I recently volunteered for Lifebeat’s Hearts & Voices program, an on-going live performance series for people living with HIV/AIDS. I watched as the performers entertained a small group of residents at Rivington House in Nolita, turning what would have otherwise been just another night into a musical experience and singalong for everyone present. It gave me goosebumps. After finding out that two of four members of the performing group Solo fell ill, Erika, Manager of the Hearts and Voices program, stepped up to the mic and helped round out the night with a few extra songs. Her willingness to go the extra mile to make residents happy was heartwarming and made me want to learn more about her and Lifebeat immediately. Luckily, Erika was more than willing to share her love for Hearts & Voices with me. Below is the outcome of our recent e-terview*; read on for some inspiration from Erika Banks:
Give & Get NYC: What is your role with Hearts and Voices, and what attracted you to this organization specifically?
Erika Banks: I am the Manager of the Hearts & Voices Program, which means I organize/coordinate all of the facilities, performers & general volunteers to produce over 240 shows each year for people living with HIV/AIDS. I was drawn to this organization because it combines my two loves: Music & Community Service. In many ways it’s a dream come true for me to be able to use music to make a profound difference in people’s lives.
G&G: I’ve heard you sing- and you can SING..Do you have a background in music?
EB: Yup! I have always loved music and started taking violin lessons when I was 5 years old. I switched to voice and piano lessons when I was 11 years old and currently have a Masters Degree in Music. Though I’m no longer in a formal vocal training program, I am always learning and growing as a singer. I perform my own shows outside of Hearts & Voices and collaborate with other performers whenever possible. The learning never ends and the love of music never dies.
G&G: Why do you think it’s so important to have the H&V program in New York City specifically? Are there plans to expand to other cities?
EB: For well over 15 years, Hearts & Voices has been making a powerful and lasting difference in the lives of our audience members who are living with AIDS. Live music has been proven to relieve stress, pain, build community and combat loneliness. Hearts & Voices also provides performers with a way to give back to the community using their natural gifts and abilities. Performing a Hearts & Voices show has a positive lasting impact for both the performer and the audience. Everyone wins!
We have also started holding regular Hearts & Voices shows in Washington, D.C., which I’m very excited about. I hope we will be able to provide this program to many other major cities in the US in the coming years.
G&G: From your experience working with HIV/AIDS patients, how have you seen music affect them and their rehabilitation?
EB: I have continually seen the people that attend our shows, enter the room in a “bad” or “ok” mood and consistently leave the show smiling, laughing, singing and happy. We have many regular attendees to Hearts & Voices because they enjoy it so much. This is a great link that shares the audience members experience of the show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cdvjf6DLaLE
G&G: Is there any one artist on the H&V list of performers that you absolutely love to hear perform?
EB: I absolutely LOVE all of the H&V performers. The generosity and heart that comes through in each show is what is truly moving. When people perform from their heart/soul you can’t help but be moved and uplifted. This is the main quality I look/listen for when I review Artist Applications and it’s the quality that comes through at each show. That’s why we can have so many different styles of musician or performer and still cause the same powerful healing effect.
G&G: Do you have a favorite memory or performance?
EB: It may sound corny, but each performance is magical and amazing. I can’t say I have a favorite, but the last show is always the most fresh on my mind. Just last night after the Hearts & Voices performance at Casa Promesa, an audience member came up and said the song “What a Wonderful World” really touched him deeply cause he’d been dealing with a lot of drama. I live for these moments when I can see the difference the show makes for someone or they share directly how it uplifts them.
G&G: Are there any upcoming events for Hearts & Voices or Lifebeat in NYC that people can attend and learn more about the program, and maybe see a good show?
EB: People can find out about Lifebeat events on our website www.lifebeat.org and on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/Lifebeat. We have a number of partnerships and events people can attend or get involved with, and we’re constantly creating more.
G&G: If someone is interested in volunteering, as an artist or just to help out, how can they make that happen?
EB: I encourage interested folks to contact me directly about volunteering at a Hearts & Voices show, either as a performer or a production volunteer. We hold between 18-20 shows a month, which adds up to about 240 shows a year. There are lots of opportunities to make a difference and have a good time while you’re doing it!
~email@example.com. Lifebeat is a nonprofit that uses the power of music and the music industry to help educate young people about HIV/AIDS prevention. For more than seventeen years, Lifebeat has helped to mobilize the talents and resources of the music industry to raise awareness and funds, and to provide support to the HIV-positive community. Learn more about Lifebeat by visiting their website: http://lifebeat.org/