New Director: End of Year Thoughts and Voices of Valor

Peter Hill, Senior Director: As I reflect upon my first two months working here at Music For All Seasons and I look to the new year, I find that my thoughts are upon how much I have learned and how wonderful it will be to continue learning how to properly help with the shepherding and administration of the activities that MFAS runs.

I have benefitted from getting to know Rena and Brian and learning from them in frequent meetings in my office and continually asking Dana questions about the day-to-day life of MFAS. I have greatly enjoyed meeting with board members and getting to know the history of people helping right from the start at the founding of MFAS all the way to our newest members. I am amazed at the accomplishments that Rena and Brian have made through the years and the evolution that MFAS has undergone. I am also very glad to have followed my first Voices of Valor cycle.

On the evening of my second day at work, a Tuesday evening – as each meeting would be until the recording session, I observed Jennifer Lampert and Ron Haney’s first session of their November-December cycle of Voices of Valor at Valley Brook Village in Basking Ridge. I knew just about from the start, that I was witnessing something special. And I knew after just a couple of minutes that I wanted to follow them all the way through the nine weeks of meetings. It was a wonder hearing Jennifer and Ron talk to the veterans about the music of their lives and hear how they responded with their own stories. I was amazed at the ease with which Jennifer spoke with the veterans and the ease with which Ron played through style after style while riffing on his acoustic guitar. I heard Jennfier talk about her own life and why she was involved with VOV and I heard Ron play through licks from 50s style prom music to 70s soul to 80s synth pop to 90s rock all the while they were both seeing what the veterans responded to. It turns out that several of the veterans were participating for the second or third time. Knowing a bit of what Jennifer was looking for, they responded to Jennifer’s singing with their own. It was delightful to hear them spontaneously burst out with bits and pieces of songs that they knew, as well as stories from their lives. For two months, my Tuesdays evenings with the veterans, Jennifer, and Ron were the light of my week. 

Each week Jennifer gave the veterans homework in the form of questions to think about for the next session. One of the participants, ‘John’, an older fellow, would always respond to Jennifer’s questions with true poetry: verses that he wrote on his own beforehand. His words were both beautifully lyrical yet grounded in his own reality. Every single word seemed to spring forth from the experiences in his life.

I also remember a particularly poignant moment in their fourth meeting together in which ‘Henry’  reflected upon his life. He spoke about the difficult experiences of losing his wife, being shot, being homeless, and finally coming through these experiences so that he is grateful for his life. It was to be this story and others that they told while thinking through the song-writing process that I will remember vividly. 

Being with the group each week, I had a window into the creation of a unique song based upon words from the veterans. Jennifer and Ron kept working through style after style, riff after riff, line after line settling upon a style that fit the words and thoughts of the veterans. By the seventh session, they had a fully fleshed out song that, as it turns out, was a love song. The veterans’ words both looked back upon lost love and to the future with hope.  

While the recording session was taking place during the eighth time the group met at Montclair State University’s state-of-the-art studio, I interviewed the veterans for our end-of-cycle evaluations. It was wonderful to talk individually with each of the veterans. I was to ask them our questions designed to draw from them what they got out of the cycle of VOV and I wrote down their answers. But, personally, what I got most out of our conversations were simple things I learned about them when we talked about their lives. My conversation with John, the veteran from above, lasted about twenty-five minutes, and to be honest, after answering the required questions, we mostly talked about how nice it was to go out for a day and to be in such an airy, beautiful place like MSU’s school of communication and media. He told me about some of the inspirations of his lyrics and he told me about some movies to watch and some music to listen to and some good things to live by. I knew the answers I was to write down for our evaluations, but it felt like I knew more than that after being able to sit down with him, look out the giant, light-filled windows and hear him talk about his favorite things. 

After reflecting upon the recording session and the veterans’ journey through the cycle of Voices of Valor with the entire team, I found that my thoughts were mostly for myself. I felt inspired to reflect upon my experience and what will be new in my life. It occurred to me that this is what we hope for our participants at the conclusion of each cycle of Voices of Valor: we hope to have given them new things to think about, new things to consider, new relationships to hold, and new songs to sing. I think that by following the veterans for nine weeks, I learned for myself an encapsulation of what the mission of VOV is all about: giving others their own new song to sing. 

2 Year Fellowship Program with The Cali School of Music- Montclair State University


In 2022, Music for All Seasons & The Cali School of Music at Montclair State University in New Jersey has partnered to provide a two-year fellowship program that prepares young professional classical musicians for careers integrating performance, teaching, community engagement, advocacy, entrepreneurship, and leadership. 

2- Year Graduate Program within the Artist Diploma Program

  • Program seeks to create a supportive space to define a creative identity and vision.
  • Geared towards young professionals interested in a career path mixing chamber music, freelancing, and teaching.
  • Full tuition plus a stipend per semester.
  • Lessons and mentoring included.

For more information, email

Brian Dallow

Presenting Programs During a Pandemic
September, 2020
By Brian Dallow
MFAS Executive Director

Along with the rest of the country, New Jersey was closed down for COVID-19 in mid-March of 2020. By the middle of March all programs were brought to a close. This presented us with a series of challenges. The residents of facilities where we performed on a regular basis were suddenly without our programs. Our musicians, dependent upon performing, were suddenly without income.  The first challenge was to figure out ways in which our programs could still be delivered to our facilities without endangering either facility residents or our musicians. The second challenge was to apply for a PPP loan/grant in order to continue operations through the summer.

After much discussion with our musicians and with the highly cooperative staff of our facilities, creative solutions were found.  Our musicians recorded extremely positive and interactive videos for us to distribute among the various facilities.  It is a tribute to the quality of our musicians that these programs have become extremely popular with the residents and much in demand. Our thanks to all our musicians who spent a great deal of time and creative energy producing these videos, which took a great deal more time to produce than the regular programs.  

In addition, two facilities, one in New York and one in New Jersey, had situations where it was possible for the musicians to perform in open courtyards and the residents to listen and interact with the musicians through their windows overlooking these spaces. A facility staff member in New York wrote the following: “The approximate 100 families at our facility enjoyed the fantastic mix of melodies on accordion and trumpet.  The 200 – 250 people on-site took in the three sets and gave feedback by clapping from their windows.  The weather was perfect, and staff and residents alike were smiling from ear to ear thanks to the live music.”

We were also able to do a few programs for seniors in parking lots, with the attendees listing from their cars, or seated on lawn chairs, wearing masks, and at least ten feet away from others.

The musicians selected for our programs are the primary factor for the project’s success. Music For All Seasons performers are professionals who represent a broad variety of musical styles. They are graduates of major conservatories, selected on the basis of their performing ability and their ease in relating to those in institutional settings. MFAS musicians perform in many different genres including:  classical chamber music; vocal music from classical to jazz and Broadway; jazz ensembles; popular; rhythm & blues; rock; ethnic music of various regions including Andean music and African dance, voice and percussion. Each series is designed for its intended audience and features from one to three musicians.

The Voices of Valor program, songwriting for veterans, is dependent upon a different kind of interaction between the participants and the musician/facilitators – the participants bring notebooks filled with their experiences during the week and share these with all present.  These experiences are discussed and the facilitators assist them in turning their notes into a group song.  When COVID-19 hit, a unique kind of program had to be developed.  Initially we tried a combination of Zoom and in-person, with in-person participants in the parking lot of a diner, all wearing masks and socially distancing.  Those on the Zoom side of the call felt somewhat separated from the rest of the participants.  A decision was made to keep all of the program “in-person” in the parking lot of the diner. While this had its challenges, it proved to be the most successful resolution.  Everyone stayed healthy throughout the process.

The success can be seen in an article written in the Philadelphia Inquirer at

Spotlight on Our Musicians – Wendy & Rik

Wendy Becker and Rik Howard are long-time MFAS musicians and we talked to them about their experience working with us and what a performance is like from their point of view.

  1. How long have you been working with Music For All Seasons?

We have been working with MFAS about 10 years. A musical colleague of ours, Harvey Cohen, was coordinating artists on the West Coast, knew our work and invited us to be a part of MFAS.

  1. What is your musical/education background?
    Rik is a self-taught musician, but has written and sung themes for about a dozen network television series, and has scored several series. He has also won grand prize awards in several huge international songwriting contests. He plays guitar, piano, and sings.
    Wendy earned a B.F.A degree in Music Therapy from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and has been performing onstage since the age of five. As she grew, so did the stages, and she has shared them with Barbra Streisand, Josh Groban, David Foster and many other musical celebrities. She has written songs that have charted in Europe. In addition, as an actress she has performed on TV, the stage and in films. She plays piano and sings.
  1. What programs have you participated in with MFAS?
    – Children’s Oncology Ward and Kidney Dialysis units at Childrens’ Hospitals in Los Angeles and Orange County
    – Venice Free Clinic
    – Orangewood Childrens’ Home- emergency shelter for neglected and sexually, physically or emotionally abused children
    – Shelters for families victimized by domestic violence in Los Angeles and Orange County California as well as in New Jersey
    – Henry Street Settlement, New York(helping families feeling the effects of urban poverty)
    – Juvenile Detention Center, New Jersey
  2. What is the most rewarding part about working with MFAS?

It is truly amazing to see and experience the healing powers of music before our eyes. This is a very general description, but it seems that no matter what type of population we are dealing with this kind of scenario occurs.  We know that we are walking in to an audience of people of all ages who have possibly never experienced live musical performance. They have suffered and/or are suffering from various kinds of pain, both physical and emotional which is often evident by a sense of stiffness, but when we begin performing, within just a few moments, the whole room energy changes. There are smiles, and an easing of tension that we can see on their faces. As the performance goes on the whole general energy of the room shifts from tension to ease and joy. It is exhibited also by maybe clapping or singing along as well as interest in what we are playing. By the end of the hour, there is a definite difference that everyone feels. 

  1. Do you have any experiences/stories to share about your time with MFAS that really stand out?
    W-It is profoundly rewarding to do this kind of work. Utilizing our talents to lift the spirits and alleviate some of the pain that people may be experiencing is profound. I believe that we give a sense of hope in an otherwise dreary and hopeless kind of existence, sometimes without even having to say a word. It seems almost magical. I guess it’s the magic of music. I know from my studies that we have physical changes that occur in our bodies, just from listening to music-our heart rate changes, our posture and sweat glands even change. But here I also experience firsthand the fantastic changes that occur on many levels, and that change can stay for quite a while.
    For me (us) it is a natural high.

    R-I would imagine that a child that is not living with their nuclear family, or an abused woman and child, might have trust issues as a result of their experiences. I have seen the tentative expressions and uncertainty in their eyes. After a short period of time, they start to believe that we are there for their enjoyment and they start to relax into a new stance, with a sense that we won’t hurt them, or let them down. It is very important for us not to have any judgment in our hearts, and just maintain the hope that they will join with us on this journey. We must bring all of our talent and intention to fulfill this mission. I believe that each of these encounters can change a person forever.

  1. Do you have any final comments?

This work not only heals, but when we can touch others with our music, the effects for us are also very powerful. It is a real sense of doing work that is worthwhile, and so it becomes a healing process for us as musicians. Music heals and heals the healer.

Spotlight on Our Musicians

diane-michaelsDIANE MICHAELS, Harpist

Interviewed by Courtney Mayes

Music For All Seasons would not be able to provide music for the many shelters, hospitals, housing facilities, and veterans it does without the great talent of our musicians.  This blog takes a look at what a Music For All Seasons performance is like from the perspective of the musician.  We interviewed Diane Michaels, a harpist, who has been working with Music For All Seasons for more than fifteen years.

What is your musical background?
I have a Bachelor of Music Degree in Harp Performance from Oberlin College Conservatory of Music.

What programs have you participated in with MFAS?
Recently, the bulk of my performances have been in shelters for victims of domestic abuse and the programs are geared toward the children in residence.  Through the auspices of MFAS, I have performed for residents of a Juvenile Detention Center, at an Adult Correctional Facility, and for seniors in  a variety of venues: Hospices, Hospitals, Senior Housing and Long-Term Care facilities.

What is a MFAS performance is like from your perspective?
Regardless of the age group I’m performing for, I generally feel the excitement of the audience members when I wheel my harp into the facility.  I sense I am a welcome change from their daily schedule.  Some folks will interact with me, and more often, my harp as I take off the harp cover.  Most people have never seen a harp, so my performance begins before I’ve played a note.

Performing for seniors is easy because I meet so many folks with a rich experience of listening to music.  I know they will have personal connections with my repertoire.  When performing for children, I often am introducing them to the concert experience.  The harp is not the most, oh, energetic of instruments and requires a more still type of listening.  I speak in between each piece, looking to give them a sense of familiarity or a game plan for listening to an unfamiliar piece.  At my most recent performance – JBWS – I began with the question, “Who has ever heard of Beethoven?”  I got a good show of hands.

The sense of recognition continued when I played Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” and I think when my audience feels a connection this early in a program, they sustain a much greater interest.  Young children do get restless, but older ones, especially kids who have had exposure to music through school programs are more engaged.  Although I have put together programs where I invite kids to dance to my music, I find that works best when I have a couple of 8-year old girls to lead the way.

I am comfortable with my role as a relaxing, rather than energizing performer.  Some of my more memorable performances have been for people who needed to listen to a soothing program.  One comes to mind: I was at a shelter.  My audience was 3 pregnant women and a 4th who had just had her baby.  At the end of the concert, all 3 pregnant women plus the baby were asleep.  Through my music, I provided what they needed.

What is the most rewarding part about working with MFAS?
I was about 9 or 10 when I first learned how my performances affected my audiences. Prior to that, I had only thought about the harp from my side of it.  As much as I loved the instrument, I was even more excited to know other people felt something when they listened to me.  I would much rather be an active part of the musical experience through a live performance than to hope the same happens when someone listens to a recording I’ve made.

MFAS introduces me to audiences who may not seek out an evening of harp music. When they have a profound experience listening to a live concert, it comes in a natural and unexpected manner.  I am at once challenged to reach them, but also free from an audience challenging me to deliver an anticipated experience.

Do you have any experiences/stories to share that really stand out to you during your time with MFAS?
I have had a few moving encounters from my years with MFAS.  The most vivid came through one of the shelter concerts.  I arrived to find no one in residence at a particular shelter.  I always enjoy chatting with the staff members there, so I stayed for a few minutes and we talked about an idea for an art project to combine with my next visit. While we were talking, she had to take a call on the hotline.  A woman and her children were in crisis and soon were picked up to bring them to safety.  Someone had the idea to hold off on the paperwork, and bring them directly to the shelter for a short concert.  As I played for the family, the older son, about 5, started asking me questions.  He wanted to know about school, chores, and other important areas of his life. I felt he chose me, rather than someone from the shelter because though the harp, I made him feel better about being thrust into a new world.  When I finished the program, his mother cried, very quietly.  I don’t think they were the sort of tears that reflected the active cycle of her recent trauma; they were calm, cleansing tears.  Again, I had the sense that I brought her to that place through my music.