“Les, I’m real proud of ya’,” my stepdad A.C. had said to me while we sat out in the gazebo one balmy afternoon. It was the year 2000 and Mama was inside the house talking on the phone to her best friend Emily up in Oregon. We could hear the occasional howls of laughter as Mama’s voice rang out over the breeze.
A.C. and I sat at the round table in our wicker chairs, sipping refreshing glasses of lemonade, nibbling on homemade chocolate chip cookies and enjoying the sounds of the birds singing in harmony with the rustling leaves in the trees and the delicate clang of the wind chimes. My cat Max was an indoor cat but I had carried him out there with me so that he could safely enjoy the fresh air behind the screened-in walls of the gazebo.
A.C. gently stroked the pudgy little tiger’s soft fur and asked, “So tell me ‘bout this charity Symphony of Soul that ya’ started, Les.”
How I loved my stepdad with his bushy eyebrows and thick West Texas drawl! I took a quick sip of my lemonade and launched into the story. “Well, you know, it all started when Mama was at the hospital for her cancer surgery.”
“Well, that’s what yer Mama tol’ me,” A.C. said. “She said you were singin’ to her and the nurse and all the other cancer patients came over and stood in the doorway listenin’. That’s really somethin’!”
I explained to A.C. that, since I was working as a temp in a law firm, I enlisted the help of one of the attorneys and got the paperwork filed with the IRS. “So, it’s official,” I said. “It’s a real live 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.”
“Well, I must say, I’m very impressed, Les. So, my understanding is that ya’ wanna raise money so that ya’ can pay musicians to go into hospitals and shelters and other kinds of care centers and play live music to cheer people up?”
“Yes, that’s pretty much it in a nutshell,” I said.
“So, have ya’ started tryin’ to raise money for it yet?” A.C. asked.
“Oh, no. Not yet.” I said. “It’s all so new still. I’ll call up a care center and offer them a performance. I pay my pianist out of my own pocket to accompany me and, together, we perform songs that the folks at the care center will enjoy, you know, Broadway show tunes, hymns, jazz standards, whatever. I guess you could say that I’m still testing out the mission to make sure I’m on the right track. So far, people keep inviting us to come back and perform, so I guess that’s a good thing.”
My stepdad smiled and nodded in agreement as he reached for the pitcher of lemonade and poured us each another glass. I continued, “I do want to raise money so that I can pay musicians to do this. I mean, goodness…” My voice trailed off as I reflected on all the financial hardships I had endured over the years as a Singer/Actress. Even though I was making decent money as a legal secretary, I hated the work itself. It was so dull and dry and there wasn’t anything creative about it at all. How disheartening it felt to spend forty hours a week doing something I truly hated! I had struggled at “survival jobs” I hated for so many years in between singing and acting jobs that I wanted to provide something better for my fellow artists. Of course, I wanted it for myself, too.
Max must’ve sensed my distress because he sat up and relocated from A.C.’s lap to mine. I bent down and kissed the top of his soft ginger head as he snuggled up against me, happily purring. I reached over and grabbed a cookie off the plate, biting into it as I said, “Shoot, I’d like to be paid to run Symphony of Soul as its Executive Director. That’s a day job I’d much prefer over working in a law firm.”
“Well, sure, Les. I think that’d be a great job for ya’, so long as ya’ keep singin’ for people, too, along with the other musicians. Ya’ have a beautiful voice and it needs to be shared.” A.C. said. “And tell me ‘bout the name ‘Symphony of Soul’? How’d ya’ come up with it? I think that’s a real keen name for a charity.”
A cool breeze kicked up the jingle-jangle of the wind chimes in a delightful little melody as I explained, “The name ‘Symphony of Soul’ came to me after a lot of prayer and meditation. I believe that every soul comes into this world with divinely appointed gifts, like musical notes that are unique to each of us. If we each tap into this divine aspect of our soul and share it with the world, it’s as if our signature song is ringing out into the world and contributing to the greater symphony called ‘life’.”
A.C. smiled thoughtfully, his eyes beaming. “Well, Les, I think that’s just beautiful. I’m real proud of ya’ and yer Mama is too.”
And now, when I think back on that lovely afternoon with my stepdad A.C., I feel proud and wistful. He passed away in 2002 and Mama passed away in 2012. I still get misty-eyed when I think about them. Life just isn’t the same without Mama and A.C. I wonder what they would say if they knew how much Symphony of Soul has grown over the last 18 years. When my wonderful husband George arrived on the scene, I no longer had to worry about trying to raise money to pay myself a salary. As a result, I was free to run the charity as a volunteer and take all the incoming donations and use them to pay the musicians to provide “musical medicine for the soul” to people in need.
Since it all began in 2000, the charity has managed to provide 2,000 performances in 65 different care centers, serving more than 50,000 fragile clients/patients with uplifting music in the process. Not only that, but in the last decade alone, Symphony of Soul has provided more than a half million dollars in financial support to the musicians on the roster. I wonder what A.C. would say if we were once again sitting in the wicker chairs in the gazebo. Sometimes I wish that he just might whisper in my ear, “Les, I’m real proud of ya’. And yer Mama is too.”