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Young performers raise money in tribute to Newtown victims

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(Photos by Audra Napolitano) 

 

Cameron Luther, an eighth grade student at Fairfield Woods Middle School, grew up listening to the deep, rich tones emitted from his older brother’s cello. In mid-December, as he heard 16-year-old Niles practicing for a holiday concert, Cameron said Niles should use his musical talents to help those affected by the school shooting in Newtown.

Niles enthusiastically agreed. Along with writing an original arrangement for his trio, Niles immediately took on the role of producer. In a short time, he recruited several young artists like himself from Fairfield County to perform in a benefit fund-raiser.

On Saturday, Jan. 5, two performances of Concert for Newtown were presented to standing-room-only crowds at the Fairfield Theatre Co. Niles said he was left “speechless” by the show’s success.

“I’m so proud and overwhelmed with joy,” Niles said. “As I listened to it all come together, with these musicians performing their hearts out, I thought that this is why we can move on. This is why we live. Music feeds our soul.”

All proceeds from Concert for Newtown will be donated to the Connecticut PTSA Sandy Hook Fund. Along with ticket sales, Niles hopes to raise $8,000 through GoFundMe.com and concert memorabilia sold online. To generate post-concert donations, Niles also plans to post video highlights on YouTube.

One group of performers from Newtown took part in the tribute. The Smokebomb Mondays, a ska band, feature: Liam Reynolds on rhythm guitar, trombone and vocals; Harrison Buzzi on trombone; Patrick Milano on trumpet; Jonah McKeown on baritone saxophone; Tim Eames on bass, and Matt Spencer on drum set and vocals.

“We’re doing everything we can to help the kids in Newtown,” Niles said.

Niles began playing the cello when he was 4. As part of a preschool music class his mother enrolled him in, Niles was exposed to various instruments.

“I supposedly went right up to a cello and said, ‘I want to play this one,’” Niles said. “I can’t remember a time when music wasn’t a part of my life.”

A junior at Fairfield Warde High School, Niles is involved in several music groups, including chamber orchestra. He also attends a pre-college program at Manhattan School of Music every Saturday.

“I’m studying classical music, but I like to branch out and do other types of music, too,” Niles said.

During the Concert for Newtown, Niles performed an original arrangement called We Found Rock, which is a mash-up of Rockelbel’s Canon (a remix of Pachelbel’s classic Canon in D) and Rihanna’s popular hit song We Found Love. He performed with fellow cellists Fairfield Warde students Jeff Zhang and Sean Larson.

Niles also appeared in the show’s finale, Josh Groban’s inspirational anthem You Raise Me Up. Katherine Waugh, a freshman from Easton, and a children’s choir composed of students from the Beverly Lambert Studio in Fairfield, were also featured.

“I am so happy to help all of the people in the community affected by the tragedy,” said Katherine. “Music brings people together and has a healing power that nothing else has.”

Katherine, 15, is a member of the Fairfield County Children’s Choir. She has performed the national anthem for Bridgeport Bluefish and Sound Tigers games. In 2010, Katherine sang Broadway show tunes onstage at the Norwalk Oyster Festival.

This year Katherine was hired to record a demo song for an emerging composer.

Katherine started singing publicly when she was in first grade and joined the music ministry at Greenfield Hill Congregational Church in Fairfield.

“I’ve always loved to sing,” she said.

It was at church that she met Niles.

“I’ve known her all of my life,” Niles said. “All of these people who are in the show I’ve known or heard about but haven’t necessarily performed with. It was exciting to finally be able to work with them onstage.”

Singer/songwriter Taylor Felt, 11, of Darien said participating in Concert for Newtown was about making others feel some happiness during a sad time.

“I like to entertain people,” Taylor said. “When I’m onstage, I like making people happy. This concert was one of the best things I’ve done because we were able to help people and, at the same time, do something we all love.”

Until the show’s dress rehearsal, Taylor didn’t know any of the other performers.

She had been recruited for Concert for Newtown her voice teacher, Beverly Lambert.

After she sang her original song, called Believe, Taylor said, the other musicians immediately hugged her and told her how well she performed.

“The song is about inspiring people to believe in themselves and to never give up,” Taylor said. “We need to believe in all the love and goodness in this world and mostly in ourselves.”

Her mother, Christine, was “proud and honored” to have her daughter involved in the project.

“Taylor is a busy little girl, but she’s also an honors student and a good kid,” Christine said. “She has a big heart and always wants to help the underdog.”

The oldest of four, Taylor has been singing since she was 2 years old. She has written “about nine or 10 original songs,” said Christine.

Taylor is represented by agencies in Los Angeles and New York, and Christine recounted her daughter’s recent unexpected turn as a warm-up singer for The X Factor television show while they were in California for auditions. Before the show’s taping, the show’s producers asked for “any really good singers.”

“Taylor raised her hand and they asked her to come up and sing to warm up the crowd,” Christine said. “They went crazy for her. People keep telling me we should get her an audition.”

Christine said they will pursue this audition when Taylor turns 12 in the spring.

Like Taylor, Niles and Katherine, Redding’s Bobby Paltauf has already been performing for several years. The 13-year-old blues guitarist has opened for such legendary musical acts as Buddy Guy, Lucky Peterson and America.

When he was contacted by the producers of Concert for Newtown, Bobby was excited about the event.

“I wanted to be part of it,” he said.

During the show, Bobby performed Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing.

Bobby also plans to play in another musical concert to benefit the Newtown community. This performance will take place on Jan. 20 at the Ridgefield Playhouse.

He and his father, Robert, will be traveling to the 29th annual International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., at the end of January.

Robert said Bobby is the youngest person to represent Connecticut at the music festival and competition.

“It’s really a big event,” Robert said.

Bobby credits his father with teaching him to play guitar five and a half years ago.

However, Robert said, “Bobby’s far surpassed me and taken his playing to a new level.”

Donations may still be made at gofundme.com/concertfornewtown.

Concert for Newtown memorabilia, from which all profit goes to Newtown, may be purchased at cafepress.com/concertfornewtown.

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