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Children’s Hospital supporters lift their voices at benefit

on April 5, 2011

The marquee lights of the historic Fox Theater in downtown Oakland flickered Friday evening as local supporters attended the second annual Notes and Words event benefiting the Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland.

Nearly 1,300 people from across the Bay Area filled the seats of the Fox as they enjoyed a lineup of nine performances for an evening of spoken word from local authors and Bay Area musicians. The list of recording artists included performances from Hyim, a San Francisco-based musician, poet and activist whose music has influences of pop, rock and world fusion; The Family Crest, a seven-member indie rock band that uses opera, bass and extended family to produce their multi-genre musical style; as well as local authors Beth Lisick and Michael Lewis.

Proceeds from ticket sales raised half a million dollars for several hospital programs including music therapy and Child Life, which runs the in-hospital school and playrooms, as well as the uncompensated care fund for patients.

“The underlying goal is to provide smart, satisfying entertainment with a purpose,” said Kelly Corrigan, hospital volunteer and event organizer. This year’s benefit was on a larger scale than last year’s Notes and Words pilot event, to which Corrigan invited 250 of her closest friends to test out the concept of an event joining musicians and authors. “We did it at the Fox on the stage and the audience sat on the stage with us. And they loved it and it worked,” she said, laughing.

Originally from Philadelphia, Corrigan understands the important roles hospitals play in a metropolis like Oakland. “It was very to clear to me from an early age that you don’t get great schools and great hospitals unless you have great donors,” she said.

Corrigan kicked off the show with an excerpt from her book, The Middle Place, recounting her first impressions when she met her husband, then introduced the first musical act, Oakland native Hyim, whose name means “life” in Hebrew.

Hyim held the audience spellbound as the fluorescent lights above slowly died down to a soft glow as he began to play “Elation,” an upbeat song with rich bass and piano, during which he called on audience participation through clapping. In between songs, Hyim conversed with the audience and revealed that he was performing on his birthday. Cheers from the balcony trickled down towards the theater’s floor, where audience members in the front row sat in small cocktail tables and soft, cozy couches on the orchestra floor.

Michael Lewis, who is known for his usual business-style writing, threw the audience for a loop when he read from his personal writings about a family vacation to Bermuda gone awry. His daughter, Pixie, had recently learned a slew of vulgar words and decided to use her new vocabulary during a day lounging at the resort’s poolside. Standing on left stage, Lewis read calmly and comfortably; his timing was impeccable as audiences waited for what embarrassments he’d share next.

Local author Beth Lisick was another of the three authors to share excerpts from their work to the packed house.  She selected a comedic short story she’d written about a woman on prescription medication and the uncertainties that can unfold when trying to raise children. Although she admitted she was nervous before going onstage, Lisick later said she was relieved when she heard the audience roaring with laughter with each punchline and one-line confession. “After Michael Lewis read and he was just so honest and funny, I just felt like it was a welcoming audience and people were ready to hear it. I didn’t have to censor myself,” she said.

The final act of the evening was the Family Crest, a seven-member band that uses instruments like cellos, tambourines, violins and bass to deliver a multi-genre collection of sounds. After a few songs, the Family Crest made room as all nine acts returned to the stage for one final song. Together, musicians and authors linked arms, swaying back and forth to the music, while some members in the audience rose to their feet, snapping pictures, and raising their hands in celebration. Images of children treated and cured from illnesses flashed across the projection screen behind the performers revealing each child’s age and disease. Blue florescent lights shone overhead as an overwhelming sense of community, appreciation, and love filled the large venue.

A first time Fox performer, Hyim said he understands why so many turned out for the event. “I think you have a definite community of activists and conscientious people in the Bay Area,” Hyim said. “There’s nothing more righteous than trying to take care of our children and their health and well being and making sure that that happens. I think that’s why people are so open and so down to support their community.”

“I think you have to understand the place of the Children’s Hospital in this community—that it’s a place that provides services to anyone who walks in the door,” agreed Lewis.  As for the benefit, he said, “I think this thing has potential to be something people actually look forward to every year. I was awed by the talent on the stage.”

Lisick, whose office is adjacent to the Children’s Hospital has frequented the hospital on more than one occasion. “I have a nine-year-old-son that has broken his arm three times—not always skateboarding,” she admitted. “We love Children’s Hospital. When Kelly called me to do it, it just felt so natural and it’s such a good cause.”

Audience members like Jane Pak of Fremont recognized the importance of the evening. “I came tonight because I really believe in the cause of donating to the Children’s Hospital,” she said. “They do a log of research on children’s diseases and also because I like music and spoken word.”

Plans for next year’s event are underway and Corrigan has an even bigger hope for the benefit. “What I would like to do is create an annual event that is like the ticket you look forward to every year. You just would never want to miss it.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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