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A Concert Of Caring, Healing And Togetherness: Peter Yarrow & Friends For Newtown

RIDGEFIELD — Created with the intention of bringing the Newtown community together in song, spirit, and common purpose, “A Concert Of Caring, Healing And Togetherness” will be performed at The Ridgefield Playhouse at 3 pm on Sunday, February 10. Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul & Mary), Dar Williams, Guy Davis, and Bethany & Rufus will join performers from Newtown’s Flagpole Radio Café to sing songs that follow the evening’s theme. Admission is free, but tickets are required.

The concert will also focus on “The Sandy Hook Promise,” which in part calls on America to “truly honor the lives lost by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation,” assuring that, in the future, children and youth will grow up in safe, caring, and violence-free school and community environments. The concert will underscore the words “Our hearts are broken; Our spirit is not,” that express the Newtown community’s determination to “be remembered, not as the town filled with grief and victims, but as the place where real change began.”

Special guests will include members of the Newtown families and first responder networks, educators and a statewide group of Connecticut’s leaders who will be attending the concert in a demonstration of solidarity with the families and community members whose lives have been so deeply affected by the recent tragedy. These people are being given the first opportunity to reserve tickets for the concert, said Flagpole Radio Café Producer Martin Blanco.

Tickets will be made available to the public beginning Thursday, February 7. The public can obtain tickets beginning at 9 am that morning, and they must pick them up in person. There is a four ticket limit per person. The theater is at 80 East Ridge.  

The concert and a post-performance reception is being produced with support from Operation Respect, an educational nonprofit organization co-founded by Mr Yarrow that is dedicated to creating “respectful, safe and compassionate climates of learning, free of bullying, ridicule and violence,” according to its mission statement. Newtown’s Flagpole Radio Café is also co-producing the show.

Flagpole Café was created by Newtown residents including Mr Blanco, Jim Allyn, and Barbara Gaines in 2008, in conjunction with Newtown Cultural Arts Commission. Flagpole Radio Café shows regularly feature an eclectic mix of music performed by The Flagpole Radio Café Orchestra coupled with radio- style comedy sketches by The Flagpole Shakespeare Repertory Theatre that often pull localized humor into the dialogue. Each event features a different musical guest. Mr Yarrow, Mr Davis, and Bethany & Rufus have all been featured guests for Flagpole Radio Café shows.

In fact, Mr Yarrow looks forward to another opportunity to perform with the FRC crew, whom he described as “very talented.”

Mr Blanco said this week that the February 10 concert will be just that: a concert.

“It’s not going to be a Flagpole show, a variety show. It’s not going to be comedy driven,” said Mr Blanco, who also writes for and performs in Flagpole Radio Café shows. “That’s not to say an organic moment might not come up that happens to make us laugh or smile.

“It’s going to be a concert, featuring Peter, and the other musicians, and the Flagpole ensemble,” he continued. “We’re working on some spoken word, as well.”

Repertory Theatre members including Mr Blanco, Barbara Gaines, and Kate Katcher, and Flagpole Ensemble members Jim Allyn, Rob Bonnacorso, Rick Brodsky, Howie Bujese, and Dick Neil are all scheduled to perform next weekend.

Radio Café Orchestra members Francine and David Wheeler, who lost their son Benjamin on 12/14, will also be on stage Sunday afternoon. Mr Yarrow and Ms Williams have been working with the Wheelers to select songs for the program.

“She’s enormously gifted,” Mr Yarrow said of Francine Wheeler. “She’s going to do wonderful things, and she’s going to continue carrying Ben with her. Her voice is beautiful, heart-breakingly beautiful.”

“Peter has spent a lot of time crafting this [concert] with them,” Mr Blanco said. “The final pieces have not been determined yet, but we have been working on it.”

“I got together with the ensemble in various configurations, just running down some of the songs that I’m going to be doing,” Mr Yarrow added. “It’s all going to be that collective spirit.”

“One of the aspects that’s going to be very moving, I believe, is that toward the end of the concert, I will be singing with the Flagpole Café ensemble,” continued Mr Yarrow, who also said he plans to mention Operation Respect, “but not heavy duty,” during the concert.

“A song like ‘Blowing in the Wind’ is always moving, but there will be specific songs that have the character of connecting hearts in challenging times. That’s very inspiring, it’s moving. I think we’ll send a message, that there will be a mutual commitment to all those in attending, including families, fist responder, educators, and stakeholders in the Newtown community and throughout the state, to ensure them to say we will be the genesis of working towards a time and place in which the kind of cruelty that children endure — which of course exacerbates the danger to children, and to the children who are troubled, who can hurt themselves, or externalize their pain and anger — and that means making sure the environment that we live in, and they live in, is safe, and kind, and bully free,” continued Mr Yarrow, who really does speak sentences in one long breath that circle back to their point.

It’s All About Showing Respect For Each Other

Mr Yarrow has long been a proponent of a nicer world.

“If you look at the history of Peter, Paul and Mary, you’ll see that each of us … all had a long history with events, and movements, that were all about the existence of disrespect,” Mr Yarrow said on January 29. “You have the civil rights movement, which is about racism, a very revealing form of disrespect; the women’s movement, the environmental movement, and for the next generation the apartheid movement.

“We take a personal sense of affront when we see mean-spiritedness that is directed toward others,” he continued. “It hurts us, it upsets us.”

Mr Yarrow recalled recently meeting a man in Monroe, Mich., “a wonderful musician,” who was bullied when he was young, “and it was just devastating to him.

“So part of it is personal,” he continued, responding to why anti-bullying programs are important to him. “As an artist you are very sensitive to injustice, to cruelty. Not all [artists are this sensitive], but most are.

“When you find ways to turn that, with positive efforts, to create great acceptance, greater love, greater equality, greater justice, more peace… It is a long road,” he admitted. “But today we have to grant kids the right to not be frightened to go to school, or to be surrounded by all their peers. We need to grant them this right, and assure them this right. And if we do, the likelihood of some child becoming so disturbed, and becoming psychotic, or some other form of disturbance, that they try and take their own life, or someone else’s life, or they become serial bullies, that diminishes. There is a connection between all this, this movement in which we currently see ourselves the effects of rampant mean-spiritedness that surrounds us.”

He points to mainstream television as one source that has desensitized many.

“For some people, cruelty and ridicule is entertainment. And when you see that happening, you know something has gone terribly wrong,” said Mr Yarrow, who prefers independent shows when he does decide to watch television.

“I watch very little television, except for the news,” he said. “Not too much of Hollywood brings me into a place of feeling good about having just sat through something.”

His life, he says, is very much dedicated to his work. That is, when he isn’t going to the opera, attending folk festivals, skiing, or dreaming of getting back to his painting, and going back to school.

During next weekend’s concert, it will be announced that free training in Operation Respect’s “Don’t Laugh At Me” program will be offered to teachers and other educators in six schools in the Newtown area. The educational program provides tools for establishing a caring climate in which the emotional and physical abuse children suffer due to peer ridicule, teasing, bullying and other hurtful behaviors is far less likely to occur.

“What we do is focus on creating an environment that’s caring, using curriculum developed by the educators for social responsibility, and that’s combined with the music,” said Mr Yarrow. “Just as the music in the concert will bring music together, just as Peter, Paul and Mary brought people together in the march on Washington.

“Then, that reaches the heart. When you reach the heart, the minds open up and discussions take place, and kids learn to express their emotions, and respect each other’s feelings, and learn the rudiments of nonviolent conflict resolution, and create a peace place, and write their own constitution of caring, and decide what they want to live in their schools and lives. These are all tools for creating an environment.”

Mr Yarrow is understandably proud of the program that has been used extensively in Connecticut and around the world. The tools for the local schools will be made available after next weekend. Until then, Mr Yarrow and his friends can continue to offer music to everyone.

“The real focus is going to be on creating a space for music to soothe, comfort, help in the healing process, at whatever point anybody in the audience is in,” he said. “It’s really, really painful, unendurable, I can’t imagine. People laugh one moment, and cry the next. They’re angry, they’re getting through grief.

“We just have to be sensitive to that. We’re there to serve the community, to help.”

For further information, contact Martin Blanco at 203-364-0898 or blancobm@hotmail.com, or The Ridgefield Playhouse at 203-438-5795 or RidgefieldPlayhouse.org.

 

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