Unique “Voices” in Brookline

Brookline Tab, February 2003

“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world…” These words, uttered by Margaret Mead, were never more true in the case of a very special combination of events taking place in Brookline next week. There will be a symposium and a concert, both centered around the plight of children caught up in events, whether political or personal, that are beyond their control.

Lately lot of us are focussing on the question of children and the future. With war imminent, many fear the consequences of nuclear or biological warfare for generations to come, and are speaking out about it. On a different level, with the possibility of the federal and state governments to underfund education and human services, children once again will become the victim of adult shortsightedness. And on yet another plane, we have been shaken by the crisis in the Catholic Church, another such example of innocent children hurt by adult wrongdoing. Children have the least say in what’s to become of them and their world.

A handful of Brookline citizens, both children and adults, are doing their part in addressing some of these kinds of ills that plague the world. PALS (Performing Arts at Lincoln School) will be performing a benefit concert (“Voices”) for the Treehouse Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promises to be a revolution in the foster care and adoption of children. According to the Foundation’s website, “the idea behind Treehouse is to provide support so that the families that are formed by the fostering can function positively…At Treehouse foster children will find parents, a home, grandparents, playmates and an entire neighborhood designed to help them grow up in a supportive and secure environment.” Treehouse builds unique support systems into its residences, and thus ensures the wellbeing of its families.

The PALS Voices concert for Treehouse will feature a debut of Howard Frazin’s oratoria, The Voice of Isaac. This work features the story of a boy’s relationship with his father, and is about the “urgent, searing, powerful myth which every kid in all three [of the major] religions grows up with and is about the inexplicable cruelty” children can experience in this life according to Brookline resident, pediatrician Eli Newburger. Dr. Newberger, who specializes in issues relating to fathers’ relationships with their sons, will be participating in the symposium at the Coolidge Corner Theatre with Frazin, and also with the celebrated author James Carroll, on the issues raised by Treehouse’s mission as well as the story behind The Voice of Isaac, and contemporary examples of children caught in the crossfire. Carroll, who has written extensively on the subject of fathers and sons, will bring his expertise, experiences as a former priest, and as a father and a son, to the conversation. The focus of the discussion, according to PALS Marketing Director Ellen Schreiber, who helped organize it, will be the plight of children, historically and worldwide. The evening will eloquently bring to light the situation of voiceless, dispossessed children, past and present, as well as “children who are at risk, victimized, and marginalized,” according to Schreiber.

The Voices concert will illuminate all of these same issues through music. “There’s nothing more appropriate than having children singing it,” says Schreiber. “There’s something really magical about children being the deliverer of a message…It’s very disarming.” PALS Artistic Director Johanna Hill Simpson agrees. “PALS is giving a voice to children as artists; serious artists, performing serious music, doing serious good for other causes.” Simpson finds a cause like Treehouse is so valuable in that it “Goes deep, rather than broad…It may not fix every child but will definitely fix a big handful” in a very real way. The mission of Treehouse dovetails nicely with the work that Simpson and her talented staff do with PALS. “We take our community at Lincoln and go really deep,” says Simpson. The experience the children enjoy is profound and lifelong. The good they will all promote, through concert and symposium, is truly a worthwhile pursuit.

A small group of individuals can make a difference. Organizations like Treehouse go very far towards healing some of the pain people encounter in this world. The more we can raise awareness and speak out—or sing out—on these issues, the less apt we are to become part of the problem.