In the days following 9/11, everyone wanted to do something to help, but in many cases, it’s not always clear how or what needs to be done. For Camille Zamora and Monica Yunus, students together at Julliard that fall, the answer was clear. They turned to music, specifically singing, organizing groups of friends to sing on the sidewalks in front of fire stations. What began outside the Lincoln Center Fire Station grew into a program using the arts to provide community, love, healing, and hope.
From its beginning as a group of friends singing in their spare time, Sing for Hope has evolved to incorporate art in all its forms throughout schools, hospitals, and hospices around New York City. Camille Zamora and Monica Yunus, balance their professional music careers with the day-to-day tasks that come with running a non-profit; managing staff, coordinating volunteers, reviewing applications from artists wishing to partner with them and organizations wanting to benefit from their work. But, according to Camille, there’s nothing better. Sing for Hope is founded on the belief that access to the arts is a fundamental part of human well-being. For Camille, she could practice her arias in a practice room alone, or she could go to a school and practice her arias for students with no music education otherwise. Bringing music to others makes her much more connected and active as a performer.
Sing for Hope brings the arts into the healthcare system, performing in hospitals and hospices around New York City. It’s these performances, Camille says, that mark some of the “most profound moments” in her life. In one hospice, a gentleman specifically requested a performance by them. Told by the staff that he probably wouldn’t live past that day, Camille went and sang in his room. She felt profoundly at peace during her performance and was honored to mark some of his final moments with music.
The arts help us creatively engage all our senses leading to better learning, improved connections with others. Who needs this more than kids? Sing for Hope's Youth Arts Initiatives—which include an arts-based service-learning program and partnerships with over 10% of NYC's public schools—bring the power of the arts to over 80,000 kids and community members in NYC each year. Sing for Hope co-founder Camille Zamora strongly feels that music and the illustrations bring people together, bridging communities and breaking down barriers.
The barriers come down each summer when street corners throughout the five burrows come alive with beautiful and uniquely painted pianos. The Sing for Hope pianos is the largest annual public art project in the world with their 500th piano being placed this summer. It’s a massive undertaking requiring applications used to help select the schools which will receive a piano. With only 50 or so pianos each summer it’s a process deciding who will take one home in the fall. Artists vie for the chance to use the Sing for Hope pianos as their canvas with requests coming in from all over the world. But the final results bring people together in a way few other things can. In this digital age, organic moments of connections between people of all backgrounds, and walks of life take place around the pianos.
Over the next 2-4 years, Sing for Hope plans to take their model to a broader national and international audience. There are plans to bring their outreach to Houston, DC, Berlin, Germany, and Shanghai, China. Access to the arts is a fundamental human right, but sadly in many communities, it just doesn’t exist. Nowhere is that statement more accurate than a refugee camp. Sing for Hope has five pianos headed right now to Syrian refugee camps outside of Athens bringing music to those who most need it.
If you believe in the arts, that music heals, that we could all use more moments of togetherness, consider supporting Sing for Hope. For those in the metro NYC area consider volunteering your time as a project leader, or your talents as an artist. You can inquire about volunteering at singforhope.org/volunteer For those outside the volunteer radius (or inside) consider donating your money. It’s the best way to ensure that Sing for Hope continues to do the work it has and can expand to other cities. Your donations paired with Sing for Hope volunteers guarantees maximum bang for that dollar. You can donate at singforhope.org/donate
Check out their website, www.singforhope.org, subscribe to their email list and connect with Camille, Monica and their fantastic team on social media. Help Sing for Hope ensure all have access to the arts.