - and so many artists who stepped up to make themselves available.

The bill includes Grammy-winners Tom Chapin and Michael Mark, folk duo The Chapin Sisters (joined by a third Chapin sister), satirist John Forster, Rex Fowler of the band Aztec Two-Step, jazz vocalist Shirley Crabbe and Cuban percussionist Mayra Casales, among others.

"It was just a beautiful and clear concept that Jeffrey came to me with and no one has said no," Forrest said.

Songs of Protest: Music That Changed the World

What: A concert to Benefit The Arts Council of Rockland and ArtsRock

When: 7:30 p.m., April 15.

Where: Ritterhausen Theater at the Old Nyack High School, 131 N. Midland Ave, Nyack.

Tickets: $25 in advance/$30 at the door

Call: 855-ARTSROCK


Note: Doors to silent auction open at 6:30 p.m. An after-party and meet-and-greet with the artists will be held at Maura's Kitchen ($15 in advance, $20 at the door, includes one drink and passed tapas).

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