Symphony of Soul
In May of 2000, Leslie’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and was treated at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Her mother was terrified and asked Leslie to sing to help calm her nerves. Heartbroken to hear such fear in her mother’s voice, Leslie sat at her mother’s bedside and, with her eyes closed and her back to the door, softly sang prayerful words and melodies to help her mother relax. Because her eyes were closed and her back was to the door, Leslie didn’t realize that the nurse had opened the door to the room and the other cancer patients on the ward had gotten out of their beds and were standing in the doorway listening. In that moment, Symphony of Soul was born.
Leslie settled in Austin and founded Symphony of Soul, a nonprofit organization that provides uplifting, live “musical medicine for the soul” to people who are confined in care centers and facing challenging circumstances. With more than 160 carefully vetted, professional musicians of all genres – classical, jazz, blues, folk, rock and more – Symphony of Soul provides live music to people that are confined in hospitals, shelters, rehab centers and retirement homes.
Symphony of Soul serves everyone from infants to senior citizens who are coping with cancer, Alzheimer’s, drug and addiction, mental illness, homelessness and other challenges. Since its inception 18 years ago, Symphony of Soul has provided approximately 2,000 performances at more than 66 care centers in Central Texas, serving roughly 50,000 people in the process. In addition, though Austin promotes itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” the unfortunate reality is that the vast majority of professional musicians are living at or close to the poverty level. Symphony of Soul compensates musicians for providing “musical medicine” to the fragile patients/clients in care centers. In the last decade alone, Symphony of Soul has provided over a half million dollars of financial support to the musicians on its roster.
Leslie’s mother survived the cancer and they had several wonderful and joyful years together. However, her mother later developed Alzheimer’s. Leslie was thankful that she could walk the painful 8-year journey of Alzheimer’s alongside her mother until she passed away in August 2012. As heartbreaking as it was for Leslie to witness her mother’s decline, she is quick to say that it was one of the most spiritual experiences of her life. Through the power of song, Leslie and her mother managed to stay very close and connected up until the very end. She continues to run Symphony of Soul as an ongoing tribute to her mother.
Dollhouse Project – The Hyland House
One day, when Leslie and her big sister Julie were little girls, their grandparents showed up at their house with a special gift. One by one, their grandmother “R.R.” and their grandfather “Pop” started unloading, piece-by-piece, a magnificent dollhouse that Pop had made for his granddaughters. With a rush of excitement, Leslie and Julie ran back and forth, following R.R. and Pop from their car outside in the driveway to their playroom upstairs.
Pop had cleverly created the dollhouse so that each room was a separate modular piece. Not only did his design make loading and unloading the entire dollhouse into his Cadillac a little easier, it made it possible for Leslie and Julie to stack and restack and arrange and rearrange the rooms in a multitude of ways. One by one, the rooms of the dollhouse emerged from the Cadillac and up to the playroom in Pop’s loving hands: a kitchen and a laundry room, a dining room, a game room, a living room, a bathroom and four different bedrooms, followed by a swimming pool, horse stables and a windmill!
“I know you girls like playing with your Barbie dolls so I thought the size of this house would be just perfect for them,” Pop said as he puffed on his cigar and smiled at the girls with a twinkle in his deep blue eyes. Not only did Pop make everything in a slightly larger scale than most dollhouses so that the girls’ Barbie dolls would feel right at home, he made everything out of sturdy walnut so that it was built to last.
Named after their beloved grandparents, Jack and Ora Hyland (“R.R” and “Pop”), Hyland House remains one of Leslie and Julie’s most cherished heirlooms. Slowly but surely, Leslie is in the process of working with the very talented woodworker Aaron Fox of Fox Furniture Studio to renovate the dollhouse so that it can be displayed for others to enjoy. While its permanent home has yet to be determined, the plan is for the dollhouse to go on tour and brighten up hospitals and other care centers in the years to come.
When she was a child, Leslie wrote a story about the dollhouse. She has revised it as a children’s book and is in the process of illustrating it, as well. The book will accompany the dollhouse once the restoration of Hyland House is complete.