Gestures Of Kindness, part 14: Chicago Musicians Care Records 'Hallelujah' As A Gift To Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund

(This is the 14th installation in a series of stories that share with readers special events that continue to take place as Newtown heals following the events of 12/14. It is also a continuation of anecdotes from across the country, of people offering kind gestures on behalf of our town.)


CHICAGO, ILL. — To honor those killed on 12/14, and to help those who were affected by what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School that Friday morning just over a year ago, Chicago Musicians Care has released its recording of the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah.” Available for purchase through iTunes, sales of the song will generate funds for the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund.

Kevin Tenbrunsel, a Chicago-area businessman and singer, teamed up with pianist and producer Chris Errera to create Chicago Musicians Care. The two co-founded CMC in response to 12/14, Mr Tenbrunsel said earlier this month via e-mail.

“We were heartbroken, and still are, by the events of December 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School and felt compelled to do something to respond,” Mr Tenbrunsel said. “Our sadness has not waned almost a year later and we wish as much peace and happiness as possible to the families of the victims, and all families in Sandy Hook and Newtown, given these unbearable circumstances.

“Our goal is simple and threefold,” he said. The group, he said, wanted to send a message “that Chicago has not forgotten and still grieves for the tragedy of that day.” There was a wish “to create awareness around the senseless violence that is occurring in our schools,” he continued. The fact that the recording is earning money for one of the funds created after 12/14 is the third part of CMC’s mission: to use music to serve those in need.

A video that shows many of the vocalists and musicians during the recording process has been posted online at ChicagoMusiciansCare.com.

“At the end of the video you will see the words ‘Never Forget, Never Again,’” Mr Tenbrunsel pointed out. “We mean that.”

Inspiration for the recording came right after 12/14, from the program The Voice. Three days after the shootings, the television show opened its December 17 episode by having its coaches Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton, host Carson Daly, and the show’s then-22 contestants gather on stage to sing “Hallelujah.” Each person held a card with the name and age of a victim printed on the card. (For those doing the math yes, The Voice chose to include the name of the shooter’s mother in its tribute to Sandy Hook.)

“I was very inspired by that performance and it likely had something to do with us choosing ‘Hallelujah,’” said Mr Tenbrunsel, who said the song has one of the most beautiful melodies, “if not the most beautiful melody, I have ever heard.”

CMC gathered vocalists, musicians, and producers to record Mr Errera’s arrangement of the Cohen song. The Chicago Children’s Choir, under the direction of President and Artistic Director Josephine Lee, also donated their vocal talents to the song. Mitchell Owens provided the choir arrangement.

The recording was done on June 30 at Uptown Recording, a studio in downtown Chicago. The song was recorded and filmed that day.

“It was a tremendous outpouring of generosity. People donated their time and resources to make this song and project a reality,” he said. Even Sony/ATV, who owns the rights to the song, agreed to waive the royalties of the CMC recording so that more money will go to the workers assistance fund.

“This is just one of the many examples of people and their acts of kindness and generosity for Sandy Hook, all of which has humbled us during this project,” said Mr Tenbrunsel.

The song was released on November 4, and it can be purchased through iTunes. As of December 9 there had been 141 purchases of the song; by December 17 there had been more than 4,370 views of the video on YouTube. Once CMC pays the iTunes commission, the remaining funds will be donated to the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund.

The State of Connecticut General Assembly established the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Program in March, to provide support to volunteer and professional workers suffering from mental health issues as a result of 12/14. The fund is supplemented through private donations, not tax dollars. Traditional workers compensation does not cover most workers for exclusively mental injuries.

The program is being operated by the state Office of Victim Services. The fund is maintained by State Treasurer Denise L. Nappier.

“Often these are the people that are forgotten when a tragedy such as this occurs. We want them to know that we care and will never forget,” Mr Errera said via press release.

“They are the people that saved so many, that comforted the children and their co-workers,” Mr Tenbrunsel added. “They need all of our support now. We want to help them in any way we can and let them know we care,” he said.

In addition, Betsy Shepherd, of Connected Communications LLC, who has helped CMC with publicity, knows some people who live in Newtown and Sandy Hook. Word reached her, said Mr Tenbrunsel, “that the families had respectfully requested privacy and to defer gifts and donations elsewhere. We wanted to respect their wishes.”

CMC plans to continue its fundraising effort for the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund. A December 8 fundraiser that was to take place in Chicago was postponed once organizers decided that there were too many other holiday offerings vying for attention.

“We found that people were just too busy with holiday plans, so we would like to plan a future date so that all who want to attend, can,” said Mr Tenbrunsel. An online auction is also being considered, to auction off items that had been intended for the December event.

CMC is also looking at another group that it can help with its talents. Following a tornado on November 17 that created “significant destruction” in Washington, Ill., southwest of Chicago, Mr Tenbrunsel says he and other CMC members are writing a song to record and release.

“Our plan is to market and sell that song, with proceeds of that going to folks in Washington that are struggling financially from the tornados.”


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