Recently returned from a week-long program in Belfast for teenagers whose lives have been affected by terrorism, Valerie Ghent, founder/director of New York’s 9/11-inspired nonprofit Feel the Music! music/arts education program, is basking in the success of her Common Bond Choir.
The choir was made up of teens from Israel, Palestine, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the United States. Ghent, whose organization has provided the music program for the annual “Project Common Bond” summer camp event for the teens from around the world, decided to go with the choir format this year. To conduct, she enlisted acclaimed New York singer-songwriter Mary Lee Kortes, who heads the band Mary Lee’s Corvette and has taught songwriting for Feel The Music! since 2007.
“It was an incredible sensation,” says Kortes. “We had a total of six hours to finalize our repertoire and decide on arrangements. The kids came shining through, completely unifying their energies to make an unforgettably beautiful sound.”
The choir performed Aug. 6 at The Great Hall of Queens University in Belfast.
“It brought tears to my eyes, seeing these young people from so many different areas of conflict singing together in one choir,” continues Ghent. “If only the leaders of these countries could have been in the audience.”
Ghent and Kortes brought a song selection with them, and the students added their own choices including “Imagine,” “Wavin’ Flag,” “Summer of ‘69″ and “Don’t Stop Believin’.” The concert, says Ghent, was universally celebrated as the highlight of the entire week.
Besides her involvement in Feel the Music!, Ghent is a singer-songwriter who runs the Songwriter’s Beat–a monthly evening at Cornelia Street Café where singer-songwriters can perform new material in an acoustic and supportive setting. She’s also the longtime keyboardist/backup singer and recording engineer for Ashford & Simpson.
Remarkably, the day after the Common Bond Choir concert, the choir members themselves chose to learn the classic Ashford & Simpson Motown composition “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and performed it to a standing ovation at the final dinner.