Sometimes, it's so hard to find good music. Critics and fans will say so much of today's mainstream music is overproduced and overplayed.
But music lovers of all ages can rejoice: There's an organization called Hear Your Song working hard—and having fun—creating original music by some very unique and talented artists. The songs are extremely catchy, very well produced, and delightful ear candy for anyone who loves and appreciates good music.
So, what's so unique about the artists behind Hear Your Song? All the songwriters are children who have serious medical conditions or disabilities—and love music. In a nutshell, Hear Your Song is a nonprofit founded by Dan Rubins and Rebecca Brudner that empowers these children to express themselves by writing songs and then bringing those lyrics to life.
Hear Your Song artists range from children who've never touched a musical instrument to those who've been in music school for years. No matter their skill level, all the kids strive and succeed in writing and creating songs that are produced, recorded and edited by the organization's staff and many volunteers.
“It's a kid-driven process. Our goal is to give them as much power and choice as we can, especially since kids living with serious illnesses often have very little power and very little choice in their day-to-day lives,” Rubins explained.
So what this means is that kids can write songs about anything they want: Their illnesses, their pets, their favorite pasta, hobbies and more. Some kids choose to record the songs they've written using their own voice, while others prefer to hand the mike over to a volunteer to perform. Either way, their songs get recorded and heard.
The Hear Your Song repertoire, which can be found on YouTube and streaming music services like Spotify and iTunes, gives listeners an extensive array of songs to choose from. Some are relaxing, some are upbeat, some you can switch on in traffic, and some you can even put on during your workout. There's something for everyone.
Morgan, a 12-year-old blind girl from Riverdale, is an all-around versatile musician. She's trained in multiple instruments and is both the music and lyrics writer behind her hit song, Country Blind.
She's got a powerful, soul-filled voice (think Janis Joplin meets Stevie Nicks), and an energetic and fun stage presence that really gets the crowd going.
She's got perfect pitch, too.
“Morgan loves music,” Missy Adriazola, Morgan's mother, said. “She knows all genres. She's been an opera fanatic for so long. She's into rap music, she now loves country. My mother is bringing her back to the 50s. She's very musical.”
About Hear Your Song
Hear Your Song started as a student organization at Yale University in 2014, but expanded into a nonprofit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rubins, who was a teacher at the time, quit to make Hear Your Song his full-time gig, helping to bring music and joy to children in need.
“We had always hoped to bring Hear Your Song to other communities and campuses, but really the catalyst for that was the pandemic. This was because of the need for kids with serious illnesses to be able to tell their stories and connect with other people and have community, especially immunocompromised kids,” Rubins said. “Increasingly, kids were experiencing more mental health needs throughout the pandemic.”
At a time when most music venues were shut down, musicians were not able to perform, teach or otherwise use their skills for a mass audience. It was a natural pairing to bring these two isolated groups together.
“There was this huge community of musicians who no longer had the collaborative opportunities that they were used to. All these factors came together to give us the moment to bring Hear Your Song to more people and more communities,” Rubins, who has a background in musical theater, explained.
During the pandemic, kids and Hear Your Song volunteers would meet virtually. Eventually they would collaborate at the child's home or, more often, at summer camps and other programs around the metro area. Collaborations still take place virtually, too. There is no charge for any family to be part of Hear Your Song, and children do not need to have any musical background or skills.
Today, Rubins and his team have formed important partnerships with hospitals and organizations throughout the metro area as a way to let kids and families know that Hear Your Song is out there. These partnerships include Montefiore Medical Center, Double H Ranch camp, Camp AmeriKids and others.
Hear Your Song: The Social Aspect
For many children, their disabilities and conditions can be quite isolating. But Hear Your Song allows kids to meet and socialize with others who have common interests.
Lucas, 16, from New Providence, NJ, was diagnosed with inoperable low grade gliomas in his brain stem. Because of his illness and the intense treatment he's received over the years, Lucas can not walk. Although he has lots of friends, he's not able to participate in many activities that the other kids do, like playing sports.
But being part of Hear Your Song gives Lucas the opportunity to do something else he enjoys, and have fun with friends while doing it.
“It empowers him to feel important, to feel heard, to feel that he made friends who are meaningful in his life,” Amy Reiling, Lucas' mother, said. “Having the type of illness and disabilities that Lucas has, it's very isolating. It's very lonely. But this gives him friends, and not just a friend that hangs out and plays video games, but a friend that makes him feel that he can write music.”
Lucas' song Smiles In the Wind is a beautiful ballad of which he wrote all the lyrics and contributed ideas for the melody (which, by the way, is inspired by Frank Sinatra's “My Way”).
As his song title might suggest, Lucas makes a lot of people smile, including his friends, family and others who hear his music. And these days, he's doing very well, his mother said.
“He's absolutely a miracle,” Reiling said. “It's definitely a complicated life, it's a lot, but he's doing great. He's thriving.”
Just as Lucas' mother described, Hear Your Song is about more than doing something fun. It's also about community and friends, Rubins explained.
“At the end of the day, it's really a very relationship- and community-driven organization,” Rubins said. “We really want to make kids and their families feel they are part of a community, and it's not just a one-off activity. It's a network of support—and a celebration of that more than anything.”
Main image: Morgan Adriazola performs for an audience. Photo credit: Jason Haberman.